Working with a Authors as edTech Product Stakeholders

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

Creating a new edTech product based on original print material from an author or publisher is a complex undertaking. You might be tempted to dive into the design process without bringing your author along, or wait until the very end to ask for their feedback. But don’t take the risk.

Whether you’re an edTech design company or an in-house team at an educational publisher, you’ll get the best results when you enlist your print authors as co-designers and product stakeholders. 

After all, their material has already been vetted and sequenced in a print curriculum. Its success in that market is likely why you’re so excited to transform it into an edTech product in the first place!

Below, we break down how to collaborate with authors as product stakeholders for the success of your new edTech product. Follow these best practices to align more closely with your author’s original vision for richer digital learning content and to develop more trusting collaborations.

Preparing Your edTech Team to Work with Authors and Other Product Stakeholders

In addition to preparing your internal team, your edTech vendors will need extra support as they read and digest materials related to your print author’s work. 

Authors are experts in their fields, and they will be better collaborators if your team has done their homework. This includes reviewing  the following:

  • Data and original research, with plenty of context to ensure a depth of understanding
  • Important educational terms, like “science of reading” or “decodables”
  • Market research and user feedback from the years the print product has been active

By helping your vendors focus on the most salient aspects of the print product, you’ll pave the way for your team to use digital design to create a more transformative edTech product. Of course, the more specialized your UX and development teams are, the better they’ll understand the work of your original author.

Vendors should also be prepared to work with authors who have a strong point of view. Their ideas might be disruptive, exciting, and new—even if they’re unfamiliar with the digital design and product development process.

Then again, your team might also work with authors who don’t wish to engage directly in the design process. If this is the case, what level of involvement can you realistically expect from your author? And how will you present work to them?

As you hone the nature of your collaboration throughout discovery, it will be easier to enlist authors into the design process and create an environment conducive to co-designing. 

5 Steps for Co-Designing edTech Products with an Author

Like you and your edTech company, authors have a vested professional and financial interest in the success of your digital learning tool. When edTech products are based on an author’s original research, expertise, or guidance, your design team’s work will also directly affect their reputation.

All of these dynamics are at work as you begin the design process. In order to help things run smoothly, here are 5 steps you can follow to co-design your product and bring your authors in as true edTech stakeholders.

1. Honor your author’s expertise as you create something new

In order to leverage your author’s expertise and translate it digitally, you’ll need to bring your authors in as product stakeholders at the ground level. Your product and design teams should also bring their own expertise as learning engineers to your author’s original research or instructional techniques.

By combining expertise in product design with best practices around the science of learning, your design team can take your collaboration with your author to the next level. 

Not only will authors feel seen and heard, but they’ll also have more context for understanding the world of digital product design. This context helps your author become an even stronger co-designer.

2. Use discovery materials to engage your author

Discovery materials, like your competitive audit and other market research, can re-contextualize digital products for your author. Use your initial findings to engage your author as one of the real product stakeholders by asking approachable questions, like:

  • What other products on the market tackle this issue? 
  • Is there a really popular platform preferred by users?
  • What else is the industry saying about this topic? 
  • Which pedagogies will you elevate in your product? Is the market currently using those approaches?
  • How will your product be sold & marketed?

As you present these findings to your author, gauge their reactions and plan accordingly. Are they data lovers? Digital skeptics? Dismissive of user-centered design? 

Tools like rubrics or user interviews can be successful ways to navigate early product planning discussions. If you’re working with an author who has a strong point of view about the role qualitative data plays in product development, return to user data to support your recommendations.

It can be helpful to engage other experts from your organization at this point, too. Ask your marketing guru to discuss how certain features will be perceived by customers. Get the tech team to think through your meta tagging strategy in order to improve search within the product. The more the experts on your team can provide data to support their decision making, the easier it will be to bring along your author as one of the product stakeholders.

3. Pitch broad concepts 

Before you develop specific product ideas or feature requirements, consider the big idea behind your product. 

Pitch a few of those concepts back to your author for initial feedback. This might include ideas like:

Pair your pitches with discovery work to support the reasoning behind your suggestions.

4. Begin concepting early 

It can be difficult to share a product purpose or vision statement with authors without context. Their suggestions at that stage might not even be actionable, which may increase their sense of frustration.

On the other hand, early concepting gives your product vision a form to rally around. Sure, you might still get things wrong. But you can always refine the direction with your author during a design thinking workshop or brainstorming session down the road.

The point here is to align all of your product stakeholders, including the author, as quickly and as early in the process as possible.

5. Conduct break-out meetings

In order to be a better thought partner and co-designer, hold smaller break-out sessions geared toward your author. Help them understand the impact of their decisions on the product. How will their decisions and suggestions affect the user’s experience?

Educational experts often find intimate design sessions more appealing. They may wish to think things through out loud, weigh different options, or choose which team members hear their suggestions.

Product teams might be used to navigating trial and error in front of an audience, but subject matter experts aren’t. If smaller meetings make your author more comfortable sharing, break-out sessions are the way to go.

Authors are experts in subject and content areas but not in product design. Our collective job is to make them feel more comfortable in this new environment. They may no longer feel like experts at all during product design meetings, even if they’re drawing from the same material.

Be patient and understanding with your authors. They have such important roles to play as key edTech product stakeholders. When you keep experts highly engaged, give them the vocabulary and tools to contribute to the design process, and make time to connect around the product’s larger vision, you’ll set your entire product development team up for success.

Are you translating a print curriculum into a new digital tool? Connect with us below to discuss how to bring authors into your project as edTech product stakeholders!

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