All Posts in UX Design

June 16, 2021 - No Comments!

How to Run a Design Thinking Workshop for edTech Products

EdTech is in the middle of a major transitional moment, and the stakes for education have never been higher. 

To make matters even more complicated, we don't yet know the full impact the pandemic has had on both teachers and learners. From learning loss to the effects of social isolation, students may face an uphill battle in the classroom next year. 

Meanwhile, teachers' relationships to technology have changed. There's still so much more to learn about their professional needs and expectations when it comes to edTech.

Even as we're operating under plenty of unknowns for Fall 2021, product owners are anxious to address lessons from the pandemic. You want to move quickly, while schools and educational leaders are open to new, disruptive ideas about educational technology. 

Unfortunately, this pressure-cooker environment makes it difficult to innovate. But design thinking workshops can help you and your team change the way you think about the education vertical.

By creating a meaningful space to iterate, plan, and collaborate, these workshops align stakeholders across your team. Whether you'd like to develop new product features or establish more meaningful service processes, design thinking workshops lead to innovative solutions that will meet the challenges of this moment.


Collaborating with Stakeholders During the Workshop

Before you dive into the unique challenges and use cases of edTech personas, it's important to get the right people in the room and cultivate a sense of openness.

This likely means inviting a broad cross-section of stakeholders from your company to the design thinking workshop. Welcome representatives from sales, marketing, and content strategy to participate and share their perspectives. 

The broader your group is, the easier it will be to align every department on your goals for the product. Asking for up-down votes can be an easy way to get direction from stakeholders and find out what resonates early in the process.

Creating a relaxing, open atmosphere is also crucial. From a design perspective, open atmospheres allow team members to brainstorm and throw out ideas that might not work. But this sense of vulnerability can be important for addressing larger issues at the company, too.

For example, some teams have difficulty discussing equity, including diverse perspectives, or bringing in culturally relevant material to edTech products. By creating a welcoming, open atmosphere in your design thinking workshop, it will be easier to have these discussions and make diversity, equity, and inclusion a tangible part of your business or content plan.

How to Run a Design Thinking Workshop for edTech Teams

Unlike consumer products, edTech products have unique use cases and user dynamics. It's important to consider the needs of teachers and students from the very beginning of any design thinking workshop. 

With user research, market research, and other design and testing artifacts, you can create a shared baseline for your team to work from. Here's a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Consider your personas

edTech personas, including teachers, students, and administrators, have unique challenges in and out of the classroom. How will your product address or consider:


  • Equity and diversity
  • Families whose first language is not English
  • Issues around technology access and fluency
  • Classroom technology limitations


Hopefully your team has conducted initial user or market research on the areas that will impact your edTech product. The more your team understands your personas, the easier it will be to generate ideas for an edTech product that addresses the unique needs of your users.


  1. Incorporate results from user testing

Observing users "in the wild," whether that's an in-person or virtual classroom, is crucial to unlocking the features of your edTech product. 

Do teachers use your product on an iPad, or share it on a smartboard? Do they need to toggle between presentation and use modes? What other details are specific to the classrooms of your particular users?

By helping all the stakeholders on your team understand these details, you'll build a better product. You'll also create the potential for stronger marketing materials and customer support.


  1. Understand the nuances of edTech use cases

Provide your workshop team with a framework to guide their creativity. The more they understand how your product is used, the easier it will be to develop creative solutions during the workshop.

For example, imagine you're developing new features for a reading product. We already know there are many ways to teach reading during the school day. These modes include small group and whole-class instruction, individual reading time, and at-home reading assignments. How would your product support each of these different teaching modes?

By helping your team to imagine the full user journey within your product, they'll be able to identify solutions that help teachers and students throughout their day.


3 Variations on a Design Thinking Workshop

Any good design thinking workshop needs goals. But you might be surprised how versatile the outputs for your workshop could be. 

