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How Selling Milkshakes Can Help Us Select Better Ed-Tech Products


Before buying your next ed-tech product, ask yourself, "What am I hiring this product to do?"


Common Sense Media lists over 2,500 ed-tech tools across curriculum, classroom management, school operations, and more. In this sea of ed-tech tools, how are we supposed to know what’s best for our school and our students?

The key is in this question:

What am I hiring this product to do?


In the above video, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen recalls a time when he worked with McDonald’s to help increase milkshake sales. The fast-food chain had mounds of data – milkshake sales reports, marketing profiles, customer surveys – but the only significant trend was that 40 percent of milkshake sales were purchased before 10 a.m.

So Christensen’s team went to a McDonald’s and asked the early-morning milkshake purchasers a simple question: “What job are you hiring this milkshake to do?”

The job, it turned out, was rather simple. The milkshake purchasers had a common scenario:

  • Their commute was long and boring.
  • They needed to eat, but weren’t too hungry before 8:00 a.m.
  • They had to eat while driving a car.

Thus, the job they were hiring for was something that could:

  • Break up the tedium of the commute.
  • Stave off hunger later in the morning.
  • Get consumed with one hand without leaving a mess.

The milkshake was the perfect hire for this job.

By recognizing why consumers needed the milkshake, the team was also able to identify ways to improve the product. In the end, it wasn’t about making a milkshake more creamy, chunky, fruity, or chocolatey. It was about hiring the milkshake to do a specific job: be a filling and tidy breakfast that lasted for an arduous commute.

So how can we apply this method to education?  

When choosing an ed-tech product, we must first identify the position we’re hiring for. Just as if we were hiring a teacher or a support staff member, we must treat products as resources we’re hiring to provide a service.

Here are four popular frameworks for teaching, learning, instructional materials, and school improvement. As you review products, consider using a research-based framework to evaluate the tools in terms of what services they offer teachers, school administrators, and the school. 

[This post comes from our monthly Education + Entrepreneurship newsletter. Sign up  here and get content like this delivered once a month to your inbox.]

Abby Ross
Abby Ross

Abby Ross is Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at ThinkCERCA.