the e-Assessment Association

Why focusing on learning impact simplified ASCD’s build versus buy decision

Why focusing on learning impact simplified ASCD’s build versus buy decision

ASCD’s professional learning platform had a big problem: it lacked assessment. Although ASCD’s product team needed an assessment engine, they quickly realized that building one in-house would be a waste of their development resources. 

“If you try to build an assessment engine, you discover it’s not just about creating questions… it’s like pulling on a sweater thread, it’s never ending,” said Rob Letcher, Managing Director of Digital & Learning Products, ASCD.

The product team considered open source assessment solutions, but they just weren’t modern enough to meet their needs.

Learnosity were brought in to help find a solution

ASCD is a global education nonprofit organization focused on empowering educators to reimagine learning through impactful pedagogy and the meaningful use of technology.

 “Our goal is to help improve education for all students and teachers,” says Rob Letcher, Managing Director of Digital and Learning Products for ASCD. “We achieve this by offering transformative professional learning, fostering engaged communities, and ensuring that digital experiences are accessible and effective.”

The Challenge

To build or to buy?

Rob Letcher led the product team at ASCD to build Witsby, a personalized professional learning platform that helps educators improve their instructional practice and school leaders lead staff development. Witsby is based on content from ASCD’s noted authors and faculty, drawing on years of evidence-based resources. It includes courses, videos, and podcasts, alongside curated Learning Lists and Instructional Strategies.

 When Witsby first launched its focus was on delivering research-based content, based on popular books by noted instructional leaders like Carol Ann Tomlinson on differentiated instruction and Baruit K. Kafele on school leadership. While the primary focus was on delivering exceptional content, Letcher and team sought ways to streamline product development so they could stay focused on ASCD’s core expertise: instructional practice and leadership content. And while delivering high-quality content was essential, they knew that district and school leaders needed to be able to measure the progress and growth of their professional development initiatives.

“Since we were building a bespoke learning platform, we knew we needed to assess learning,” says Rob. “Learning without assessment isn’t very effective or efficient.” 

 Rob’s team faced the classic build versus buy dilemma. After scoping the development of an assessment engine, they quickly realized that building their solution in-house would be an inefficient use of resources.

“The cost to just have gotten three or four very simple question types would have taken about six months of development,” says Rob. “We just didn’t have that kind of time and didn’t want to waste our development dollars on something we could pull off the shelf and plug into our platform.”

 This decision became easier as the true magnitude of an internal build dawned on the team.

 “If you try to build an assessment engine, you discover it’s not just about creating questions,” says Rob. “You also need to build data backend, reports, display features—it’s like pulling on a sweater thread, it’s never ending. There’s so much behind making your own assessments.”

The Solution

Finding the right fit

 Realizing that his in-house development team’s time was better spent focusing on the areas where they added the most value, Rob explored a variety of outside assessment solutions that could meet Witby’s specific requirements. The platform needed a reliable solution that offered an extensive range of question experiences, comprehensive reporting capabilities, ease of implementation, a customizable front-end, and ironclad security.

 “We first looked at open source assessment solutions and they didn’t appear to be well enough supported for us. None of these open-source solutions provided a really well-integrated look and feel to match our branding. They looked very old and out of place in our platform.”

 Witsby needed a modern, white-label engine to power its assessments. Once all possible avenues had been explored, one solution stood out.

Choosing the gold-standard assessment engine

Learnosity’s assessment engine was in the mix from the very beginning because Rob had firsthand experience of what it could do.

“I had a really positive experience with Learnosity in the past, which is why I recommended it as one of the solutions to investigate,” says Rob. “Given the Learnosity assessment engine’s cost versus the overall development and maintenance costs for us to build internally, as well as the time it would have taken on our own, choosing Learnosity was just the most logical choice.” 

Learnosity emerged as the optimal solution for Witsby, providing a seamless integration that came with a broad range of feature-rich question experiences, while also enabling Witsby school and district leaders to modify assessments to suit their specific needs.

“Learnosity provided us the ability to plug into this very robust solution,” says Rob. “Our platform immediately had access to dozens of question types, as opposed to the three or four that we might have been able to build ourselves.

Read the full case study here


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