The Value of UX Discovery Sessions in edTech Product Design

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

If you want to create an edTech product that learners love and teachers love to adopt, UX discovery sessions are essential.

By asking questions and conducting user research, your UX design team will help you:

  • Manage the risks of edTech product development
  • Improve your performance in the marketplace
  • And optimize your engineering process. 

In this article, you’ll discover what the UX discovery phase looks like in edTech product development.  

You’ll also learn which deliverables to expect at the end of a discovery engagement, how discovery really affects your edTech product timeline, and why hiring a specialized UX team might be the right move for you.

What is a UX discovery phase—and what does it look like in edTech?

You’re ready to start designing a new edTech product—congratulations! Before your UX firm creates a single wireframe, they’ll likely ask you to engage in something called a discovery phase.

UX discovery sessions are typically the first phase of a longer client engagement. During this initial period, UX firms conduct user experience research, hold discovery workshops with key stakeholders, and gather competitor data.

In edTech, discovery sessions can look like:

  • Defining user problems through stakeholder workshops
  • Reviewing the personas for your learning tool
  • Discussing desk research or insights from recently conducted user experience research

Throughout each session, your UX team works to define the problem your edTech product will ultimately solve. 

Once they’ve gathered enough research and evidence, they’ll make initial recommendations and align your team on a user experience strategy. From there, the design process officially begins.

How UX discovery sessions help you build a better edTech product

While it might seem like you can’t afford to spend three months in the discovery phase, skipping or accelerating UX research efforts often results in less effective product design.

These are the 3 biggest benefits of conducting UX research and competitive analysis before you design a single pixel of your learning tool.

1. Risk Management

If you design an edTech tool you haven’t researched or tested, you’re less likely to identify a user-centered solution.


Even if you have incredible learning content, beautiful design work, and breathtaking technology, you’ll still make a lot of guesses about what your users actually need.

UX discovery sessions are a great way to mitigate this risk and deliver a high-quality tool for your users. Even if you already know a lot about your users, user experience research (UXR) helps you identify gaps in your knowledge. UXR is also a great way to gain insights into persistent user problems.

Desk research narrows your focus as you conduct specific user tests or a competitive audit, accelerating the product design process in the long term.

If you have the resources, you can also conduct UX research internally and identify areas you want to improve in your edTech product. You might even outsource your UX team and hire researchers to identify your biggest risks and help you decide how to use the discovery process effectively.

UX discovery sessions typically cost 10% or less of your total spend for design and engineering—but they save you plenty of missteps and extra work along the way.

Ultimately, conducting user research at the beginning of a discovery phase helps you spend your precious budget wisely.

UX discovery sessions typically cost 10% or less of your total spend for design and engineering—but they save you plenty of missteps and extra work along the way.

2. Stronger Marketplace Performance

Up-front discovery work ensures that you’re going in the right strategic direction when the design phase officially begins.

With accurate information about your users and their needs in your corner, your learning tool will compete in an already-crowded marketplace.

After all, both teachers and administrators notice when edTech products don’t reflect their realities in the classroom.

If your product doesn’t work well in a school setting, you risk contributing to more user frustration and more administrative overhead. That’s not the kind of learning tool that gets glowing customer reviews—or word-of-mouth recommendations!

UX research also allows you to understand your users’ day-to-day needs and challenges in a more nuanced way.

When product teams understand and empathize with these specifics, you design a more valuable product overall. What’s more, both teachers and administrators will appreciate your efforts—and be more likely to buy your tool.

User journey mapping in edTech.
User journey maps are a discovery deliverable that make users’ day-to-day needs concrete for designers and developers.

3. An Optimized Engineering Process

Last but not least, thorough UX research ensures a more optimized, less wasteful engineering process.

You’ve likely narrowed the focus of your design efforts throughout the UX discovery phase. Thanks to the help of a specialized edTech UX team, you have a surgical, strategic approach to solving even the most pressing user challenges. 

