How to Develop Effective edTech Personas

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

Conducting user experience research, or UXR, helps your product team develop an accurate picture of edTech users’ needs and pain points. These needs, challenges, and demographic details are typically gathered into a specific research tool called a persona.

If you’re used to glossing over persona work because you haven’t seen a return on investment, think again. In my experience, developing accurate personas is one of the best ways to minimize the risks associated with building product features that may not resonate with your customers.

After all, edTech is a unique B2B industry. Its user roles are more nuanced, and the tactical needs for edTech software vary widely from school to school and district to district. Below, we’ll unpack what makes edTech persona categories special, how to research your personas effectively, and how you can scale your UXR efforts.

4 UXR Categories You Need for Any edTech Persona

Whether you’re a B2B software developer or an edTech marketer, you’ll recognize the four categories for developing an edTech persona, outlined below. 

While the categories for an edTech persona will look familiar to marketers, there are also crucial differences. That’s why edTech personas pose a unique challenge for B2B software designers, especially if you’re coming from a different industry. 

For starters, roles in edTech rarely align to common B2B personas. (We’ll get into it. Don’t worry.) 

Here’s everything you need to know about researching each of these UXR categories in edTech, so you can develop a more accurate persona.

1. Roles

The complexity and nuance of edTech users distinguishes edTech from other B2B software. The buyer of any edTech product is not the primary user. 

Instead, the user is either another adult—a teacher—or a student. (Remember: Students range in age from K-12 to college, and each age group has its own needs, challenges, and complexities.) 

Typical roles include:

  • Administrators. Often the buyer, rarely a primary edTech user.
  • Teachers, including speciality teachers. May use a mix of administrative and user features. This category can have many important sub-categories.
  • Students. Typically the end user, or implied end user (for edTech products designed specifically to support instructional needs of teachers).
  • Parents. A secondary or tertiary user that supports the needs of student users and may interact with teachers via your edTech product.

Any insights you gain conducting interviews with one user typically only reflect that user’s situation. This is why it’s crucial to ask questions that shed light on a teacher persona‘s classroom technology, and planning needs, as well as their level of interaction with your parent persona.

Ultimately, your qualitative and quantitative research data should create a clear picture of your user’s working and home environments.

2. Motivations

In the course of researching, you’ll likely identify three to four motivators that are key to understanding your primary user. 

For instance, the teachers who use your product may want to improve reading scores or introduce social emotional learning skills into their science curriculum.

Typically, however, edTech product owners can only champion one of these motivations or goals in each product. Narrowing your user motivations to a single north star will help your product team make critical decisions in terms of road mapping, design, budget, and more.

Effective edTech personas outline user roles, needs, pain points, and motivations.
Effective edTech personas outline user roles, needs, pain points, and motivations.

3. Needs

Thinking about edTech products in the abstract results in designing solutions for an ideal scenario. Learning tools are never used in ideal ways. There’s rarely enough time for students to interact with learning software in the classroom, or for teachers to learn how to use a complex administrative feature.

Instead, teachers and students have needs that drive how they use edTech software—not the other way around. Those needs are almost always tactical. They include:

  • District requirements, like aligning with SEL curriculum needs or a funding source
  • State standard alignment
  • Security clearances for working with students, especially for products that require student participation or the sharing of student work
  • Technology requirements and barriers
  • Licensing requirements for multiple teacher users, including specialist teachers

By focusing on how to meet these basic, tactical needs, you will reveal the existing gaps in your personas and user experience research. Then you can work to address those gaps by conducting more targeted UXR!

4. Pain Points

In order to paint an accurate picture of an edTech user’s pain points, you must thoroughly understand their role. If you’ve drawn broad assumptions about user roles, now’s the time to get specific. You should aim to understand the answers to questions like: 

  • What’s your teacher persona’s day like? 
  • How many students do they see each class period? 
  • How much time do they have to use your learning tool?
  • How will this tool fit in with what they are already doing in their classroom? 
  • What other digital products or edTech products are they using? 
  • What issues do they have with the school WiFi?

These UXR questions will reveal user pain points in a hurry! 

In addition to establishing details about your user’s day-to-day challenges, you should also spend time establishing existing pain points around curriculum and content.

  • How is the subject currently being taught? 
  • Do teachers have all the resources they need? 
  • If not, what work-arounds are they using? For example, if the school doesn’t have access to a science lab, how do they conduct science experiments? 
  • What’s the state, district, or school standard for that subject matter?

