Nine months into the pandemic, we now understand the challenges and pitfalls of remote and hybrid learning like never before. From spotty WiFi connections to cobbled-together learning software, students and teachers have had to adapt at the speed of light.
Remote learning has also permanently changed the way edTech designers work. We now design based on new understandings about what our users need and want—whether that's more software integrations for educators or better reporting data for parents monitoring their child's learning activities from home.
Here are five edTech trends that have changed for good—and how you can address them in your own product designs moving forward.
1. edTech personas have evolved
Remote learning caused a massive shift in the relationship students, teachers, and parents have with learning technology. These profound, personal, and fundamental changes in how we teach and learn mean that edTech designers and product owners are also approaching the way we discuss learning technology differently.
While we once might have assumed that teachers relied on paper and printable resources, even when using the occasional edTech product, we now know they're fully committed to digital learning tools. From learning management systems to virtual curricula, there's widespread acceptance of edTech among teachers. A teacher's user baseline, or the baseline assumptions designers can make about teachers' needs and pain points, has changed for good.
But teachers aren't the only personas whose user baselines have shifted. Parent users are becoming more sophisticated, curious, and confident when it comes to their learning tech choices. Thanks to remote learning, they have a brand new set of expectations about the products their children use for school. Some parents are even looking for supplemental technology to enhance what their children are doing at home.
Administrators, who were largely in the role of buyers pre-pandemic, have now shifted to focus more on basic hardware needs and internet access for their students, so they can adequately promote remote learning.
While this has been a difficult time for everyone in the education ecosphere, it's resulted in an exciting evolution of user relationships to technology. By paying attention to these shifts, edTech designers can successfully reflect these new, more sophisticated needs rather than trying to create products that are driven by content. The products that will stand out in future markets will listen to the needs of these sophisticated users and design solutions just for them.
2. Collaboration & SEL features will be cross-curricular
Social distancing has only emphasized the need for social emotional learning (SEL) across the curriculum. Educators who already believed in group projects and peer-to-peer learning are looking for ways to more effectively incorporate student collaboration into online coursework. Meanwhile, teachers who don't normally incorporate SEL have likely been mandated to work it into their existing curriculum.
As edTech designers, we must now be more deliberate and intentional about how to include these elements in our products. With the right features, edTech tools can help students build connections with one another and reflect on their interactions with peers. When teachers have SEL-powered tools at their fingertips, they can emphasize successful communication, collaboration, and reflection alongside student content mastery.
3. Student engagement will be asynchronous
Building interactivity into online lessons has proved challenging for even the most superstar educators. While peer-to-peer and group learning features will help teachers increase student engagement, emerging tools like virtual reality and just-in-time teacher help might boost engagement even further.
Now is a good time to experiment with XR, even in products for very young students. Virtual reality lessons help teachers explain complex concepts from afar, whether students are learning how rocket engines work or interacting with models to explore math and physics concepts.
And while we believe in well-designed features that facilitate real-time learning, asynchronous videos and explainers have real value for student engagement, too. As students move through lessons or learning sequences at their own pace, pre-recorded content creates opportunities for them to receive just-in-time help from their teacher.
With more asynchronous sequencing and planning, distance learning lessons become personalized or adaptable and therefore more engaging. If a concept doesn't make sense, students can watch the explainer and try again; re-watching is a great way to expand or deepen knowledge, too.
4. All products should foster adaptive learning
When you take away schools and classrooms, learning happens at a student's own pace. Even if every student uses the same material, the pace is determined by the individual. This makes learning adaptive in ways it rarely was in real-time classrooms.
Technology facilitates adaptive learning. Every teacher wants to have one-on-one time with students, and technology can help teachers do this at scale. From providing supplemental resources for areas of struggle to personalized check-ins based on individual progress, teachers can use learning tools to streamline one-on-one attention.
5. Teacher onboarding will never look the same
More product support and "meta" onboarding experiences for teachers will make or break future remote learning tools. Right now, teachers are spending hours they don't have packaging disparate digital tools, platforms, and resources together to support and deliver their curriculum. They need more support than ever from product owners regarding ways to integrate software choices and get the most out of every tool.
When new learning tools provide teachers with a step-by-step vision for how to integrate an application with the solutions teachers already use, teachers find immediate value. These proactive features support teachers as they onboard their own students to a digital classroom, cutting down on the amount of time they need to spend in a "tech support" role. After all, we want teachers to spend more time doing what they do best—teaching our students.
From rapidly shifting persona needs to more sophisticated onboarding, edTech is never going back to its old assumptions about product design. Despite all the challenges presented by remote learning, there are more opportunities than ever to design for teachers, students and parents right where they are. Are you ready to address these new and evolving needs in your own product design?
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