UX for Kids: Designing Inclusive, Engaging edTech Experiences

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

As the edTech market becomes more competitive, your digital learning tools have to tick a lot of boxes. Thoughtful UX design for education must support both students and teachers in the classroom—all while being inclusive, engaging, and fun.

Below, we’ll help you identify which design elements make educational products stand out from the crowd. From choosing inclusive illustrations to designing features that promote learner agency, here’s how to design digital learning tools that support real learning outcomes.

Making Inclusive UX Design Choices for Education Products

The greatest edTech products celebrate inclusivity. By encouraging creative design solutions and fostering user engagement, inclusive content is a win-win for product design teams. Here are three ways to support user journeys, while making more inclusive and engaging design choices:

  1. Diversify Your Learning Content & Illustrations

    Inclusive learning content includes everything from characters with diverse backgrounds to multilingual experiences and thoughtful, accessible microcopy. Learning tools with a diverse set of imaginative or unexpected characters are also more engaging and less generic. 

    As products like Duolingo and Lalilo demonstrate, learners can just as easily find common ground with a strong cast of monsters, animals, or other creations. In other words, you don’t have to design human characters to make your learning
    product inclusive or engaging.

  2. Lead with Accessible Design

    Accessible design is a crucial component of designing inclusive edTech experiences. Even seemingly simple elements like log-in screens can create unintentional barriers for student users. 

    The product designers behind learning tools like ClassDojo understand this well. Their scannable QR codes are just one way to simplify the login process for young children. Other UX customizations for kids, like adjustable text size and text-to-speech integrations, offer students more options for engaging with learning content. 

    For students with learning differences, audio books and other forms of alternative content can also be a great way to support real user needs. Ultimately, by integrating accessible design into your edTech product, you’ll make your product more accessible and engaging for everyone.

  3. Examine Your UI & Visual Design Choices

    When navigation is more visual, rather than textual, it becomes easier for learners to overcome barriers and move through your product intuitively. Take the math product, ST Math, for example. In order to support students who have difficulty reading, ST Math eliminates text from its visual puzzles and games entirely. 

    By reducing the amount of time users spend reading within your UI, you increase accessibility and engagement. That’s true even if you’re designing a reading-focused product! After all, your users shouldn’t have to spend time figuring out your UI. The less users notice or consider your UI choices, the more effortless their experience. 

More Engaging UX Design for Education 

As product designers, we all understand the importance of engagement. But when it comes to design for education, engagement for engagement’s sake will only take you so far. 

By offering real-world context, instilling a sense of agency, and fostering curiosity, your digital learning tool will support students throughout their experience—and, ultimately, be more relevant and engaging. 

Help Learners Make Real-World Connections

edTech software can do so much more than keep students “busy” during classroom down time. 

Learning tools offer students crucial opportunities to practice new skills and explore real-world applications. But that’s only possible when product owners help students draw these connections through well-designed learning content and sequences. 

Take software company Newsela, for example. They develop authentic, engaging, and actionable content for multiple subject areas based on real-world sources. This approach helps students understand the relevance of content in more meaningful—and effective—ways.

Increasing Learner Agency with Goals & Feedback Systems

Goal-setting features and other feedback systems also help students develop a sense of agency. Tracking and reaching goals builds intrinsic motivation and leads to even greater engagement with your edTech tool. 

But increasing motivation is about more than improving your metrics. When products encourage students to take control of their learning, they develop more persistence and grit. After all, if a teacher hasn’t decided whether your answers are “right” or “wrong,” your successes feel well-earned and even more personal.

Develop Authentic Student Motivators

By building bigger, more engaging narratives around positive feedback systems, you’ll support student motivation. The combined effects of “little” motivational nudges, like earning a badge along the way, with “big” motivational nudges, like earning a series of badges to unlock a new level, work together to help students achieve real progress. That’s exactly how products like Duolingo capture the interest of so many users—and keep them engaged over long periods of time. 

As you explore bigger narrative sequences in your edTech product, it’s crucial these narratives feel authentic to your student users. For example, supplemental vocabulary programs like Alphabeat build engagement by incorporating hip-hop into lessons. These tools help learners with speech impediments overcome barriers with beatboxing. As Alphabeats demonstrates, helping students connect to a lesson in an authentic way makes your product more meaningful—and more fun.

