Finding (and understanding) related existing research for an EdTech.

Dr Alison Clark-Wilson

Everyone loves the phrase ‘evidence-informed’ EdTech – politicians, school leaders, EdTech founders, learners, investors etc. – but if we unpick this phrase, we’re left asking ‘what is the nature of the evidence?’ and ‘who (or what) is it informing?’

Alongside this, the wide range of research evidence that might relate to an EdTech makes it a particularly complex space to navigate. For example, a language learning online communications platform for primary-age children would demand a very different evidence base to that offering a virtual reality learning environment for trainee doctors.

Put simply, there will be two forms of research evidence that might be useful.

The first form is the research that relates to the content domain of the EdTech, such as early second language acquisition, medicine, citizenship, etc.  Very often the language of academic research is more nuanced than everyday language and so a database of academic keywords, such as the internationally recognised ERIC database, can be a useful place to start.

Beyond the content domain, it might be useful to think about the type of EdTech, the technical aspects of its design and the nature of a user’s activities. Thinking about these aspects will also reveal keywords that might be useful later.

Armed with a set of relevant keywords, you are ready to begin your search.

Nearly everyone starts with Google – which really is the modern-day equivalent of looking for a needle in a haystack! A Google Scholar search, which limits the search to academic and publishers’ websites, is a better starting point.

Depending on the intended learners for your EdTech, there are some websites that offer search tools for a particular education sector.

The US-based Digital Promise Research Map is a good starting point for school-facing EdTech, whereas Open Knowledge Maps is better for post-school or vocational EdTech.

Either way, you should find some useful background research. If you hit any publishers’ paywalls, try searching for the authors on ResearchGate (the academics’ social network) or through their affiliation – and don’t be afraid to contact them directly. Most authors retain the rights to the ‘pre-print copy’ of their research paper and are more than happy to send it to you if you ask.

The second form of research evidence is that which is founded on data from your own product or service. Designing and conducting EdTech research does take some thought and significant time – as all of the companies on the EDUCATE programme have found out – but there will be no better evidence than that of a robust study, whether it is a small case study with a few early adopters, or a large-scale experimental study of a stable product involving thousands of participants.