Maybe your desired output will be a new product idea. You may even get as far as building a rapid prototype of a specific feature! If you've invited the sales team, you could even develop a new sales approach in a breakout room.

By making time for happy accidents, you can stay open and receptive to different types of output. Even if the end result is a little "messier," you might hit on something that meets your teams' goals in an unexpected, even innovative, way.

Here are three examples of workshops with different high-level goals and outputs. Which workshop model might fit your team's needs?


Workshop #1: Developing a new feature

High-level goal: Solving a specific problem, like developing a brand new feature for an existing product, or integrating social features into a digital learning tool. 

Potential Output: A feature set, rapid prototype, or flow chart.

By the end of a design thinking workshop with a narrow goal, you'll wind up with a great idea for your product. But don't be surprised if team members come up with additional solutions that add value. 

Stay open and encourage all team members to listen closely. You'll want to capture every solution and creative idea you hear, even if it doesn't address the goal of the workshop directly. You can always come back to these ideas later.


Workshop #2: Dreaming up a new product

High-level goal: Transforming existing source material, like a print math curriculum, into a digital product that engages students.

Output: A new sales or service design that helps your team organize around your new product and the resulting relationships to your customers. For example, how will your sales team engage differently with school leaders to promote this product? 

This type of output will likely raise larger questions, too. Do you have the ability to change your vision for sales internally? Or do you need to work with an outside organization for additional support as you transition to a new sales model?


Workshop #3: Seizing a market opportunity 

High-level goal: Address how the shift from leveled reading to decoding reading will affect your company's goals for the future.

Output: Undetermined. For this kind of design thinking workshop, you'll likely go into the meeting without a specific output in mind. 

It's best to stay open to all the solutions you hear throughout the day, whether that's designing a new product or pulling an old one off the shelf. You might even need to queue up another design thinking workshop!

Whether you're brainstorming ways to fill a gap in the market or developing specific features, design thinking workshops are versatile enough to help you make progress on a variety of product- and business-related goals.

In order to stay relevant to the teachers and learners who depend on your products, keep making time for creative touchpoints with your team. We'll continue to see massive changes in edTech, and design thinking workshops can help you respond to those shifts. You might even be able to stay ahead of them!

Now's the time to integrate design thinking workshops systematically into your workflow. Contact us to learn more about holding a workshop at your company!

May 21, 2021 - No Comments!

How Good UX Design Provides a Safe edTech Environment for Online Student Interaction

We all saw how challenging it was for teachers to keep their students engaged during remote learning. If anything, it's made us rethink the role of edTech in supporting peer-to-peer learning interactions and building classroom communities within digital products. 

Maybe you've already been tasked with creating more opportunities for students to interact with their peers within your digital tools. Or maybe you're looking for new ways to incorporate social emotional learning (SEL) features into your existing products and need inspiration for the peer-to-peer aspect of collaboration tools. 

Whatever your user engagement goals might be for 2021, strong UX and design principles can help you make more valuable social interaction features for your users. 

By breaking down social interactions into smaller, more manageable units, you'll avoid the privacy challenges and legal constraints that large, open-ended platforms present. You'll also make it easier for teachers to manage and monitor online student interactions, all while keeping students who use your tools safe.

Helping Students Successfully Navigate Digital Interactions in edTech 

Educators value student-student collaboration tools because they offer ways to foster community in individual classrooms. These features also help students improve their SEL skills by working with their peers. But what happens when product owners want to introduce these same features to connect students from different classrooms—or different parts of the world?

Expanding your platform beyond individual classrooms will immediately bring privacy and safety issues to the forefront. If your goal is to support learning interactions between classrooms or create a large online community of student users, you must address state and federal privacy standards for students, as well as legal constraints around user-produced content. If best practices for building and maintaining social platforms aren't followed from the beginning of your design process, your platform runs the risk of enabling real harm. 

