What the Shortcomings of EdTech Mean for Improving Distance Learning and Schools


Despite all the promises of education technology in transforming how students learn, change has been, at best, incremental. Bold claims have been made in the past decade about personalized learning, automated assessments and massive open online courses (MOOCs). But as someone who has spent the past decade researching education technology, Justin Reich observes:

“An oddity of my career is that I am an education technologist who often writes about how education technology fails to deliver on its promises.”

Reich is executive director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab and co-founder of EdTechTeacher. His latest book, “Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education,” helps readers understand the systems operating through ed tech over the last 60 years: how venture capital backed technologies fall short of disruption; why people prefer incremental changes in how we learn, rarely transforming pedagogy; that tech – even when it’s free – favors those who already have privilege. Students of all ages who are better off socioeconomically will do better with tech because they already have access to the people and tools that can help them. Plus, their basic needs are met – perhaps, someone else is responsible for household duties – so they have less distractions from learning and can better practice self-regulation skills. He jokingly sums up the learning outcomes of MOOCs with a simplified observation he calls Reich’s Law: 

“People who do stuff do more stuff, and people who do stuff do better than people who don’t do stuff.”

After a decade of researching ed tech, and many more years spent teaching with tech in schools, Reich concludes that ed tech works best as a supplement – not a replacement – to good teaching, despite proclamations othervwise. 

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Check out the Failure to Disrupt Virtual Book Club Podcast!

In the Fall of 2020 Justin Reich invited guest presenters and students from MIT for a ten week book club exploring themes in Failure to Disrupt. Now he has turned into a Podcast to relive those discussions and offer more insights.