5 minute read

Which edtech investments have the worst ROI in schools?

Find out which technologies schools often invest in, but fail to see a solid return on investment.

Share this article:

Schools may be concerned about budget cuts and austerity measures, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t invest in new technologies; they need to invest in the right technologies.

From interactive front-of-class technology like ActivPanels that aid collaborative learning to tools that can demonstrate Newton’s laws of motion, there are all number of devices that can be used to boost pedagogical methods and improve attainment.

But not all education technologies are created equal. The average ICT budget for 2017-18 is £13,800 for primaries, a 4% decline year on year, and £58,230 for secondaries, a 7% fall. In light of this, it’s important that schools to know the most commonly underused edtech investments, and why.

“Schools need to be able to decide which tools are best for their students, and support and develop their staff to use and test them. There’s no silver bullet, no revolution and no killer app.” Louis Coiffait, NAHT Edge


In schools, software management can be complicated. Whether it is individual licenses or bundled software products, schools often spend money on software that is subsequently mis-handled or badly managed.

Software can go out of date relatively quickly, so schools need to know that their investments are aligned with industry standards. Whether contracts are left to auto-renew without review or tracking, or usage is just incredibly low, schools often find the novelty of free or expensive software quickly wears off. According to Forbes, there are schools that may use less than 50% of the software that they purchase. Worse still? They aren’t even aware of it.

It is, therefore, absolutely vital to put tracking and management processes in place to identify which software is being regularly utilised, instead of purchasing software without a high-level goal in mind, or any key metrics to track success.

Schools should consider whether software upgrades are free, and more importantly, if there is training available from the supplier. There’s minimal value to software if there’s no ongoing learning program for teachers.

Schools might want to think about only buying software that is compatible with all OS platforms, and look at buying a site licence rather than seats, as this may be cheaper. Alternatively, consider concurrent licenses; the software can be installed on as many devices as a schools would like, but will only run a set amount simultaneously. What’s more, software like Adobe Suite can be paid for via a monthly subscription. This way you can pick and choose which aspects you use at any given time.

Tablets and iPads

Personal devices like tablets are excellent for consuming information and navigating content. Research has shown, however, that when teachers have access to new technologies, their instinct is to use this edtech to extend their existing learning practices.

While we’ve witnessed many effective approaches to incorporating iPads in the classroom, adapting the relevant content and learning techniques is as important as the mode of transmission.

Without training and guidance, iPads or other tablets become little more than expensive notebooks used by pupils in traditional classrooms. Teachers need to dedicate time to professional collaboration to learn strategies to differentiate their teaching methods using a range tablet-friendly tools.

While tablets can certainly engage pupils, technology needs to complement and enhance learning. Schools that fail to articulate the connection between iPads and learning often hamper their tablet investments.

“You have to look from a pedagogic and learning point of view. Research shows that when children write on tablets they have a high error rate. It slows kids down, they resort to a truncated style and it is a disaster in terms of literacy — also, you can’t code.” Donald Clark, Founder of PlanB Learning

3D printers

3D printing is a well-established industrial technology for prototyping and manufacturing, particularly popular within the aerospace and defence sectors.

Thanks to lower-cost models available, and more user-friendly software, schools have begun embracing 3D-printing technology — over 60% of schools now own a 3D printer, a 2016 European and US survey has revealed and half of all secondary school students have access to the tech.

While these are promising figures, a huge 87% of these schools only offer restricted access, with the machine often locked away or used by IT or technical staff only, rather than letting pupils use the kit directly. Schools worry that pupils will damage the expensive equipment, with breakages posing too big a financial risk. What’s more, teachers are worried about teaching directly with the technology, often feeling under-trained in 3D printing capabilities.

The educational benefit of innovative edtech, however, that is too valuable or complex to use effectively, is minimal.

“The first step in getting schools comfortable in allowing student use on 3D printers is through educating the educators. If teachers are comfortable with the technology, then they’ll be more relaxed with their students using the machines.” Eric Savant, iMakr CEO

VR headsets

With the launch of cost-effective VR kits like Google Cardboard, the world is finally paying attention to this tech that had been underused for decades. While VR is becoming more widely adopted in schools, and teachers are making more use of learning tools like Google Expeditions, the technology is still very much evolving. What’s more, the cheaper headsets still require powerful smartphones, so either pupils must use their own mobiles or the school is obliged to buy a set.

There is an abundance of 360-degree videos and thousands of VR apps, but many have some way to go before they are genuinely useful in the classroom. Without accompanying professional development or alignment to content standards, teachers lack the tools to integrate VR into their daily classroom routines.

“We really don’t know what level of immersion can be achieved in this virtual environment. I hope it doesn’t become the next fad. If it fails in the entertainment industry, it could not gain traction in education, which would be a shame.” Conrad Tucker, assistant professor of engineering at Pennsylvania State University

Ultimately, new edtech in schools can make lessons more engaging and exciting for pupils, but the novelty can soon wear off, leaving schools with expensive devices that fail to extend core learning practices. If learning techniques are not adapted to these technologies, and presented in a way that promotes a holistic learning environment, the investments will eventually fail.

The most important advice for schools, when investing in new technologies, is to train teachers on your all your investments. Buy highlighting the unique learning capabilities and achieving more buy in from staff, edtech will go much further than becoming expensive notepads or overpriced demo models.