New ‘Learning Sciences Product Certification’ in the Works From Digital Promise

Associate Editor

Ed-tech companies whose products are grounded in learning sciences research are eligible for the first-ever product certification in this category, based on a new program launched by Digital Promise.

The nonprofit organization’s Product Certifications Pilot is focused now only on learning sciences. Eventually, the program is expected to expand and cover more aspects of a product’s potential usefulness to K-12 schools, according to Sierra Noakes, the senior research project manager at Digital Promise.

The goal is for the certifications to be “an easy signal for education leaders to quickly determine the quality of ed-tech products,” she said in an interview. “We believe research—especially learning science research—is an important way to distinguish what products will attend to the needs of diverse learners.”

Digital Promise will be looking for “logic models to demonstrate the thinking around how the product intends to achieve the learning they claim,” said Noakes. “We’re also asking for citations to demonstrate how that logic model is grounded in learning sciences research.”

Companies representing 100 ed-tech products have already been invited to apply for the first round of evaluations. They and other K-12 education businesses that apply have until Sept. 20 to request an evaluation of their products’ suitability to earn that designation in this first round of reviews, said Noakes.

The first group of products to receive the Learning Sciences Research-Based Design Product Certification will be announced in mid-October when the bi-annual League of Innovative Schools meeting is held. This event draws leaders from many of the league’s 114 member districts in 34 states.

The products that earn certification will receive badges, and be listed on the Digital Promise site. Those who do not receive certification will be given feedback about what they might do to improve their products.

Digital Promise indicated that the 100 early applicants were invited because they have engaged in pilot studies with Digital Promise’s Marketplace Initiative or Learner Variability Project, participated in the 2016 Research-Based Products Campaign, and/or are those that have received SBIR funding.

What Companies Need to Provide

The application, which was developed with feedback from LexiaReadWorksSpeak Agent, and Zyrobotics for a company perspective about the questions that would be asked, covers four areas.

Applicants are asked to answer, or do, the following:

  • Explain how your product supports students’ learning. How does it attend to the needs of diverse learners, including students with learning differences and disabilities, students of color, and marginalized learners?
  • Submit a video to provide evidence demonstrating how your product attends to the needs of diverse learners.
  • Provide at least one artifact, such as a theory of change or logic model, that demonstrates how learning sciences research informs the theoretical framework guiding your tool. This artifact should include citations of rigorous studies consulted in product design and development.
  • Provide a public-facing artifact that demonstrates your commitment to transparency in communicating how learning sciences research informed the product.

More Certifications on the Horizon

In October, the team will publish the rubric on which the first certification was based, as well as rubrics for upcoming certifications, including one that gauges implementation support.

Once this round of evaluations is complete, participating education leaders, educators, and product teams will be contacted for their feedback about whether the certification is “a powerful signal to support evidence-based decision making,” said Noakes. “We will make adjustments to ensure Digital Promise’s product certifications are valid and meet the needs of educators.”

They also will work to identify which district stakeholders would value the certifications most, she said. “Is it instructional coaches getting questions around which products they should use? How can we position this to be really important and powerful to solving some of the problems folks in the education field experience on a frequent basis?” she asked.

In 2020, the certification plan will continue, but Noakes said the exact timeline hasn’t been defined yet.

‘Social Campaign’ Seeks to Establish Market Demand

Last week, Digital Promise also released a research report, entitled “Market Signals for Research-Based Innovations,” and launched a social campaign seeking signatures on a research-based product promise. The goal of this effort is to demonstrate K-12 marketplace interest in learning science-based products, according to Noakes’ blog post.

The promise asks educators, education leaders, parents, developers, and investors to agree on demanding that ed-tech product developers:

  • Regularly consult learning sciences research;
  • Ground product design and development in rigorous research;
  • Provide transparency about the research driving the product design, and
  • Design “at the margins” to support diverse learners.

While the first week of signatures has been slow, Digital Promise expects signatories on the research-based product promise to increase as it is promoted within their network, including at its meeting next month.

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