Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

What Edtech says vs What we hear

If men are from Mars then Edtech is from another galaxy entirely as far as we in ELT are concerned.

With their jargon, their suspiciously design industry preoccupation with fonts and UX (user experience) and their unapologetically corporate bedfellows, they might as well be speaking a foreign language from a country we aren’t sure we want to visit, let alone live.


Which got me thinking, what if we did speak their language? Would we find more common ground than we think? More to the point, when are they going to start learning a bit of ours? Without some attempt to communicate in the right way, we’re left with confusion and mistrust.

So, in part one of some hopefully demystifying posts, here’s what Edtech think they’re conveying from their distant, yet right up in our faces, galaxy and what we in ELT are hearing.


THEY MEAN: Technology is an enhancement or replacement for traditional teaching methods and tools.

WE HEAR: Boys with toys, bombarding us with jargon, who favour style over substance. These are the guys scheduling meetings with themselves in Google calendar, practising their Steve Jobs shuffle and stocking up on black polo-necks for their first big product launch.

If they ever make a product that is.


THEY MEAN: A way of creating a product that puts the delivery of real value at the centre of the process.

WE HEAR: Speed over substance by cutting out as many stages as possible starting with the writer/author, then editor until all that’s left is the digital start up company behind it.


THEY MEAN: The most important part of the product chain.

WE HEAR: They’re only interested in students’ money and finding as many ways to sell  to them as possible, whether they need the product or not.

Big Data

THEY MEAN: Quantified information about an individual’s performance to be used only to improve that user’s experience/learning.

WE HEAR: Big brother’s reading your mind via your answers to gap fills, stealing learner’s privacy to sell to big corporations.

Minimal Viable Product

THEY MEAN: A product that delivers just enough features to allow the user to do what they need to do.

WE HEAR: Something crap that can make a profit anyway. There’s no need to develop it further. Why bother to invest more if it’s already profitable?


THEY MEAN: Definable, measurable results of input and effort.

WE HEAR: Corporate goals involving money, not people. What happened to the far more human “achievements”?

Content Creator

THEY MEAN: A writer who’s not necessarily the source of the idea but that possibility is not excluded.

WE HEAR: Gap fill monkey typing away into a template for an end product that will be dispensed in similarly granular format. Assigned a bar code instead of a name. Their name will never be seen in conjunction with the materials they produce. The end of royalties or fees that reflect our work or, in more privilege bathed cases, our stature.

Disruptive innovation

THEY MEAN: Seeking to create something new, often by destroying or changing beyond recognition something old.

WE HEAR: Blah, blah… No one knows what this means so it only punctuates the buzzword fog with more unease.

Adaptive Learning

THEY MEAN: Customer/learner centred materials which change to suit individual needs. Just like good teachers do but can’t in a class of more than one.

WE HEAR: The end of everything educators care about. Gap fills with a fancy software wrapping.


THEY MEAN: The use of features common in games to provide motivation in learning. Not the same as learning through playing games.

WE HEAR: Carrots, points and levelling up all  hiding the fact no actual learning will take place.


For Jo Sayers view from his vantage point between both camps, see here.


7 comments on “What Edtech says vs What we hear

  1. Steven Kurowski
    April 11, 2014

    Hi Nicola,

    I’m a PhD student studying educational technology in ESL. I wonder if you can tell me if Edtech is a company or if it is a portmanteau describing the technology. If it’s a company, do you know of their website and any articles pertaining to it? Is it a company that focuses specifically on ESL or does it focus on general education? Like you, I hold a critical view of technology in education, and I consider the technology as connected directly to capitalist interests, which may undermine the interests of the learners. I’d like to learn more about this.


    • Nicola
      April 11, 2014

      Thanks for commenting. Edtech is just a term…there are plenty of companies creating or using tech to educate…and then publishers are using their products so I don’t know if that makes them edtech companies too. The best site by far for keeping up with it as it applies to ELT (which is way way behind the education sector in general and mainstream education) is but #edtech in Twitter and I imagine you could get several Phd’s out of all the content you’ll find!
      I am not sure I agree with you that the tech is connected directly to capitalist interests. Anything that can make a profit is capitalist and in that sense anyone who makes money off education and doesn’t volunteer their services for free is the same. Just because the scale of companies is bigger doesn’t make it inherently wrong – which is what I feel people mean when they say tech in education is undermining learners. Either the tech improves learning or it does not and that is all it needs to be judged on. Exactly the same as the way a teacher, school or educational paradigm should be evaluated. My point with this post was to try and show that maybe, the tech stuff is not as bad as we think. Maybe we’re misunderstanding them?

  2. Jill Hadfield
    April 11, 2014

    Incisive post Nicola -thanks

    • Nicola
      April 11, 2014

      Thanks! Just call me the ELT UN 🙂

  3. Pingback: The view from between ELT and Edtech | Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

  4. Pingback: Between Edtech and ELT: Part II | Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

  5. Pingback: Content Creator vs Writer | Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

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This entry was posted on April 10, 2014 by in Edtech, ELT and tagged , , , , , , .
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