Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

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

The view from between ELT and Edtech

Following my tongue in cheek but not so far from the truth post about the often baffling jargon coming from Edtech and how it translates and often miscommunicates to the ELT community (I sometimes don’t understand half the stuff I’m reading) I’m hoping to find a more navigatable middle ground.

From there, like with any good language exchange, maybe ELT can access the message that Edtech is trying to share and Edtech can start speaking as if they’re talking to educators instead of pitching product to publishers. There has to be a middle ground since the two camps both make money from selling education, whether that be their digital learning platforms, their teaching materials or their time stood in front of a class.

We none of us do this for free – it’s only the scale that changes, in my opinion. But just as importantly, neither side can do this without caring about it, without some kind of ideal that goes beyond money.

So, in an attempt to find some interpreters, I asked Jo Sayers – ex EFL teacher DELTA trained and currently working for online learning platform Busuu. Here are his responses to


Boys with toys

It’s true, there are too many boys. EdTech needs women and would be a better place for it. That’s where the ELT community can make a difference.

These are the guys scheduling meetings with themselves in Google calendar, […] stocking up on black polo-necks for their first big product launch.

Scheduling meetings with ourselves? What do you take us for? It’s about efficiency, and buying black polonecks in advance of a fictitious launch date is far from the best use of our time.


Agile is about using time well. There’s no point in having all the details in place and getting a product out 6 months too late. What is it we really, really need? Let’s work on that first.

…cutting out as many stages as possible starting with the writer/author…

Only an idiot would cut the value out of a product. If there’s value in the writing, the authorship, then it should be put front and centre.


Running after money is a fool’s game. It’s about value. If a product adds value it will be successful. It’s true there are too many out for a quick buck in education, but those that offer our learners some genuine value will be the ones that stick around in the long run. The others will fade away.

They’re only interested in students’ money…

Again, there’s only so far PR can get you. That’s not to say there aren’t EdTech companies with this attitude, so it’s important that we go in with a sceptical eye. What can this product do for me, my students, my future? If the answer isn’t clear, don’t use it.

Big data

The question is whether or not we can help people learn better. Aggregated data is basically here to stay, so the focus should be on making sure it’s not used for evil, but used to help people learn more, and faster. I think we’re all responsible for keeping that in check.
Nobody cares how well you did a gapfill, other than people who care about whether or not you’re learning. And it shouldn’t just be big corporations who have access to this data; so should you, your kids, your parents, everyone. It will (hopefully) save us time. (And if we realise that in fact it hasn’t saved us time, then the only negative consequence is a server somewhere storing our accuracy scores for a gap fill).

…stealing learner’s privacy to sell to big corporations…

I’m pretty sure publishers don’t want your privacy. What would they do with it? They might want your money, or other people’s money, but that’s different.

Minimum Viable Product

As I’ve said, ‘minimum’ refers to the things we really really need. Cut out the stuff we should have, or could have and pay attention to the stuff we must have.

Something crap that can make a profit anyway.

An MVP that doesn’t offer value will fail, and that’s the point; only the things that work get through to the stages where they offer the should- and could-have features.


Corporate goals involving money, not people.

There are obviously corporations who focus on profit over value, beware of them. Profit has always come from value in the long term. You might be able to sell a bag of magic beans for a tenner once, but not when word gets out. Make some really tasty beans, sell them for what they are and people will come back for more.

What happened to the far more human “achievements”?

Making things measurable isn’t always the answer, but it is pretty much the global system we have, and maybe always have had. It’s about deciding what to measure.

Content Creator

Gap fill monkey typing away into a template.

Lots of greats have worked with restrictions, it’s about making the content sing, and sometimes parameters and templates help with creativity. Look at haiku!

Work with the people who respect and appreciate you most. Show people why they should respect and appreciate you.

Disruptive innovation

The idea that we can change things for the better by challenging the status quo. With some new people involved, the old organisations and companies will be kept on their toes and ultimately the consumer of the product will get a better deal.

Adaptive Learning

The end of everything educators care about.

It’s basically what a teacher in a classroom would like to be able to do: offer each learner what they need, at a time they need it, in a manner that they will enjoy. There are definitely possible negative side effects that need to be addressed as we understand more about the process, but there are many potential positives too.


Carrots, points and levelling up…

There are many ways to ‘gamify’ a product, and it needn’t always be with carrots and points. As these have become ubiquitous it’s more about how these things are used to promote the behaviour that matters, not just any old behaviour.

…all  hiding the fact no actual learning will take place.

This may in some cases be true, but it’s not gamification done well if no learning takes place.


Jo Sayers is DELTA trained ELT professional working in the field of online learning – most recently for Busuu and now Head of Products with ELT jam.  He’s just been announced as the Technical Co-ordinator for MawSIG and blogs at Twitter: @jo_sayers


2 comments on “The view from between ELT and Edtech

  1. Pingback: What Edtech says vs What we hear | Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

  2. eflfocus
    April 23, 2014

    My comment to EdTech and all tech. builders is, give me something I cannot get for free. It might be simple version of some innovative site, but I can find almost anything and not pay for it. Not to mention, in the EFL field, especially in Asia, I can be three years behind in the classroom technology and I still look cool.

    This is true for publishers too. With the proliferation of an online presence or teachers sharing their work, I do not have to pay to get quality good looking materials.

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This entry was posted on April 22, 2014 by in Edtech, ELT and tagged , , , , , , .
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