At Amplified, we’ve been fortunate to work on projects for several educational technology providers. There’s an enormous amount of energy behind EdTech right now, making it an exciting time to be in the field. Unfortunately, results don’t match the excitement — the limited high-quality research on educational technology isn’t always positive.

So how do we make effective, useful educational software? Our work in this sector has taught us a few things.

01. Make use of the options that new technology adds.

Simply digitizing educational tasks doesn’t improve learning outcomes. Digitizing educational content can improve access and ensure up-to-date content, which can be valuable. But there’s nothing inherent in online resources that make them better than old fashioned books and printed worksheets.

What can technology bring to the table? There are opportunities in tech that can’t be easily done offline. Here are a few:



Teachers have always tried to personalize lessons for their students. But with 25 students in each class, it can be hard for a teacher to customize learning plans for every student individually. Technology can help with this: tracking personal progress, assessing readiness, and assigning and managing student-specific lessons.



Students are more engaged when they feel they have some autonomy over their learning progress. Creating learning goals, tracking progress and relating school to larger goals — a university the student wants to attend, a career they’re considering, or a personal milestone — helps students take ownership of their education. Technology can help by providing access, information, and personalized metrics for students.


Immersive Experiences

Virtual reality, augmented reality, and interactive experiences open opportunities for immersive, engaging learning experiences. Kids can interact with things in a digital world that they can only read about in the physical world, like molecules or distant planets.

02. Support good teaching and learning methods.

Technology isn’t inherently good for education. It helps only when used as a tool to support engaging, effective teaching. A solitary student in front of a computer creates hollow engagement at best. And as important as math and reading are, school teaches soft skills as well: collaborating with other students, presenting ideas, working in groups.


On- and Offline

Printed worksheets are some of the most flexible educational tools — they go anywhere, require no IT department and never run out of batteries. Educational technology needs to understand and work with this reality. Software that provides options for both on and offline work can help teachers maximize their class time.



Teachers often break their classes into small groups of students at similar levels, letting them teach to each student’s ability without requiring 25 different lessons. Building in opportunities for group work helps teachers, lets students help each other, and helps students learn important collaboration and interpersonal skills.



Programs designed with suburban public school students in mind won’t work for an urban school where most students speak English as a second language. Giving teachers flexible options lets them fit the use of a technology into their curriculum in a way that works.

03. Get the basics right!

Good user experience design is especially important for educational technology. It’s tempting to think of today’s kids as digital natives with an innate understanding of tech, but many kids from low income backgrounds never see a computer except at school. With over half of kids in the U.S. qualifying for the Free & Reduced Lunch program, this isn’t a small group.

The basics of good design are important for teachers and administrators, too. Many educational applications include training, but training is inconsistently available. New teachers may not have enough time to train on all tech they use. Cash crunched districts may not have the resources to pay for training workshops, instead relying on their staff to figure it out themselves.


Easy to Use

Student-facing tech should be easy for kids without a lot of access to technology. Teacher-facing user interfaces should be easy to understand, not requiring training to operate. Even administrator tasks need to be carefully considered, because mistakes made at this level can impede the use of the technology for a whole school or district.



Stress can negatively impact all aspects of classroom learning, including attentiveness, persistence, memory, and self esteem. School can be inherently stressful for students without a lot of support at home as well as for those who have internalized messages of academic insufficiency. On the flip side, high achieving students are often under immense pressure to perform.



The software landscape for kids with disabilities — physical, visual, emotional or cognitive — is shamelessly underdeveloped. While the ADA doesn’t outright require all educational software programs be accessible, it does require that schools provide a comparable alternative in content and experience to disabled students. Those alternatives often don’t exist.

Teachers are at the heart of learning

Some tech enthusiasts have posited that putting each child in front of their own computer for lessons tailored just for them should result in amazing educational gains. The software adapts to each student’s learning patterns, reinforcing the concepts they have trouble with and sailing through the ones they already know. How could it fail to give us more time to cram in more concepts?

The story of the Carpe Diem charter schools, where classrooms resemble the rows of cubicles at call centers and students spent most of the day working through computerized lessons, showed otherwise. Although the schools showed some initial success the results didn’t hold, and students left the schools at steep rates leaving school officials scrambling to refocus. It turns out students really don’t like a solitary, computer-based education.

Educational technology should always support and amplify the role of the teacher. For all the hype about artificial intelligence replacing human workers, the best results come from collaboration: humans working with technology to find the best solutions. A computer can process millions of data points to find relevant patterns, but it can’t diagnose any of the why’s beneath it. Computers still can’t assess posture and facial expressions to figure out which students are getting a concept and which aren’t. Nor can they make personal connections with students, uncovering their passions and parlaying them into a lifelong love of learning – only a caring human can do that.

This is at the heart of what we do at Amplified as well: digital design centered on the needs of humans.