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As mid-summer arrives with COVID-19 in full force, educational institutions are finding themselves in a panic. Perhaps it was wishful thinking that led many of us to believe we’d be out of the woods by now, preparing for the fall semester, setting up classrooms and doing our usual back to school shopping.
Unfortunately, we’ve found ourselves in exactly the same place we arrived at 4 months ago - still faced with distance-learning, and just as ill prepared. School districts everywhere are scrambling to arrange the beginning of a very difficult fall semester - many wishing they had begun developing better solutions much earlier.
Frustratingly, many schools failed to provide adequate distance learning solutions during the spring and summer semester months. Mark Sanchez, president of the San Francisco School Board, recently said “Distance learning across the country was pretty much a failure, we are struggling….the sad fact is, if we continue the vast majority of students will not get anywhere near what they would get in the classroom”.
It’s time to start building distance learning platforms that truly work. This is an incredibly complex problem extending far beyond building online education experiences.
To truly meet student needs it will be necessary for us to create platforms dedicated to parent education, social development, economic needs and so much more.
Building new solutions can be a stressful and overwhelming process even under the most ideal circumstances. From allocating resources and sourcing new technology, to finding the right talent and securing the appropriate project funding - there’s a lot to be done before actual building can even begin. But right now, time is of the essence.
In the short amount of time we have until fall semester begins we can begin building the solutions that will allow students to continue learning outside the four walls of the classroom - but only if time and resources are carefully considered.
People often think the only solution is to build out an in-house development team but given the current circumstances, there are many cases where it might make a lot of sense to hire an agency.
5 Signs Your Distance Learning Project Could Use Help from an Agency
1. You need results ASAP
This fall and winter will be uncharted territory for those working in education and it’s crucial that we begin building the necessary tools now.
Unfortunately, the task of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding an in-house team can easily become a months long process - and it can sometimes be half a year before a new team becomes productive.
With the time constraints we’re currently facing, sticking yourself with such a long run-up to productivity could be detrimental to your goals. If you need to start building right away, an outside agency might be your best bet.
Even if it takes a few phone calls to find the right fit, you’ll have a team ready to go in a significantly shorter timeline than if you try to build one yourself.
Getting the right tools built in such a short period of time might still feel like an impossible task, but the Stay Play Grow project is a great example of how teams can quickly mobilize to solve big problems.
As COVID-19 began shutting down the nation, the team at Early Learning Lab knew that parents desperately needed help with their children's education while sheltered in place.
We quickly teamed up and, in less than 3 weeks, built “Stay Play Grow”, a mobile app providing parents with continuously updated, curated resources covering education, health, fun and much more.
2. You have a one-off project with a clear beginning and end.
Many software projects require heavy lifting to get a foundation in place but don’t need a full team to maintain them. If your project or platform will require minimal support work after the initial build, it shouldn’t necessitate a team of full time hires.
The right agency should also be able to help you optimize your platform to require the least amount of post build support as possible, saving you the time and money required to maintain a full time support team.
When we built Stay Play Grow we knew that the Early Learning Lab team needed the ability to frequently update it’s content on their own, without a support team.
To meet their needs, we were able to build Stay Play Grow with a CMS that allows their core team to simply and quickly update their content as often as necessary, significantly cutting costs and manpower.
3. Your project has outgrown your current team
As your product finds its way into the hands of more users, it’s natural for it to begin to evolve. You’ll begin to learn more about your users actual needs and have the ability to build the features and capabilities they really want.
Over time you might find that your once simple product has become more complex than your team can manage.
If your project has begun to grow in scope and complexity, and you aren’t sure if your in-house team has the manpower or technical ability to keep it moving forward, it might be a good time to seek out a qualified product development team. We’ve been working with the Harvard Graduate School of Education since 2016, when they approached us with “Out of Eden Learn”. This collective learning experience platform had been in existence for a few years, but had recently grown so much that their current team was no longer able to manage it.
Since coming on board we’ve been able to greatly improve OOEL’s performance while cutting costs by automating systems, upgrading programming languages ,implementing new tools and much more. You can read more about Out of Eden Learn in this case study.
4. Your project would be a distraction to the core staff if handled in-house.
If you already have an amazing team working in house, it can be tempting to pass all your projects their way - but overburdening a great team that’s already busy with other projects can oftentimes do more harm than good.
Instead of adding a standalone software development project to your team's workload, consider letting an agency take care of overflow projects that would otherwise distract your team from their core projects.
If you have a few members of your team that would like to play a larger part in the project's development, a good agency should be able to work with you to make that happen.
5. You’re not sure whether a project is going anywhere.
If any of your plans contain the phrase "if it works out," it’s probably not time to outfit your organization with an in-house team.
If you’re not sure whether a full-time employee will be necessary in the long run, going with an agency is, in many ways, the ethical thing to do (unless you can find an employee who's comfortable with the risk of being let go).
Additionally, a good product development team should be able to work with you to determine whether your idea is viable before you invest a significant amount of time and money into it. Before moving forward with an idea, we usually suggest building a prototype.
A prototype allows you to see real users interacting with your product, giving you significantly more accurate feedback about if they have a need for the product, which features are useful and how they need it to work.
Sometimes, when your prototype is built and finished, you realize that some of your assumptions are incorrect and the product needs to take a different direction. In this scenario, it’s so much better to learn this early rather than spend several months and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars to find a major usability issue that you could have in a relatively simple prototype.
If you decide you’d like to assemble a team of your own after determining that your project will likely move forward, a good agency should be willing to work with you on a transition plan, so have that "if this works out and I need to hire my own team" conversation with your agency before you start.
Distance learning is an immediate need with the pandemic still raging and case numbers increasing. To continue providing students, teachers and parents the tools to get through these tough times we’ll need to invest in software solutions.
While it might feel like a temporary band-aid, well designed distance learning solutions will empower educators and students for years to come! At Yeti, we’re excited to be a part of building this better connected future of education!
Let's chat about how we can work together to begin building education solutions that truly work!
Tony Scherba is a CEO + Founding Partner at Yeti. Tony has been developing software since high school and has worked on digital products for global brands such as Google, MIT, Qualcomm, Hershey’s, Britney Spears and Harmon/Kardon. Tony’s writing about innovation and technology has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post and Inc. At Yeti, Tony works on strategy, product design and day to day operations, hopping in and working with the development teams when needed. Follow Tony on Twitter.