What Are You Selling? UX Solutions for SaaS in edTech

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

When it comes to designing software-as-a-service, or SaaS, it can be difficult to decide where your marketing site ends and your product begins.

How do you create clear boundaries between the free and paid features for your product through UX and visual design? How do you communicate to your user the value of your SaaS without giving away the farm?

It might be tempting to only give users a small taste of your product’s full capability. After all, you don’t want to attract a bunch of hangers-on who never convert to paying customers!

However, we’ve found that the more you “give away” before asking users to convert, the better engagement you’ll have with your product. That’s because most users want to see and experience the value of your product in their own lives before committing to a paid model.

This can be true in edTech, too. For example, you might have more opportunities to convince teachers that your video lessons have value in their classrooms if you don’t paywall all of your video content immediately. By letting teachers use more than one video and build lessons around your content, you’ll be more likely to convert teachers into paying customers. You’ll also have a better chance of transforming them into advocates for your product.

But, as edTech products become more complex, the “freemium model” for SaaS only gets you so far. If you’re developing a product for teachers that collects outcomes and data, you’ll need to consider even more carefully where your product’s marketing experience ends — and when you’ve given away too much.

What Are You Selling? UX Solutions for edTech SaaS

A user’s sales experience with SaaS is closely tied to their understanding of the product’s experience and design. How does your product look and feel? Is it more powerful or easier to use than the product they’re currently using? Good UX and visual design helps users build trust with your brand, even as they begin evaluating whether your product will solve their most pressing pain points.

Before you can attract new users to your product, your product and sales team will have to identify the SaaS model that gives away just the right amount of content. Here are the three most common UX solutions for SaaS and how you can align your edTech product goals with the right one.

    1. The “Freemium” Model
      Works great for:
      specialized course content
      There’s a reason marketing departments love free trials — they work! High-quality free content teases visitors to integrate tools into their daily lives. Ultimately, you want the tool to be so valuable — and the content to be so effective — that your visitors convert into paying customers. For both free and paid subscriptions to thrive, your company must commit to continuously innovating you product. After all, attracting new potential customers gets harder as you go. Improving the free version of your edTech product will become just as important as developing the paid version when it comes to attracting and keeping new users. When our client SuperD!Ville launched their new site, we recommended including a “freemium” content area for new users. Their “Episodes” page now showcases a range of helpful video resources for teaching students social-emotional skills. One of the videos is free, and a subscription is required to access their other active learning tools. Even with access to limited content, SuperD!Ville users get a taste of how powerful the lessons are in their classrooms and begin to envision how they’ll use additional, paid resources.


    1. Separate product and marketing sites
      Works great for:
      long-term, complex solutions like curricula or student assessments
      It’s not easy for educators to determine whether an entire curriculum will work in their classroom or school district if they only have access to a product for 30 days. What truly convinces administrators in this case isn’t free access — it’s efficacy data. The best way to present this data is often by creating a separate marketing site that targets the decision-making administrator or educator persona. On your marketing site, present case studies that illustrate real-world ways your product has made a difference. Discuss how the product can be integrated into what teachers are already using. Provide testimonials from users and build a community of champions. Each of these tactics will make a persuasive case for why an administrator should adopt a curriculum or a specific student assessment. Leverage the early UX research you conducted to fine-tune which product features and data will be most compelling to this persona.


    1. Integrated SaaS solution
      Works great for:
      Data-driven tools, products with complexity and depth
      Integrated solutions give users a limited set of all features, but prompt users to unlock additional features by subscribing or paying a fee. From a marketing standpoint, you’re showing off your best product features even as you help users learn how those features are integrated within the workflow of the product. Unlike other models, your conversion opportunity arrives at the most critical moment for your user — right when they want a deeper outcome or result from using the features of your product. Early in the planning and research process, you’ll need to decide whether your product can be sold directly to teachers or school administrators. Are you providing an enterprise solution that has to be adopted at higher levels? Or are you providing individual teachers a powerful tool for their individual classroom?This may also affect the types of licenses your sales team will offer, as well as the different levels of features that could be unlocked within the product itself. Will you lead users strategically toward a rolled-up sale to gain access to a broader market? Foster collaboration between your UX team and the sales team early in the design process to create the best possible experience for your users.


User-centered approaches to edTech SaaS require a sophisticated approach to user research, product design, and marketing. The more your UX team collaborates with major stakeholders to identify the best experience for your users, the better your product’s content, features, and sales experience will be.


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