How Intuitive Onboarding Can Replace Costly Teacher PD & Support

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

Onboarding systems — which help users understand how to navigate your product — can be the difference between success or failure, especially in edTech. These systems require plenty of up-front investment in research, planning, and testing, but getting your onboarding system right during the design process gives you immediate ROI.

How do I know? Whenever I’m designing software intended to make it easier for teachers to teach and students to learn, I think of my first-ever experience using TurboTax software. When I was 25, I left my full-time job designing interactive prototypes for Bell Labs and started freelancing out of my apartment in Hoboken. I freelanced for about a year before going back to work full-time for the kid’s media company that fostered my early interest in creating better educational experiences with technology.

When it came time to do my taxes, I bought a copy of TurboTax and jumped right in. I confidently skipped the “tour” offered by the software and started powering through easy questions about my general information and income. A few hours later, I found myself tangled up in a mess of itemized deductions, hardware depreciation calculations, and profit and loss statements. I eventually gave up and took a messy stack of notes and receipts to an accountant recommended by a colleague.

I’m still not sure whether I goofed by skipping the tour or TurboTax made it too easy to jump head-first into a complicated process. If I had let Turbotax show me how to use the software, I might have:

  • Used the software more effectively
  • Felt less frustrated and possibly even enjoyed the experience
  • Not given up and stopped using the software altogether
  • Avoided hiring an expensive consultant to help me accomplish my goal
  • Told other colleagues about the product

Here’s how to navigate the onboarding process in your own edTech product — and how getting it right saves you money in the long run.

edTech Products: What Onboarding Looks Like

There are a few different onboarding systems that help a new user understand how to use your product. Each onboarding system has different advantages, and edTech products often make use of more than one type in each product:

  • Virtual tours: Users click through a slide deck that provides an overview of the product and its features. This is the most passive form of onboarding, but it’s still effective. However, if your product is complex, a virtual tour involves a lot of reading for the user. This can slow them down or make the product less accessible.
  • Coaching: Users follow instructions within the context of the software to better understand features as they are encountered. This is also called “just-in-time help.”
  • Guided task completion: Users complete an interaction within your product as they’re learning how to use it, i.e., “First you’ll create a new class.” This onboarding system leverages what we know about experiential learning, which is one of the best ways to teach people how to do new things.
  • Progressive onboarding: Users receive instructions about how to get through the first level of interaction in your product. The product then encourages deeper engagement over time. One of the advantages of this onboarding system is that users don’t have to immediately use the full toolset to have a meaningful interaction with your product.

Your edTech product will probably use one or more of these systems to familiarize users with product features and help them get the most out of your learning tool. Hitting on the right onboarding strategy makes users happier, more engaged, and more likely to recommend your product — giving you immediate ROI.

The Immediate ROI of Getting the Onboarding Process Right

edTech products need to be easy for learners to adopt, effective for teachers to use in the classroom, and successful tools for administrators to invest in.

Choosing the right onboarding system makes it easy for each of your users to engage effectively with your product, whether that’s using basic features as you intended or exploring the product’s advanced features to get the most out of what your product offers.

When users feel empowered by a product, they become excited about its value, recommend the product to other people, use the product more effectively, and engage with the product more deeply.

After all, user engagement is the make-or-break point for every edTech product on the market. Designing a more successful onboarding process ensures ease-of-use for every persona that will encounter your product — and encourages deeper engagement from your users, too.

Here’s how getting onboarding right will add immediate value to your next project:

1. Purchasers reduce their administrative costs and other burdens to use.

As edTech product developers create more complex products, parent companies have started sending software coaches to schools for expensive professional development and product onboarding sessions. By only offering in-person coaching or software support, edTech companies create inefficient and expensive onboarding processes that negatively affect their own bottom line, as well as the budgets of school districts that adopt their new software. Onboarding problems also compound when schools buy the product, or when IT departments don’t implement correctly — issues that can be headed off at the pass with more effective onboarding.

While product designers might not be able to replace in-person coaches altogether, we can make the job of product owners easier. By designing the right onboarding system within your software from the get-go, you can shift your professional development resources toward webinars or other online materials that are more cost-effective for your company — and for your users.

2. Teachers engage with more meaningful professional development resources.

edTech products become more meaningful to educators when the value of the product is explained clearly and effectively within the product itself. Onboarding systems provide a great opportunity to explain this value by creating a desire for your users to engage with onboarding instead of skipping or dismissing it. Teachers want to know why your product will help them teach more effectively. They’re interested in direct and actionable resources, like teaching demonstrations, that will help them understand and unlock the product’s potential.

By creating a rich archive of techniques and resources that demonstrates you understand the nuances of teacher personas, you help teachers with their professional development in a meaningful way. At the same time, you decrease potential barriers to use for these personas, too. Ease of use will always be key to your product’s ultimate success.

3. Users experience fewer problems and have ways to report feedback.

Analytics for your onboarding system will help you see where users encounter problems throughout the product. Testing helps unpack what you see in analytics, and you’ll have more opportunities to revise and fix the feature with the help of your design team — or evolve the way you’ve chosen to onboard that feature altogether.

A “just-in-time” training prompt or a mini tour might address an issue for most users, while the presence of an onboarding prompt will give other users important cues that feedback systems exist within your software. After all, most users want to know how to use a product and what they can do if they have a problem. Choosing — and testing — the right onboarding system will provide your design team with more opportunities to uncover and build these feedback systems into your product.

4. Purchasers feel you understand their training and implementation pain points.

So much of product onboarding can happen successfully within an edTech product team — rather than with the sales team at the end of your funnel. When you hire a design team that understands how a school adopts a product, the onboarding process improves incrementally as you move down your sales funnel. This adds immediate value to your purchaser, who benefits from an easy-to-use onboarding system, excellent professional development resources, and increased savings for their district or school.

By making onboarding a priority throughout the design process, you provide crucial product support to the busy teachers and curious students who will encounter your edTech product. Whether you incorporate progressive onboarding, guided task completion, or other onboarding strategies into your product, finding the right tool through iteration and testing will only add to your bottom line — and establish your firm’s user-friendly reputation in an ever-crowded field of competitors

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