Edtech PR Tips

I’m not a PR guy. I’m just a teacher. But they say that if you want to be a disruptor, the best experience is no experience. So here goes…

1. It’s not about the technology. It’s about what students are empowered to do because of your technology. Show us how you take students beyond what they could do previously. Show student work (“Hey, look what this kid can do!”). Stop focusing on checkmarks, badges, data, dashboards, and slick UI.

2. Learning is social. Show students interacting with each other, questioning, helping, constructing — all as a result of using your technology. Don’t show kids glued to screens, headphones on, working en masse and in isolation. It’s creepy.


The Learning Lab at a Rocketship school, where students spend 2 hours each day.

3. Don’t use phrases that signal you have simplistic views about teaching and learning. In particular: Learning stylesdigital nativesindividualized instruction, and content delivery.

4. Practices are equally as important as content. Show how you enable students to engage and grow in the core practices in math, science, and ELA.


Credit: Tina Cheuk, tcheuk@stanford.edu [PDF (scroll to bottom)]

5. Show how you implement/compliment research-based practices about how students learn. Study up on these characteristics of effective teaching methods. Otherwise…

6. Run controlled, peer-reviewed experiments that use conceptual diagnostic tests to measure growth. We know most anything works better than (or as well as) passive lecture instruction. But how does implementation of your technology stack up to other evidence-based teaching methods? And be sure to use conceptual diagnostic tests, not final exams or standardized tests or failure rates. CDTs have been painstakingly researched and designed to measure true conceptual understanding rather than algorithm memorization. Without strong evidence, we’re just skeptical of your claims.


Hake’s analysis of 62 different physics courses as determined by gain on a physics conceptual diagnostic test.

7. Don’t contradict yourself. Your words should match your actions.

8. Show feedback and testimonials from students. In particular, have students demonstrate their deeper understanding and expert thinking that has been enhanced by using your product. Or perhaps your technology has decreased student anxiety and contributed to a positive classroom climate. However, don’t have students talk about shallow things such as raising grades and doing well on tests.


Testimonials from Pearson/Knewton’s MyEconLab

9. There’s nothing revolutionary about old wine in new bottles. A digital textbook is still a textbook. A video lecture is still a lecture.

10. Read everything Audrey Watters writes. Everything.

Do you have any more edtech PR tips to share? Any more examples of bad PR? Any good examples? Thanks!

18 responses to “Edtech PR Tips

  1. I feel your pain. There are some very big challenges to marketing like this, though:

    1) Students and teachers don’t buy stuff, so they are not the customer of many businesses. When we’re building software for students, we have to keep in mind that we have to SELL it to administrators. And to many administrators, it IS about the tech, because they have much more to worry about than student learning.
    2) Yeah, I don’t know why anyone shows those photos. I bet it’s really cheap to run that lab, though.
    3) No phrase more than ten words long gets read, period.
    4, 5) Yes, I don’t know how people sell anything without at least making something up for these ones
    6) This is impossible unless you have serious funding, and if you have serious funding your biggest customer is no longer the school or the students.
    7) When your software can only be a small part of an ideal solution, and when you only have tiny bits of attention to grasp on to, it is difficult to express the full complexity of your theories, complete with all caveats and qualifications. Simplification is a requirement, so subtleties are lost, and soon it sounds like you’re just pandering.
    8) Definitely!
    9) Any step in any direction seems like a good one to somebody.
    10) Subscribed!

    A hard lesson I learned from ActiveGrade is that communicating your ideals and your vision is not always the best way to make a sale. Teachers can see through the marketing ploys of ed tech companies, but teachers are not the customers.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Riley. Great to have your voice. I think ActiveGrade is a great example of doing the right things, in part because it was designed from the ground up by teachers. But here’s something I struggle with — weren’t most administrators once teachers?

      • A good conversation about this topic of teachers becoming administrators and changing, explicitly, is in the book, The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. He shows the progression from Technician to Manager to Entrepreneur. I like Worker to Manager to Leader better as a progression model.

        Managing teachers is much different than being a teacher. Over time, as new tech becomes old hat, it will be easier to integrate it into the daily lives of teachers. More than that, at any school, there are 30 year veterans and 1 year rookies. That’s a hard spectrum to serve in the era of standardization.

      • I don’t know if most administrators are former teachers, but the administrators of today were not teachers when [technology x] was invented or [best practice y] was established.

        Frankly, it may also be true that not all teachers can see through the marketing ploys!