Foster Student Curiosity

Many indicators of successful learners, like grit, are borne out of curiosity. The same student who wants to read to the end of a new book on their own is motivated to learn a new word along the way.

As product designers, it’s our job to make sure learning software isn’t getting in the way of interesting learning content. By creating more opportunities for low-stakes learning, we can make learners more resilient and curious.

In our product design for Scholastic and LEGO’s Passport to Mars collaboration, for example, we ensured that learners had plenty of agency to explore content in both a linear and nonlinear order. Students complete exciting tasks and earn badges for choosing their crew, building a rocket, landing on the surface of Mars, and growing a sustainable farm. 

No matter how learners decide to tackle these low-stakes learning activities, Passport to Mars fosters their curiosity and creativity. As our design underscores, the rewards of sandbox learning, or playing as much as you want to play, are in the learning process itself. 

By giving students more opportunities to explore in a low-stakes learning environment, you’ll encourage them to try, fail, and try again in real time—all while boosting engagement within your product.

Design for Education by Addressing the UX Needs of Your Teacher Persona

Inclusive, engaging edTech experiences aren’t just designed by making strong UX choices for kids. It’s crucial to consider the experience of your teacher persona, too. 

By focusing on content and sequencing that supports classroom management, delivers professional resources, and streamlines student assessment, your digital learning tool will engage teachers and support real needs in the classroom.

Support Classroom Management and Student Practice

At its most engaging, edTech extends teaching moments between a teacher and their classroom, making a teacher’s time with students even more effective. 

No matter how skilled a teacher may be, there are constantly moments in classrooms when students don’t yet fully understand instruction. Most often, students experience a disconnect between learning a new concept and completing activities designed to help them practice that concept. 

That’s where strong UX for kids comes into play. Classroom time is valuable, and digital tools can’t afford to waste time or create busy work disconnected from the curriculum. Digital experiences that offer meaningful reinforcement of teacher instruction give students real opportunities to practice new concepts.

Teachers want to be able to count on high-quality, engaging software to assist them with classroom management, too. Large class sizes mean there will almost always be students who aren’t working one-on-one with teachers. For those students to stay meaningfully engaged with a learning tool, your edTech product must offer a fun digital experience that supports both the curriculum and teacher instruction.

When you support teachers with high-quality, relevant learning content, you’ll help them develop meaningful routines that include your product and build student engagement.

Provide Professional Resources

Unlike student users, teacher engagement isn’t about earning badges or other digital achievements. But it is about making professional development quick, easy, and digestible. By using plain language and easy-to-understand, digestible stories, your digital professional resources can erase barriers to understanding and implementation. 

After all, if teachers are engaged by the professional resources or curriculum support in your product, it is far easier for them to use a curriculum with fidelity. You can facilitate this with just-in-time learning incorporated directly into your product. In contrast to an hours-long in-person PD course,  a three-minute video might model what a teacher can do in the classroom—exactly when they need the support.

“Teaching with fidelity” doesn’t have to be overly formal or scary. If your professional resources are authentically related to how teachers prepare and teach lessons, following a digital curriculum becomes even more about supporting student needs—and spending more quality time on instruction.

Ease Pain Points Around Student Assessment

Formative assessment is demanding. It takes time and skill, and even the best teachers find that it disrupts regular classroom instruction. Because, unlike technology, teachers aren’t scalable! They need to be present to instruct their students, and in-person assessment demands that teachers step away from whole-class or group instruction.

The more teachers use technology for formative assessment, however, the more they receive quick but meaningful insights into their students’ learning. These insights can both inform and change instruction. With more detailed pictures of student reasoning, teachers have more choice in how they’ll address specific learning challenges—and more time to instruct.

Inclusive, engaging product design for education isn’t just about creating a delightful interactive experience or making strong UX for kids design choices. It’s about designing great content and authentic, appealing narratives. Whether that’s through a game or a content sequence, learning content that promotes learner agency boosts student engagement and helps teachers develop meaningful routines that include your product.

Because teachers are just as invested in UX for kids as we are. They already know how to tailor their instruction to specific cultures, contexts, and student needs. When you create narratives that reflect the world students live in, you support teachers’ efforts to make tough subjects easier and more enjoyable—and, yes, more engaging, too.

Are you trying to increase student engagement in your edTech product? Contact us to find out how we can help!

Let’s build the future of digital products together.