Outside Consultant: How Do Subject Matter Experts Contribute to Ed Tech Success?

Ed tech companies experienced a boom with the general shift to remote teaching during the pandemic. For some, this shift was the push they needed to become established brands. For many, however, the boost faded with the return to the classrooms, as product usage declined. Why do ed tech start-ups, with seemingly great ideas that wow investors at first sight, fail to stick around? Out of the multiple factors contributing to ed tech success, the ability to truly understand the target audience is arguably among the top ones.

Teachers get frustrated when people think they know how teaching and learning work simply because they have been students at some point. Being patients does not make us experts in health care. Eating at restaurants does not give us a perfect understanding of the hospitality industry. Likewise, successfully navigating the education market requires insider knowledge. To ensure that a tool stays relevant for teachers, ed tech companies need teachers as SMEs.

As a language teacher and co-founder of an ed tech start-up in the language education space, I think SMEs provide the most value for the business in three areas:

Ideation. Because I experienced the problem our tool solves, I knew what it should do to be actually useful for me and for my students. As the product has evolved, I have sat with developers to communicate my needs. Now, I am usually the first to notice usability flaws.

Relevance. Because our community manager is a language teacher, he can engage our users with content and professional development they want. He is a resource on language acquisition terminology for the team and brings credibility.

Implementation. Receiving the purchase order from the district is only the beginning. Success in ed tech means that teachers keep using the tool in their day to day. Through training, support, regular check-ins, and just informal conversations we learn how our users’ needs evolve. Supporting these interactions with SMEs who our customers can relate to is crucial for sustained usage and renewals.

How can ed tech entrepreneurs recruit SMEs? Approach your early adopters and heavy users. Identify the influencers in your space through social media groups and at professional conferences. You bring the business know-how; let teachers provide the education expertise.

Susana Pérez Castillejo, PhD, is associate professor of Spanish at the University of St. Thomas and co-founder of Extempore, The Speaking Practice App.