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Preparing today’s educational software developers: voices from the field


Educational software is a growing industry, creating demand for professionals with the skills and knowledge necessary to develop high-quality learning software. This paper explores the perceptions and experiences of professionals who have made a career of developing educational software and suggests educational paths useful for professionals in the field. In-depth interviews (n = 9) and surveys (n = 92) were incorporated in this mixed-methods study. Topics addressed include developers’ backgrounds, perceptions of working in this field, roles played, alignment between educational background and roles, and suggestions for an ideal undergraduate degree for a career in educational software development. Participants’ formal education paths included computing, instructional design, and other backgrounds. Roles played varied based on those backgrounds. When asked for recommendations for an ideal educational program, the most frequent response was a hybrid/dual major. However, those with degrees in computing or instructional design were most likely to recommend a similar degree, and use of on-the-job self-study for other topics. Those without a computing degree frequently indicated that formal education in programming and technology was important, but less so than the ability to think critically. Those with a computing background indicated that a background in education was not necessary, although ideally computing students should gain experience delving into at least one industry so that they would be prepared to interact with specialists and stakeholders in any specialty area in the future. Throughout, participants noted the importance of professional skills, critical thinking, and life-long learning. Implications for educators and researchers are discussed.

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Correspondence to Marisa E. Exter.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.” Data collected as part of this study was overseen by the Institutional Review Board of Indiana University, protocol # 0813604.

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Exter, M.E., Ashby, I. Preparing today’s educational software developers: voices from the field. J Comput High Educ 31, 472–494 (2019).

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  • Educational technology
  • Development
  • Software development
  • Computing education
  • Instructional design education