Beyond Reports: Better Ways to Use Data in edTech Products

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

Because of pandemic learning outcomes, now is a crucial time to use data in your edTech products to reflect where students are really at. According to reporting in The New York Times and elsewhere, students are still experiencing major challenges with reading, writing, and social-emotional skills after spending two years out of the physical classroom.

This new reality requires edTech product designers to tell a better data story within their learning tools. A strong data strategy helps you design a better learning experience for both teachers and students. It will also help you to make more effective internal decisions throughout the design process.

Because when it comes down to it, collecting data in edTech products is about more than generating a report from your data dashboard. Data creates student motivation and engagement, supports teachers who wish to use learning tools more effectively, and influences the design decisions that you make with your stakeholders.

Below, we outline everything you need to know about better ways to use data in student- and teacher-facing edTech products. We’ll also give you a six-step plan for using data to drive edTech design.

Let’s get into it!

Using Data in Student-Facing edTech Products

There’s a direct link between how you use data in edTech products and how engaging your product is for learners. 

By using product data to create a more complete student profile, you can encourage learners to think beyond test scores and grades. With the right content, users can also become self-motivated, directed learners who understand their own role in the educational process.

For example, a product with a mini assessment feature might tell a student user how many other students have taken the same quiz on soft skills, cognitive abilities, and secondary skills. They might even see a leaderboard with a ranking, or be encouraged to improve their scores through additional coursework and digital credentialing.

Although performance data can drive competition, it can also motivate learners without adding stress. Perhaps your data strategy goal is to help promote helpful behaviors or build new habits in learners. If that’s the case, encourage learners to set goals and track performance or identify which behaviors they’d like to improve.

When you design data in edTech with specific behaviors in mind, it becomes a way to build student engagement throughout the entire experience. You can even eliminate external pressures of competition, while inviting learners to take a more active role in their educational goals and progress. 

Using Data in Teacher-Facing edTech Products

edTech products are data-run machines. Data is at the heart of what products do, which means educators often have access to incredible, detailed reporting that supports their jobs. 

But reporting isn’t all that teachers are interested in. Student and teacher engagement data can tell a much richer story. It can also provide educators with more opportunities to intervene with struggling students or challenge learners who need new heights to climb.

Software companies in the edTech space have already made great strides with predictive data. For example, Blackboard Predict uses analytics of student behavior to identify at-risk students. The program then prompts teachers to intervene and provide additional support.

In addition to predictive features, prompts that showcase comparison data or break down time investments are especially useful for educator personas. If you’re designing a professional development tool, for example, you might share that other teachers using the platform have adopted a specific assessment technique to become more effective in the classroom. Prompts about minimal usage per week to improve outcomes or satisfaction would also work well.

You already use many data points to build engagement with learners. Improve teacher engagement by weaving data strategically into your onboarding or training features. You’ll not only tell a better story using the data you have, you’ll make each of your features more useful. This ensures that educators are using your edTech tools effectively and making a real difference in their classrooms.

6 Ways to Use Data to Improve Your edTech Product

In addition to integrating data into teacher- and student-facing products, you can use data in edTech products to drive product strategy and design thinking. 

Here are 6 ways you can use data to improve your edTech product from the very beginning stages of design:

1. Illustrate industry trends.

We’re not necessarily recommending that you be “on trend.” But trends often point to what users need. What are students struggling with right now? Where are teachers asking for more support?

Pain points are very directional for product design. Use this data to build alignment with internal stakeholders and prioritize what you should design first.

2. Decide on the role data will play in product design.

When you’re still conceiving the project, identify how data will support your users throughout the experience. For example, you might align stakeholders on the following questions:

  • How can you use data to motivate behaviors, especially around using products with fidelity or helping users develop new habits?
  • Where will data be most helpful throughout the learning or teaching process?
  • What user behaviors indicate struggle or challenge? Which indicate success?

3. Leverage the creativity of your engineering team.

When your engineers understand your data strategy they can help you connect the dots in your product content and design.For example, you may wish to know whether your product can interact with a national dataset that shows users a national average—not just averages in their own group, classroom, or school.

You may also want to help engineers anticipate future designs and data strategy, like showcasing user completion data in an R2 design—something that can’t be demonstrated at launch.

Engineers are a great creative resource. Don’t forget to use them!

4. Collect soft data from users to design adaptive content.

Qualitative edTech research like interviews and surveys give users more opportunities to provide feedback on your designs.

Soft data also paves the pathway for designing more adaptive content, further supporting the needs of content engineers and product designers. Consider strategies like:

  • Asking students and teachers to rate their experiences or answer a 1-minute question about UX.
  • Reflecting soft data back to users to give them more agency about what they’re learning. For example, a prompt in a math product might suggest that the user seems to dislike doing geometry problems and could try a different type of problem solving. 
  • Building engagement by delivering formats that users really love.
  • Detecting skills users don’t have or which learning styles they love the most.
  • Collecting data on users’ biggest challenges, like staying on task. How learners self-identify challenges or learning preferences is interesting alternative data for teachers to have.

5. Validate your UX and design decisions along the way.

In addition to soft data, don’t forget to crunch some numbers. Quantitative data helps you tell the story of the product in ways that will enhance your user’s experience. In addition to reporting, you can:

  • Provide friendly ways for educators to drill down on report findings.
  • Create better user behaviors to motivate and engage.
  • Use engagement data post-launch to continue iterating on feature design.

6. Reflect on your design process.

You can even build a data story around your own product team to improve your design process as you iterate. Use project management tools to identify which features took the longest to design and build.

You might also wish to review which designs offered your team the least effort for the greatest reward. Where are your wins? How can that support the next phase of design?

Not everyone in edTech is excited about data. Chances are, teachers are uncomfortable generating and using reports, and students are zipping through learning content to check a to-do off their list.

It’s our job as edTech designers to package data in an accessible way. We can even turn it into an elegant, simple, easy-to-use asset that doesn’t seem like data on the surface. By integrating qualitative and quantitative data more fully into your user experiences, you’ll improve engagement across the board.

Right now is also the perfect time to re-think your approach to data in edTech products. As students and teachers struggle to bounce back from pandemic learning loss, edTech product owners can tell stronger data stories, design more adaptive content, and pave the way for better classroom outcomes. 

Are you re-thinking the relationship between data and edTech product design? Contact us below to find out how we can help!

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