How to Run a Design Thinking Workshop for edTech Products

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

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.

  2. 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.
  3. 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. 

Want to run a workshop but not sure where to begin? Download our FREE Design Thinking Workshop Guide below.

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. Download our FREE template guide below! 

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