Even though this process presents design and safety challenges, it's possible to navigate these concerns safely. The digital platform, for example, offers a strong model for connecting individual learners to a larger digital community. Student-generated content is shared with guardians via the app. Family members then choose whether to share this content with the larger DIY community by signing a consent form; they even retain the ability to 'approve' each submission from their child. This added layer of informed consent mitigates privacy challenges and involves parents directly in the process of community engagement.

No matter how big your digital community is, the goal of any online learning tool with social features is to help students communicate with, and learn from, their peers. Whether your learning tool supplements in-person lessons or provides a digital space for students to collaborate remotely, safe, successful student interaction is the key to effective learning, high engagement, and product adoption.


How to Support Teachers Building Online Communities

As we build digital platforms and online communities in edTech, we must consider how well-equipped educators are to address online bullying, teach digital citizenship, and foster other forms of online community building. 

After all, without the support of busy educators, community-based products are less likely to be adopted and championed. Here are four ways you can support teachers on your digital platform—without adding to their heavy workload.


  1. Develop Simple Monitoring Features

Especially in secondary education environments, teachers need easy administrative tools for reviewing and approving student content before publishing it to the entire class. This might even look like lightly monitored AI chat to streamline a teacher's initial screening.

In higher education, students are able to self-monitor more effectively. When students are able to flag comments or use up- and down-voting features, instructors quickly become aware of problematic content or positive classroom trends. 


  1. Incorporate Digital Citizenship Learning Content

Even in closely monitored environments, students need constant reminders of positive online behavior. By developing professional content for teachers about digital citizenship, we can support them as they model positive behavior for their students. 

But digital citizenship is about more than giving teachers tools to avoid bad student behavior. It's also about helping students become supportive members of an online classroom. The more teacher-facing content your product provides to help teachers develop positive online environments, the more useful your product will be.


  1. Offer Detailed Student Reporting

When teachers can see more detailed information about student participation, it's easier for them to understand classroom trends. Reports that identify forms of student engagement, from commenting habits to trending topics, give teachers tools to stage behavioral interventions, praise hard work, or simply further engage their class.


  1. Anticipate Educator Needs for SEL Features

In addition to designing subject-matter content or sequencing tools, consider how your product helps teachers address the SEL growth of their students

Teachers may wish to build in reflective prompts about process or collect student feedback that addresses community dynamics. They may even wish to pose questions to students and track student reactions. Prompts like "How are you feeling today?" or "How do you feel about this assignment?" can help students reflect on their emotional states and ask for support as needed.

Successful UX Design for Digital Student Communities 

In addition to supporting teachers through good UX, your product can make it easier for students to engage successfully with their peers. 

From profiles to trending topics, here are four best practices to keep in mind as you develop features for student learning communities within your next product.


  1. Design More Effective Student Profiles

Build a student profile for each participant. This profile should include more than the student's name or student ID number. Consider mechanisms that create and track reputation, as well. 

As student users build their reputation within your platform, they'll become more thoughtful about their online social interactions. When individual student interactions are tracked and logged, it's easier for educators to hold students accountable for their behavior. It's easier for students to self-monitor their behavior, too. 


  1. Develop Badges and Credentials

Reputation building is about more than preventing bad behavior online. Whether you use badges or other forms of credentialing, the "public" celebration of student achievement makes a positive reputation something to be proud of.

Credentialing also creates peer "experts" on your platform. Students can help one another in peer-to-peer online learning environments, or teachers can identify student leaders and group their classrooms more easily.


  1. Encourage User Feedback 

In order to safely build evidence of student participation in your digital community, encourage student feedback and ratings. We see these models work effectively in consumer products all the time, whether that's Netflix's most popular shows or the trending topics sidebar on Twitter. 

In an edTech context, student agency directly affects community building. From the most popular science projects to the best middle-grade reads, students find meaning in what their peers are learning and enjoying. 

Showing how these trends change in different contexts offers additional learning opportunities, too. Students will find new levels of meaning in discovering how the popular science project in their class compares to the most popular project in their school—or even their country.

