The crazy economics of educational technology expectations

Nothing over the past few years has changed my mind about “educational games”. Most of these are either bad games or bad education.

I don’t – completely – blame the makers of those games, though. That’s like blaming television executives for all of the stupid programs on TV.

If 13 million people watch a stupid TV show, whose fault is it that we don’t have better television?

Is it the producers’ fault for making it or the viewers’ fault for watching “Celebrity Shopping” instead of “Planet Earth” ? (NOTE: If there is show named “Celebrity Shopping” , I won’t even be surprised.)

planet earth

Planet Earth is amazing. I love that series. It also took 5 years to make and $25 million to make. (For your viewing pleasure, here you can find a list of Top 11 Nature and Science documentaries. I’d recommend most of them. )

As much as I love Planet Earth,  Blue Planet and their ilk, I think it gives a false picture of what is feasible with educational games in the current funding environment.

Investors are looking for a quicker payoff than 5 years and I don’t know of any companies making educational games who have anywhere near that kind of funding. On top of all of that, the Planet Earth series lasts about 6 hours. With an average cost of $4.1 million per hour, to create a “Planet Earth” for 30 hours a week, 40 weeks of school would cost about $5 BILLION . Yes, 5,000 million dollars.

Wait! That’s only for one grade. So, for grades 1-12, we’re talking $60 billion.

All right, well, I think few people are seriously thinking of replacing all of the school hours with educational games or other media. Even if we are talking just a few hours, though, let’s think back to that $4.1 million per hour. How is that going to be paid back? Remember, investors want something like a 10x return on their money. How could investors receive back $41 million ?  Would we charge every child in every classroom $10 to watch that one hour?

My point  – and I do have one – is that if you are expecting that educational technology will engross your students to the same extent as blockbuster movies, then you need to be willing to pay the same price – and I’m not sure that’s feasible.

(There are two other reasons that our expectations need to be adjusted. For that, wait for my next two posts.)


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