        With ActiveGrade, a lot of our customers are schools with one teacher passionate about SBG who convinces the rest of the school to jump on. I really like that – I think it’s great for a school to be changed from the inside by passionate members. It’s kind of a slim chance to rely on for a business model, though, because I have to wait until your school is ready for the change and hope I’m there at just the right time. Again, I think that’s a great way for a school to make a purchase. I’m just trying to highlight the business necessities of convincing people something is going to work for them. Because of the way money works in a school, you have to convince *admins* something is going to work for them, in the 10 seconds of attention you get, so the message has to be striking, impressive, and obviously positive.

        Let’s take just bullet point 1: It’s not about the technology, it’s about what the technology empowers students to do. We can try to start with phrases like “Our Software empowers students to control their schedules.” That’s a little wordy, and it’s not clear why you would want students to control their schedules. We could try “Give students the power to manage their schedules,” but that has the same problems. We could start with “Students who control their own schedules learn to think about their interests and follow their passions,” but now we’re way past the word limit and we haven’t even hinted that you might be able to buy something from us. Etc, and this is just bullet 1.

        The correct way to market, then, is to become a renowned source of pedagogical theory. I attribute a lot of ActiveGrade’s success to my personal blog, which has received some acclaim. Some people are willing to read whole articles there, and they come back a few times, and they see the ActiveGrade logo on the side with exactly the kind of vague, markety text you’re talking about. Maybe they click that, and then later remember to mention that to their admin. I can talk at length about my pedagogy and people who agree will also generally know that I am selling a software product. This was successful, business-wise, to some extent, but I wouldn’t even think of it as a strategy – to do it just for a business would take SO long, SO many resources, and you have to actually be kind of an expert at something! It’s much cheaper to give an administrator an iPad with your software loaded on it and surround them with pictures of fancy looking schools.

        I’ve gone on for too long here. The main point is that even when you do run into a passionate teacher, as soon as they understand you’re selling something, many of them shut down (understandably). Admins are looking to buy things for problems they already know they have, and I think people just know way more about the problems in their own job. Even if they did used to have another job.

    • I think your response really hits some of the points on the head.

      There are two fundamentally different types of people in the edtech game, and two different languages one has to speak in each scenario. I think Frank nails it on the head- what teacher cares about “content delivery”.

      But then again, “pedagogical content knowledge” is probably going to draw blank stares from anyone who isn’t an education wonk.

      I think the reality is of course striking a balance. Teachers may not be the customers, but chances are you want them as your champions. While it might be impossible to construct a sales funnel (and hence justify spending marketing dollars), I think ultimately the teachers/students should not be ignored in the marketing push, and time should be spent crafting messages that address each party in their own language.

      Thank G-d inbound marketing is beginning to outpace traditional outbound methods, and quality content that people can use steers traffic in a more meritocratic way.


      • Hi Jordan,

        You work with Matthew Blackman on those great physics games (Super Ultimate Graphing Challenge, Polarity Shift), right? Like Riley, another great case where a teacher has become a developer and knows exactly what teachers are looking for. Creating two messages is a great idea. I assume pharmaceutical companies do something similar when advertising to the public and to doctors. The best advertising an edtech company can get is from teachers, in my opinion. Don’t ignore them!

        Thanks for stopping by. Looking forward to new developments from you and Matthew!

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  3. Hi Frank,

    I agree with all the points you highlighted, especially getting off the bandwagon terminology. I especially do wonder how individualised a lesson can be when there are over 20/25 students in a classroom – that and other random buzz words which simply replace how students have been learning for years and years.

    As for your advice on reading Audrey Watters – one of the best EdTech writers we have right now!

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  5. How about number 11 – Effective teaching is nuanced. Few methods should account for the entirety of instructions. Examples could include balancing content and exploration, the findings that multiple representations and multimedia sometimes hinder learning, etc. Special attention should be paid to exceptions to rules.

  6. Nice post! I constantly get feedback from my students about my ed tech tools. Especially after introducing iPads to students, everybody loves technology and uses their iPads to learn math. Everyone likes the apps that I recommend and I make sure that I receive feed back from them about my recommendations. One of the most liked tools, to my surprise, is ClassroomIQ (https://classroom-iq.com). It’s a very efficient grading tools. It helps me grade homework and exams more quickly and easily. It’s a very handy and convenient tool to have. Ever after I can get back the grades the day or even the hour after, my students are more active and engaged. Again, great post!

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  9. Frank, I agree with #7 totally. I haven’t had time to dig into the others. This was a rich post. Thank you for sharing the links you followed to back it up.

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  11. Michael Paul Goldenberg

    Impossible to listen to that much Sal Khan without becoming comatose or needing some sort of pharmaceutical. Every journey I take into the world of a Khan Academy video makes me remember why I hated math classes in high school. And why it’s so hard sometimes to look at bad math teaching for too long at one time without losing focus. My psyche withdraws into another reality in desperate hopes that when it emerges in this world again, the bad man will have stopped droning on and on and on. . .

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