Whether you show teachers that 20 students gave a digital book four stars or show students trending topics and projects across your platform, digital trends offer a safe and exciting way to build community for young learners.


  1. Offer a Range of Media Responses

Gone are the days of requiring 500-word student reflections. Digital media-savvy students may be able to communicate just as effectively through photography, video, or audio responses. 

Whether students shoot a commercial on their iPhone, build a diorama, or create a podcast, your product can reflect the legitimacy of multimedia responses for both teachers and students.

The most successful digital communities foster student engagement and set students up to learn from interactions with their peers. By anticipating how to better support the needs of both teachers and students in these interactions, you'll ensure a safer classroom environment for everyone, while streamlining the administrative burden for educators. 

You'll also help students become better digital citizens—skills they'll need to succeed in online environments far into the future. After more than a year of remote learning and working, that's a win-win.

Are you building interactive features into your student-facing products for Fall 2021? Contact us today to discuss how good UX design creates better digital environments for teachers and students.

May 5, 2021 - No Comments!

6 Easy SEL Features for Remote Learning Products

When you think about online products with SEL features, what comes to mind? Most likely, you picture a popular mindfulness tool, like the Headspace app, or an edTech tool like BrainPOP. (In our user surveys, teachers never fail to mention the online platform's ever-popular "brain breaks.")

While mindfulness techniques and technology breaks certainly help students develop SEL skills at home, teachers use the term "social emotional learning" differently than most product designers. For educators, incorporating SEL into the classroom means helping students build the social and emotional skills they need to participate successfully in learning environments. This covers a wide range of abilities, including developing strong communication skills, setting individual goals, and taking responsibility for one's actions.

Right now, edTech product owners have a unique opportunity to change their approach to online SEL and better serve the needs of teachers. In fact, your student-facing products already have many features or examples of UX text where you can support SEL growth right away.

Don't retrofit SEL into your product or roll it out in the next phase. Save yourself time, money, and hassle by designing with an SEL mindset from the beginning. You'll win over teachers who already support your product, and make a more valuable tool.

How to Design SEL Features That Teachers Really Want

While some UX solutions for SEL features take longer to design and execute, other design and copy changes are easy to implement in the short term. 

Whether you design subject-specific or content-specific apps, incorporating SEL features should be top of mind as you build. You'll be rewarded with higher levels of user satisfaction and more teacher buy-in for your product.

Here are six meaningful ways you can address SEL growth in your products today.

1. Develop a supportive content strategy

Voice and tone can make or break your product—especially in edTech. If your content team hasn't mindfully considered how you communicate potential error cases to younger students, you may even cause unintentional harm. 

For example, overly technical error messages might indicate to an L2 student that their language choices are wrong, even when they aren't. Similarly, unclear directions or directions written for a more advanced reading comprehension level could overwhelm or discourage young students.

In addition to writing more mindful error notifications, consider how teachers communicate with their students. How can UX copywriting reinforce a student's growth mindset in every interaction? Every product touchpoint, from activity directions to highlighting incorrect quiz answers, is an opportunity to provide students with positive reinforcement.


2. Design affirmative, warm UI

edTech is only now starting to move away from cold, industrial visual design. Whether you're showcasing student achievements or showing students how far they've progressed through your experience, your UI should be friendly, authentic, and genuine.

In addition to color and design, consider incorporating imagery that channels emotion, complements positive UX copy choices, and reinforces a student user's efforts and achievements. Non-verbal cues, like animating a smiling character after a student completes a task, are strong signals to students that they're on the right path in your experience. These small UI decisions model the link between perseverance, effort, and progress, helping learners develop critical social-emotional skills.


3. Anticipate teacher-student touchpoints

In order to help students build self-awareness and self-management skills, teachers often begin their days with an emotional touch base. They also use verbal or non-verbal cues throughout class to help students become more aware of their feelings. By incorporating similar cues and touchpoints into digital learning tools, you can support SEL growth in edTech, too.

