Staying Ahead of the Curve: Designing edTech for the Long Term

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

Trends in education don’t always stick around. That’s why they’re trends! From debates about the best ways to teach literacy to shifting needs for remote products, user needs or desires will always change over time. 

As edTech designers, it’s our job to understand what will always be valuable for teachers and learners. Designing edTech for the long term requires using tried-and-true, research-backed methods

Designing tools this way will not only help you create better products that are more effective in the classroom. It will also help you sell products over time, whether you move to a subscription model or continue to offer support, upgrades, and new content for a well-loved product.

Whether you’re new to edTech product development or you’ve been doing this for a long time, this article will ensure that you’ve solved the needs that will always be top-of-mind for your users.

Let’s jump in! Here are five user-centric goals to help your edTech tools stand the test of time: 

  1. Designing a Great Onboarding Experience

    Onboarding is critical for both teachers and learners, but it can fall on the back burner as you prioritize other features. Sometimes we’re so interested in how the product supports learning goals, that we don’t necessarily stop to educate users about how the product works!

    Even young learners need to understand how the structure of your product works together with your learning content. As you train students on how to interact with your tool, you’ll help them understand how learning new concepts is supported by the tool itself.

    Similarly, teachers need onboarding support in both student- and teacher-facing products. Whether you have teachers complete a task to understand product set-up or provide just-in-time help, better onboarding increases teacher efficacy and builds engagement with your tool.

  2. Grounding feature development in research-driven user needs

    The top challenge that comes up in every user research interview with a teacher? Lack of time. If your product can’t help teachers perform their roles more efficiently or optimize a challenging process, teachers simply won’t use it.

    But we only know this because of how much user experience research (UXR) we conduct at Backpack Interactive. Designing edTech for the long term requires consistently validating user needs with foundational UXR. 

    Qualitative user interviews, competitive audits, and user testing will ensure that your learning tools are relevant, easy to use, and ready to help users solve their most pressing challenges.

  3. Incorporating the Principles of SEL into Any Product

    Our UXR findings also indicate that both teachers and students need products that develop and support social emotional learning (SEL) skills. SEL skills include a range of behaviors and abilities. Two of the most important are learner agency and self-motivation.

    Learning tools have many ways of giving users more choice, so they have agency in their education. Whether you build in ways for users to set goals, choose content paths, or respond to questions using a variety of media, you’ll help them develop grit, agency, and other qualities that are fundamental to social emotional learning (SEL).

    In addition to providing users with more opportunities to make choices, you can also design features like reward systems or sandbox learning to improve engagement and spur learner motivation. The more learners understand the role they have in their own education, the more motivated they will be.

    Remember, SEL principles can be incorporated into any type of learning product—and any type of learning content. For more information and a product checklist, check out this article from our archives.

  4. Building Engagement through Community, Gamification, & Contextualization

    Asking a teacher or student to engage with a new product is always a big ask. After all, learning something new or integrating a new tool into a well-established teaching routine is challenging.

    No matter how great your learning tool is, lack of time in the classroom is your biggest hurdle to product engagement. Designing edTech products for long term success requires you to build relationships with teachers and students through the tool itself.

    Three types of features can drive this relationship—and increase engagement—effectively. Let’s break them down:

    • Community features. Authentic community-driven features must be thought of in initial phases of product design to work well. Whether you provide a platform for teachers to share content with one another or engage in professional learning conversations, this is a major time investment.
    • Gamification features. Like learners, teachers are also motivated by game mechanics to meet goals and try new features.
    • Contextualized onboarding features. If you can successfully tie your users’ pain points to your product’s benefits, both teachers and students will engage with your tools more deeply.

      Whether you provide just-in-time product help or mini value props throughout the onboarding process, your users need to understand that your tool can really help them solve their challenges.
  5. Using the Principles of Learning Science to Create More Effective Learning Experiences

    Because learning science is based on tested scientific principles for how we learn, you can rely on it over time—no matter what the edTech trends happen to be that year.

    It might sound intimidating, but using learning science principles in edTech doesn’t have to be hard. Once you understand principles like formative assessment and “learning by doing,” you’ll always be designing edTech tools for the long term.

    Your tools should also work for every learner. Whether your tool provides adaptive learning pathways, addresses different learning styles or modes, or offers real learner agency, learning techniques all work the same way.

When it comes down to it, our best learning tools are meant to improve teaching and to catalyze learning. These are big overall goals. As you start to dig into the nuances of your edTech product, it’s easy to lose sight of this purpose and begin generating content- or technology-centric solutions.

Sure, tech developments like AI assistants, speech recognition, and other tools are also important to track and use. They may even make your product seem more cutting-edge. They could even be the answer for how to deliver your strategy or product design! 

But these five user-centric methods will help you focus on major user goals while also making room for technological innovation. No matter how many buzzy new capabilities your product has, designing learning tools for long term success will always mean centering your users first.

Are you kicking off a new edTech product? Contact us below to find out how we can help ground your learning tool in UXR and learning science!

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