Using SAMR as a Guide for Digital Product Development

Building Digital Products for Usage

As a model to help teachers evaluate how they are incorporting technology into their instructional practice, Dr. Ruben Puentedura developed the SAMR model.  The SAMR describes the teachers’ use of technology as they climb the ladder towards transforming their classroom.  SAMR stands for

Substituion, Agumentation, Modification, Redefinition

Today’s education companies, with few exceptions, see themselves as partners in digital teaching and learning transformation.  And, if that is the case, this model is crucial for product developers to understand.  By helping teachers move from using technology to enhance their teaching to using technology to transform their teaching, vendors are helping transition their customers’ teaching while also increasing the chances that customers will stay with their product and grow their usage year after year.

In substitution, tech acts as a direct tool with no real functional change to the task at hand.  For teachers who are just beginning to use instructional technology, this step is crucial.  Moving from a written quiz to an electronic one or from a print text to an ebook is the kind of activity that teachers new to technolgoy can envision doing.  It doesn’t require them to change their teaching but allows them to swap one activity for another--building initial confidence and usage.  As you develop your product, think about which activity(ies) your program can substitute for and build a opportunity for new-to-technology teachers to ease into your product.  Ask yourself, “What can teachers gain by substituting our new technology for an older one?”

In augmentation, the tech tool still acts a a direct substitute but with some functional improvement.  For instance, the quiz questions remain the same, but technology allows the student to receive immediate feedback.  This increases productivity because it gives students individual feedback more quickly than hand-graded quizzes.  This step, too, is crucial for new-to-techonolgy teachers.  Chances are it is among the early “ah-ha!” moments in their transition.  How will your product augment what teachers are already doing?  Have you added an improvement to current workflow that could not have been accomplished with their previous process/tool?

These first two stages aren’t sexy nor do they utilize the real power of most of the exceptional digital tools out there. However, without thinking through how your customer can most easily START using your product, they probably never will. 

Many users of your products are fine to stop here.  As a matter of fact, research from Dr. Wendy Oliver as well as others, shows that many teachers will categorize their classrooms as “blended” even though they have not moved past the augmentation stage.  But of course, this is where it gets interesting.  If you have built a nice runway into your product’s usage, during the modification stage is where your tool can start to show its real power.  For instance, in the quiz example above, instead of simply providing feedback to a student, the program could offer up remedial content that is personalized for that student.   The teacher then divides the class into small groups, each focusing on a different area of weakness.  The technology has allowed for signifcant task redesign and more personalized learning. 

Redefinition, allows for the creation of new tasks.  What if, instead of taking a quiz, your tools allows students to work together to create a single quiz?  Each group is assigned a topic and starts by constructing the quiz question and then creating a multimedia lesson to teach the outcomes of the lesson to their peers.  

Not every teacher will need to go through all four stages of SAMR, but to move past your “early adopters,” you will need to figure out you can help your customers to transition—not just to your new product but to digital teaching and learning.  Product development should consider parallel models to grow their customer base but more importantly, to grow their customer usage, and student learning.