For example, consistent user challenges with onboarding may actually point to UX challenges that can be solved with better experience and design work. 

If you think you already know the problem and don’t conduct UX research, you could work out expensive solutions based on incorrect assumptions. 

You risk not solving the real problem at all—or missing out on opportunities for product integration by trying to build something custom. There goes your engineering budget!

But working with a specialized edTech UX team saves you this headache. Thanks to deep expertise in edTech products and ecosystems, a specialized team can look at the results of your user research and analysis to make an informed edTech product strategy

Once your engineering team reviews your UX plan after the discovery phase, they’ll be ready to solve the right problems from the very beginning. And that’s how you get the major ROI out of your discovery process!

The deliverables you can expect from a UX discovery phase

What’s the result of all this desk research, aside from a better edTech product? A strategy backed by evidence!

 Here are the three discovery deliverables that help this process along:

  • A competitive audit: By researching your competitors, your UX team identifies opportunities and pitfalls for learning tools like the one you and your team are planning to design. 
  • A research deck: This final deliverable communicates highly detailed user research findings, analysis, and recommendations in a digestible way. With these details in hand, you can align all your stakeholders and make decisions quickly.

    The research deck also helps your development team make their recommendations and road map their own engineering timeline. Overall, this document should allow all the teams involved to accurately scope the rest of the work needed to get your learning tool in the hands of teachers and students. 
  • Feature priorities: Now that the evidence is in, your UX team can identify a clear set of feature priorities for your timeline and budget. Together, you’ll determine which features must be present in your minimum viable product (MVP), and which you should prioritize for the first iteration of design work.

By the end of your UX discovery sessions, these strategic assets will demonstrate what your UX team learned and what they think you should do next. 

Together with your internal stakeholders, you’ll roadmap your project timeline and designate priorities. Then it’s finally time for a project kick-off!

How UX discovery sessions impact your edTech product roadmap

We know how challenging it can be to build in time for discovery sessions. You want to begin the design process ASAP.

While the UX discovery process is scalable, multiple elements impact how long your discovery process will take. These include:

  • Research methodology. Some research methods, like qualitative user interviews and impact studies, are time-consuming. Make sure your UX researchers pick the right methodology for the scope of the project.
  • User recruitment. Recruiting users for testing takes time and coordination. If you only want to talk to a specialized set of users, like families with students who need speech therapy, the recruitment process will likely take longer.
  • Internal stakeholder alignment. It can be challenging to get all your stakeholders in the same room at the same time. Conducting stakeholder sessions virtually may speed things along.
  • Data needs. Can you use existing Google Analytics for the research at hand? Or do you need survey data that isn’t yet ready to make your decisions? Informed choices about data collection make it easier to plan your product design roadmap.

Already planned for UX discovery sessions in your product timeline? Great!

You can expect a UX team to request anywhere from 6 weeks to 2 months to gather all the information they need to provide value.

The ROI of hiring an external UX team for UX discovery sessions

Whether you’re designing a new edTech product or rolling out a new feature, there’s value in hiring an external UX team to consult with your product stakeholders during discovery sessions.

This is true even if you already have a UX research team in-house! For example, your internal team might work regularly with users or conduct A/B testing for new features. This makes them extraordinarily knowledgeable about specific challenges and user needs. 

But even the best internal teams don’t always know what to do next to solve a persistent challenge. An external UX team can help your product team develop a plan for using internal research or expanding the scope of your research and testing efforts.

Put simply: sometimes the ROI of an external UX team is increasing the value of your own research. By helping your internal team succeed with their research and testing practices, an external UX team makes your existing work more strategic and innovative.

No matter what shape your product team takes, specialized edTech research helps you mitigate risks, align your stakeholders more quickly, and optimize the design process from start to finish. UX discovery sessions are the key to designing learning tools that perform well—and outlast the competition.

Are you designing a new learning tool or rolling out a new edTech feature? Find out how we can support you throughout your discovery phase! We specialize in UXR in the field of edTech. Contact us below.

Let’s build the future of digital products together.