Evaluating EdTech: A Q&A with Olli Vallo

June 10, 2021

We interviewed Olli Vallo, CEO of Education Alliance Finland, to learn about their work in evaluating EdTech products, their main challenges and his thoughts on how the market has evolved

Evaluating EdTech - A Q&A with Olli Vallo, CEO Education Alliance Finland

Greetings Olli, please can you tell us a bit about Education Alliance Finland…

We founded EAF after noticing that EdTech innovators are often asked for evidence to prove the efficacy of their EdTech product. Since there’s a plethora of educational research explaining what the elements of an efficient learning experience are, we wanted to develop a scientifically backed way to compare an EdTech product’s design against those learning science principles. We saw this would allow us to provide rigorous feedback to support Edtech product development and through issuing certifications we’ve been able to help out teachers in recognising high-quality products. 

We were lucky to get public and private funding to develop the methodology and unique software to conduct the product assessments and process for evaluating EdTech. Now the work is bearing fruit and we’ve evaluated up to 350 products from all over the world and certified around 170 solutions. In Finland, we now have 110 teachers who we have trained to conduct EdTech evaluations and we’ve also collaborated with Swiss and Austrian teacher-evaluators in projects organized by local ministries and foundations. We always have several teacher-evaluators working independently to evaluate a single product. 

What are the main challenges you have faced in developing Education Alliance Finland?

In the beginning, we needed to get everything done within a minimum budget. All of our growth has happened organically and naturally, it has been slow to get our name out there and develop our reputation. This made us question ourselves and the whole concept numerous times, struggle with salary payments for founders and switch offices many times in order to keep the costs down. Once I needed to sleep a few hours in a men’s room in Dubai because we couldn’t afford to pay for a night when arriving in the city at 2 am. 🙂 But when looking at where we are now it has definitely been worth it! 

We decided in the beginning to offer our service at as low a price as possible in order to make it available to even the smallest of companies. We knew it’s risky when margins are low but we trusted that the strategy would pay off in the long run because the more clients you have, the more news will spread about what you are doing. And for us, this has never been about doing great business as soon as possible but rather being able to make a difference in how EdTech tools are used in learning. Luckily, we’re now in a good place when it comes to the stability of the business and the type of projects that EAF engages with. During the past year, we’ve worked with ministries, investors, school districts and for example now we’re writing national quality criteria for EdTech tools in Finland, as Finland’s National Agency for Education hired us to do that. 

In your opinion, how has the EdTech market evolved over the past few years?

From our Finnish/European perspective until COVID the evolvement happened mainly on the product level, while the industry and business possibilities seemed to remain more or less the same. We’ve seen how EdTech companies have been constantly improving the quality and it has become really rare to see extremely weak products applying for our certification. Five years ago, it was rare that an EdTech company had thought about their product’s curriculum alignment, but nowadays curriculum mappings are a part of the everyday work that EdTech developers do. But when COVID hit, it really changed the market potential of strong products. Companies with solid products and a decent foothold in the market really started growing and we’ve witnessed that globally since more and more companies are applying for our certification and when working with them, we also get a good understanding of their business development. 

Why do you think evaluating EdTech products is important?

We always like to think that if the client needs and appreciates rigorous product development feedback, then it pays off to take our evaluation. But of course, we understand that many companies primarily want to get the certification as well, to show evidence of their quality. The most commonly mentioned reason for why a company requests an evaluation is that a buyer or an investor has asked them if they’ve done any impact evaluations, or if they’ve gone through EAF evaluation. Before we start the work, we always introduce how the evaluation is done and what type of feedback they can expect. After that, it’s nice to see how their thinking changes from wanting a certificate into wanting to hear feedback about their product.

Once an EdTech product has been certified, it really depends on the company as to how they utilize the certification as a marketing and sales asset. Of course, it’s also our intention to share news about EAF evaluated high-quality solutions, but as a certification body, we need to be objective in our recommendations. We can’t sell/market products to schools, but we can communicate to teachers, decision-makers, and parents the pedagogical benefits of a solution that we’ve evaluated.

I also want to mention that EAF is not the only operator in the field of quality and impact evaluations. There are great organizations like EdTech Impact, Learn Platform, Digital Promise, and ISTE who do brilliant work in the area of gathering evidence of solutions’ quality and impact. I’d encourage all EdTech companies to take a look at these and consider if there are ways to work together in improving product quality, assessing impact, and finding new audiences.

You can learn more about EAF here: https://educationalliancefinland.com/

New to EdTech?  Start here: https://www.global-edtech.com/edtech-definitions-products-and-trends/