What Teachers Really Need in a Remote Learning Product

Monica Sherwood bio picture Monica Sherwood

The rapid switch to remote learning this past spring revealed major gaps in digital learning tools. Teachers often struggled to reach students working at different paces or levels within the same class. At times, educators even cobbled together three or four applications to ensure their students could access and understand high-quality learning content. The rise of the Zoom lesson also brought major dips in student engagement, since students felt less connected to their instructors and their peers.

Even if classrooms make a return to learning in person full-time, edTech designers now have an incredible opportunity to reflect on and meaningfully address these pain points. We surveyed our Teacher Council about the challenges of remote learning, then sat down for a roundtable discussion about their needs. By the end, we’d received numerous insights about what teachers are looking for in remote learning tools, including design ideas product owners can implement right now.

From mobile-ready design to adaptive learning technology, here’s what teachers really need in remote learning products.

Teacher Pain Points: Where edTech Falls Short for Remote Learning Tools

Equity and accessibility

About 25% of our Teacher Council members report that their students don’t have access to technology while working and studying at home. Most of the educators on our Teacher Council work in urban school districts. Even so, student access to technology is a nation-wide problem further exacerbated by the pandemic and socially distant learning.

While edTech will never be able to solve social inequality, there are strategies edTech designers can use to help ease this pain point. For instance, lightweight, mobile-ready designs make it easier for students to work on their parents’ phones and other mobile devices, especially when using spotty or public internet connections.


During distance learning, teachers have fewer opportunities to connect with students and support their social-emotional growth with the one-on-one attention that reinforces learning. When digital tools promote student engagement, students are more likely to stay focused, learn material, and retain complex subject matter.

edTech products should help older students understand the value of using the tool, promote learner agency, and facilitate group learning. edTech can also bolster products with SEL features to address the need for additional support.

Differentiation and adaptive tech

In the classroom, teachers are able to differentiate—or, quickly change their teaching style, language of instruction, mode, or medium—in order to reach every student.

Digital tools need to offer this kind of flexibility when a teacher can’t work with students in person. This might mean providing additional language support for emerging ELL students, developing audio or video components to content, or using voice-to-text tools to help teachers meet students where they are.

Adaptive learning technology can provide additional support for teachers looking to differentiate content. In an ideal piece of software, adaptive learning technology would recognize a student’s level of content knowledge and deliver additional content at the right level. Adaptive technology is especially important during remote learning, when teachers can’t necessarily assess and reassess how students are performing during one-on-one interactions.

Ultimately, teachers are looking for tools that differentiate because they want to streamline the number of tools used during distance learning. When teachers are able to pick one digital learning tool that all the students in their class can use, regardless of ability, content knowledge, or language acquisition, they are better able to facilitate learning and ensure accessibility for all their students.

Professional development

Suddenly having to deliver an entire curriculum using digital tools was a challenge for most teachers, especially those who felt less confident using technology. Through onboarding and other forms of support, edTech products can do more to help teachers sequence their curriculum or guide those who find digital learning tools less intuitive to use.

When edTech product owners also switch their professional development content to flexible, mobile-friendly content like pre-recorded video, teachers are more likely to engage with and use content on their own time. Post-pandemic, flexibility and asynchronous content are key for busy, overwhelmed educators who still want to learn, develop, and grow.

75% of teachers reported that their students became less engaged in socially distant learning over time. 

How edTech can Lead the Way in Designing Better Remote Learning Tools

As leaders in the edTech industry, we have a unique opportunity to reflect on the successes and failures of digital tools in remote learning contexts. Now is the time to better understand the challenges faced by both teachers and students through more thoughtful UXR.

Whether you opt for low-hanging fruit, like mobile-friendly design, or go all out with new and improved remote learning features, we hope our insights deck provides you the road map you need to a stronger product.

When we take the time to learn from teachers about their needs and challenges as an industry, all edTech products become more useful—and more valuable—learning tools.

Download insights on remote learning from our Teacher Council below—and stay tuned for even more teacher takeaways you can apply to product design in the future.

Let’s build the future of digital products together.