Why Ed Tech Innovation Is Speeding Up

I have a lot to write about, coming off of BbWorld and Desire2Learn FUSION. But before I get into all of that, I just have to publish this brief “Amen” post to Phil’s last one. It’s hard to overestimate the impact that lower cost of development is going to have on educational technology in the years ahead. Instagram had only 13 employees—only eight of which were actually software developers—when it sold to Facebook for $1 billion. The new owners of Digg have announced that they expect to rebuild the entire platform from the ground up in six months. It is literally an order of magnitude cheaper to build a platform today than it was ten years ago, when concrete foundations of the current-generation LMS architectures were being poured.

The change in cost can be attributed to several factors:

  • Proliferation of open source: The vast majority of software being built today, regardless of the license it is sold under, makes extensive use of open source frameworks that simply did not exist a decade ago. These commodity components mean that startups today don’t have to pay expensive license fees (for a database, for example) and don’t have to re-invent the wheel building plumbing. They can focus their time and money on the new parts.
  • Growth of cloud technologies: Software isn’t the only thing that has commoditized. One useful way of thinking about the cloud is as the commoditization of hardware. (Importantly for ed tech, this is definitely not the only useful way of thinking about it, but that’s another post for another time.) It’s now easy for companies to get very cheap access to computing power and storage, and to scale that access—and its cost—just-in-time in response to demand.
  • Advances in engineering craft: The development of Agile and Learn approaches to software development and design, when properly applied, can very substantially reduce the number and size of costly mistakes. These mistakes are arguably the most dangerous and costly expenses of digital product creation because they are unpredictable and can cause lasting and cumulative damage that is hard to undo.
The degree to which existing market entrants can beat back new entrants will depend, in part, on their ability to embrace these innovations. It is simply a lot cheaper and quicker for a new market entrant to build a competitive, full-featured product than it used to be. That isn’t necessarily going to be easy for them. 
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About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
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One Response to Why Ed Tech Innovation Is Speeding Up

  1. Stephen says:

    The cost differences are a huge. Developing LessonWriter on our teachers’ salaries was tough given the high cost of servers and development software.
    And that is key: the lower costs allow the classroom experts– teachers– to participate in developing ed tech and creating solutions that fit the way teachers, students, and classrooms actually work.