Non-verbal cues are especially helpful for students who have difficulty reading emotions. When apps include visual cues that emulate human contact, students see appropriate emotional models for sadness, frustration, and happiness. This tactic is at work in plenty of consumer products already—just think about how happy that DuoLingo owl is when you go on a streak!

4. Improve onboarding experiences

Teachers often onboard students to new products as they learn about the product themselves. When digital tools anticipate the needs of students during the onboarding process, it takes the burden off of teachers and eliminates student frustration or confusion.

If you're designing a product meant for young learners, consider using a visual overlay to help students focus on the most important task on each screen. You might even incorporate a voice-over to provide sequential narration, or use visual cues that follow a student as they move through the experience at their own pace. These UX and UI strategies provide immediate feedback for learners and reinforce their successes throughout the experience.

5. Create synchronous activities for remote learning

Now that so many students and teachers must learn remotely, planning synchronous activities helps create a collective classroom experience. Whether your product collects up-votes in real time or provides space for student-created content, you'll give students more opportunities to develop their social skills in remote environments. Even if we return to the classroom full time, teachers appreciate the added flexibility of being able to shift between synchronous and asynchronous activities in digital tools.


6. Help students develop more agency over their learning

Learner agency and decision-making is a crucial component of SEL growth. Product owners can support this by providing students more opportunities to take charge of their digital learning experiences. This might look like giving students the chance to set their own goals within an app or offering a wider range of genres or topics to choose from in a digital reading platform.

From affirmation and error messages to onboarding experiences, you're already building a digital tool with opportunities to strengthen student SEL skills online. Why wait to roll out SEL features in the next design phase? 

Incorporating a growth mindset into your digital tools pays off immediately. When you incorporate SEL features into remote learning tools, you support the needs of real student users—and make it even easier for teachers to adopt your tool in their classroom.

Are you developing SEL features for your new product? Contact us today to find out how we can help.

March 10, 2021 - No Comments!

Discover Innovative Solutions for Your edTech Product With Rapid Prototyping

If you've embraced agile product development, your product team likely builds products with the design skills and tool sets they already know will be successful. Even if you're planning sprints and embracing iterative design, you'll always be headed toward your product team's MVP solution.

While this can be an efficient way to design and produce products, it leaves little room for innovation. In fact, agile product development often lacks the elements of discovery, search, or trial and error that lead to breakthroughs.

Product teams that rely heavily on agile processes are likely missing out on better or more innovative solutions to their creative problems—simply because they're not given the time or resources to go looking for them.

By developing prototypes and producing demonstrations quickly, your team will think more strategically about product requirements, push your product in exciting directions, and bring internal stakeholders along for the ride.

Balance Agile Development with Rapid Prototyping for Better edTech Tools

Even when used within agile development frameworks, rapid prototyping provides teams with more creative leeway to find unexpected solutions to complex problems.

Both your UX and development teams may need to use unfamiliar technology or learn new skills quickly to develop a prototype on a tight turnaround. We know this isn't always possible when your project has a strict deadline or budget ceiling. But the trade-offs are almost always positive.

Not only will your team stay more up-to-date on current design trends, but they'll also learn new skills destined to keep your next edTech product ahead of the curve.

Ultimately, when you're able to build in more time for learning and problem-solving, you're guaranteed to head into product development with the most innovative and creative solutions your team can muster.

You might even create a future-proof edTech product—and leapfrog over your competition.

Rapid Prototyping Allows for Strategic and Creative Risks

Because the stakes for a prototype are so much lower than the stakes for your finished product, prototypes give your team the opportunity to break free of traditional design solutions.

Whether you're creating a rostering tool or an assessment feature, your design team's sense of the "traditional" solution begins as early as the discovery phase. Your team looks for competitors that represent the most popular brands in your product space. Who's up-and-coming? Who's doing something new?