The more you distinguish between business requirements and user pain points, the better. That way, you’re solving for a real challenge in the education space—not just trying to meet a business opportunity or add a flashy new feature that might not get used.

Tips for Researching Your edTech Persona

Persona research serves as a guidepost for edTech product and UX strategy, including the features and solutions that make your learning tool stand out from the crowd.

Follow these best practices to ensure your edTech personas provide real and lasting value to your entire product team.

1. Word research and interview questions carefully

  • Your users only have so much time—and you only have so much budget. Structure your questions to get the information you need, filling in any gaps you might have about logistics or user responsibilities.
  • That said, leave time for open-ended questions. Your users have a lot of expertise in the field of education. Very likely they will provide you with relevant anecdotal information and context you could not have anticipated ahead of your conversation.
  • Avoid confirmation bias in surveys by framing your questions in a neutral way. Here’s a good guide to writing qualitative survey questions for edTech users.

2. Find a representative user base to survey

  • edTech users willing to participate in surveys already have strong feelings about digital products and learning tools. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re most representative of your user base.
  • Make a plan to reach the communities who are crucial to your organization’s mission or purpose. If that means finding underserved populations who may not respond to survey calls, give yourself more lead time and flexibility.
  • In general, expanding your research to include educators who serve low-income communities will help you solve for most user needs. Solving for outlier cases in edTech makes for a stronger user experience overall.

3. Be intentional about how you’ll use persona insights as a product team

  • edTech personas aren’t just a box to tick off your research checklist. Identify the real information needs you have as a team—and commit to using personas to uncover useful qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Typically, this requires asking questions that are actionable. As a gut-check, ask yourself: If you get answers to this question, how will it directly affect your UX and UI design choices? Prioritize strategic motivation over curiosity.
  • Identify priority and underserved users to get to the heart of your knowledge gaps. Are there teachers who would benefit from your learning tools, but you don’t know much about them or their work? Developing a persona will give you the answers you need.

Avoiding Confirmation Bias in edTech Persona Development

We know our fair share of persona detractors, and we get it. Plenty of personas aren’t useful. But typically that’s because they’re not backed by real user research. Instead, these lackluster personas are developed quickly using confirmation bias.

Here’s how to make sure you’re avoiding confirmation bias when developing your edTech persona:

  • Widen your user base. If you’re only talking to 1 or 2 users, then you’re likely only scratching the surface. This is also the fastest way to design an edTech product based on what you wanted to do—not what your users need.
  • Identify real challenges and pain points. Don’t confuse your brand positioning or market opportunity for a research-backed challenge. Research is the key to developing empathy for the struggles teachers and students face in the classroom every day.
  • Cross-reference your research with quantitative data. Qualitative research, including interview and survey responses, should be referenced against quantitative data from your product or market research. Taken together, how do both types of information shade your edTech personas with more nuance and specificity?

Like other B2B software, edTech success is based on word-of-mouth referrals. Teachers and administrators know when product owners haven’t taken the time to understand their world—or solve their problems.

Conducting in-depth research to create a better persona is the best way to ensure that your learning tool is effective—and adopted by the schools or districts you serve.

How to Scale Your edTech Persona Research

Once you develop a process for creating and maintaining user research, it’s easier to ramp up your efforts. This way, you can distribute a survey or set up a classroom observation quickly—in a matter of days, not weeks.

  • Maintain a research database. While this effort requires upkeep, your research database will ultimately allow you to find new research or buy new data quickly. Consider a tool like Coda to help you keep everything organized.
  • Work from existing data. A rich repository of desk research and user data can be enough to develop a detailed, nuanced persona.
  • Conduct “just enough research.” Every UXR project doesn’t require classroom observation. But developing an effective teacher persona might! Use the parameters of your existing project and research database to help you conduct “just enough research” to fill in any gaps, whether that means a broad research study or boots-on-the-ground observation.
  • Hire an external UX team. If your internal team is maxed out, or you’re still building your UXR capacity, outsourcing research tasks to an external UX team can be a great investment. Plus, you’ll get all the benefits of working with industry experts who have seen many different kinds of edTech products cross the finish line. 

Done well, user experience research provides your entire product team with the foundation for understanding your users, aligning on strategic decisions with stakeholders, and designing incredible solutions quickly and effectively.

Do you need support developing an edTech persona for your next product? Backpack Interactive can help! Check out our UXR services for more information.

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