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The K-12 educational technology value chain: Apps for kids, tools for teachers and levers for reform


Historically implementing, maintaining and managing educational technology has been difficult for K-12 educational systems. Consequently, opportunities for significant advances in K-12 education have often gone unrealized. With the maturation of Internet delivered services along with K-12 institutional trends, educational technologies are poised to help support the transformation K-12 education by providing student access to educational resources on an anywhere, anytime, any device basis. In addition, an emerging body of empirical research shows that when implemented systematically, technology can support a wide range of potential education innovations including inverted classrooms, peer-to-peer teaching and customized learning as well as increased academic achievement.

A major public policy question is how best to insure educational technology resources reach all K-12 students in the shortest time and most equitable way possible. In response, this paper adopted an educational technology value chain model to assess potential avenues and barriers to implementing educational technology inK-12 systems. We find that a fully implemented educational technology value chain would directly benefit students, teachers, school systems and society. However, the analysis also finds that efforts to implement educational technology in K-12 systems still must overcome challenges and risks.

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  1. For example, a new generation of younger, computer savvy teachers are now replacing a large cohort of older “baby boom” of teachers; this should lower the costs of technology training than would otherwise be necessary.

  2. According to Gartner Group, Inc., the use of cloud computing is growing, and by 2016 it will increase to become the bulk of new IT spending (Gartner Group Press release October 24, 2013, retrieved August 30, 2014 from

  3. (Major examples of relevant privacy legislation include, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232 g; 34 CFR Part 99, retrieved from ( on July 12, 2014; the Federal Trade Commission’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), (Title XIII, SEC. 1301–1308) retrieved from ( on July 12, 2014; and the Federal Communications Commission’s Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) Pub. L. 106–554; Title Xvii--Children's Internet Protection; SEC. 1701–1741) retrieved from on July 12, 4014.

  4. The K-12 system in the United States is very large and diverse and most schools systems are modest sized organizations. In 2007–2008 there were 98,916 public schools, 13,809 public school districts along with an additional 33,740 private schools that made up the K-12 marketplace (Center for Education Reform, K-12 Facts from, retrieved August 30, 2014).

  5. Fig. 2 presents a standard version of a diffusion of innovation curve (Bass, 1969; Rogers 2003). It is characterized by a sigmoid function that exhibits very slow growth in during the initial stages of development followed by often rapid increase (depending on the innovation or application) and ending with a leveling off, as the limits of the innovation’s utility are achieved. Concurrent with the diffusion growth curve is a second, inverse sigmoid curve that represents the fiscal and organizational transaction costs associated with introducing and implementing an innovation. In this case, there is a relatively long period where the costs associated with developing a technology’s infrastructure do not decline appreciably. However, as an infrastructure matures, there can follow a relatively rapid decline in the fiscal and transaction costs associated with the innovation. Transaction costs are most likely to decline when a technology is successfully integrated (fully operationalized) into the organizational system(s) it supports, which in this case is the K-12 system. Thus, the slope of the diffusion function is dependent on the financial and transaction cost function, and the slope of the cost function is determined ultimately by how fully the value chain (Fig. 1) is implemented.


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We wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments. We would also like to thank Dr. Elizabeth Grady for her insights on the integration of educational technology into K-12 curricula and organizational systems.

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Correspondence to Glenn L. Pierce.

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Pierce, G.L., Cleary, P.F. The K-12 educational technology value chain: Apps for kids, tools for teachers and levers for reform. Educ Inf Technol 21, 863–880 (2016).

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