But keeping up with the competition can sometimes mean treading the same ground as brands that are already successful in your market. Get out of your design rut by actively pulling apart user pain points and considering how to create the best user experience.

When you consider the best way to solve problems independent of user expectations and competitor data, you broaden your pool of solutions—and often hit on something innovative. Rapid prototypes allow your team to test out these innovative design solutions and ensure your new ideas are viable.

You may even be inspired to look to other industries, mediums, and digital product spaces in order to pull new ideas into your toolkit, identify new technology opportunities, and seek out inspiring tone and voice examples. Which brands are being enviably playful, innovative, or disruptive?

It's important to understand where your competitors are coming from, but you should always look for opportunities to flip the conversation on its head. Rapid prototyping will help you identify and test these innovative solutions even faster and with more strategic clarity, so you can stand out from the crowd—and build a product that stands up to the test of time.

Prototype Demonstrations Align Stakeholders Quickly

Unlike design presentations, prototype demonstrations are tactical. They show how the product works in real time, which means your stakeholders no longer have to imagine how your product works in an abstract way.

Clickable wireframes, rapid prototypes, and rough animation are all helpful tools for gathering constructive feedback from your CEO, sales team, and other internal stakeholders with little-to-no context. There's no need to review specific use cases or persona documentation or be brought up to speed by the product owner. Instead, your stakeholders can simply react to a design or technology idea as it's executed in real time.

Because rapidly built prototypes are real, stakeholders stay engaged in the product's success throughout the design and development process. When your company is energized around a product, everything moves faster and falls into place more easily, including budgets and internal support.

Getting the right input from the right stakeholders at the right time makes all the difference to your product team, too. If nothing else, your own team will be excited and creatively challenged as you charge ahead.

Catch the Holes in Your edTech Design Strategy

Even if your product owner, development team, and UX team have all looked at product wireframes a million times over, creating clickable prototypes will help you discover the holes in your own planning and edTech design strategy.

A clickable prototype reflects the complexity of your product. Using prototypes to fuel design, strategy, and feedback sessions will help you identify where team members have different assumptions. With a working prototype in front of you, you'll identify important edge cases or find the gaps between technology and design thinking that you may have missed.

A word of caution. Focusing too intently on your prototype's functionality can actually backfire. Prototypes exist somewhere between a quick, lightweight build and full product design. If the prototype process takes too long or becomes too involved, you could wind up uncovering problems that would never exist in the real product.

Stay on track by keeping your prototype build light and fast. Anything that takes longer than a week to finish probably isn't as "rapid" as it should be!

The Resources You Need to Embrace Rapid Prototyping

Quick turn-around user research and testing abilities
If you start the product design process with a developed testing plan, you can use it to propel your team through UX and technology plans, too. Set up parameters for testing, research, and feedback generation to get the most out of rapid prototyping to solve real user problems.

A devoted front-end developer
With a skilled front-end developer on your team, you can quickly create proofs of concept that help move both UX and UI forward with technology solutions.

While rapid prototyping should take less than a week, building enough time into your entire project to allow for creative thinking is crucial. Where can you extend your timeline to allow for more creative solutions?

Design thinking 
Use design thinking to break down problems and foster the most creative solutions from both visual designers and developers.

Many programs offer prototyping tools to help your designs come to life. Here are a few we recommend:

Rapid Prototyping Builds a Design-Forward Company Culture

Successful design cultures are built by teams that think innovatively about design and user research outside of client and product deliverables. While rapid prototyping is most often used to move specific projects forward, the skills your designers and developers need to be good at prototyping start within your company's culture.

Help your team develop an innovative mindset as they explore real problems in learning and education. Which new technologies and design methods can solve for the most pressing problems faced by educators and students?

When your entire team is immersed in the vertical, they'll be able to imagine how to apply design and technology solutions in edTech, test solutions through prototypes, and take your product design into the future.