Remote Learning Puts Teachers in the Role of UX Designers. What’s Next for edTech?

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

Teachers have always recognized how valuable in-person instruction is. In fact, they rely on these relationships to help students succeed. This dynamic is central to how they learn to gauge student progress—even without formal assessment.

When at-home learning made one-on-one instruction next to impossible, teachers had to pivot. They immediately reached for new ways to foster crucial relationships with their students using technology. They created sophisticated versions of their curriculum using stitched-together technologies, digital platforms, and online resources.

In many cases, teachers haven’t even chosen or purchased the classroom technology they’ve now come to depend on. Districts or school administrators buy tools and product licenses, while teachers coordinate responsibilities across teams or grade levels. Sometimes they even share user responsibilities within a single account.

Because they now have to rely heavily on digital tools for instruction, teachers have also started to think as designers of digital learning experiences. This has prompted deeper and richer teacher engagement with digital learning tools. From integrating the tools purchased by their districts to sequencing activities, teachers are thinking like UX designers, striving to create the best possible experiences for their students.

But if teachers have started thinking as UX designers, where does this leave edTech?

How edTech Can Support New Demands on Teachers as Designers of Digital Learning Experiences

With new demands on teachers come new demands on UX designers. As you roll out digital products or update existing ones for the fall, here are four elements that will support the work teachers are already doing during at-home learning.

  1. Develop product integrations.
    edTech solutions that integrate easily with other products or platforms have always been valuable to busy teachers. Now, they’ll be even more important. In addition to virtually instructing students, teachers must also address the technology needs of both students and their families. With so many new responsibilities to balance, teachers will avoid using products that make it difficult for students or parents to log in, complete assignments, and share work. Products that function as their own islands aren’t as useful in at-home learning scenarios. The more you design for product integration or use common UX patterns, the more you will facilitate how teachers already integrate products all on their own. Easy-to-use integrations give teachers back the one thing they care about most—time. When teachers save time by using your product, it becomes an even more valuable tool.
  2. Facilitate communication.
    In addition to product integration, teachers are also looking for communication platform integration. Real-time and asynchronous communication tools facilitate class meetings, peer-to-peer learning, and teacher feedback. Digital platforms are more than places where teachers can communicate with their students and vice versa. They’re the tools teachers depend on during at-home learning to facilitate the student-teacher interactions that are so important to student success. When you support this crucial component of classroom instruction meaningfully in the digital space, teachers will turn to your product again and again.
  3. Provide “meta” onboarding support.
    Teachers are packaging disparate digital tools, platforms, and resources together to support and deliver their curriculum. One of their challenges is making it clear to students and their families how all of these products work together in a meaningful way. As UX designers, we can do more to support this new technological ecosystem. Whether you provide templates, video demonstrations, or infographics for your digital tool, you’ll also need to provide a new vision for how to integrate your tool with the solutions teachers already use. UX designers can create more product support and “meta” onboarding experiences for teachers. These proactive features will support teachers as they onboard their own students to a digital classroom, cutting down on the amount of time they need to spend in a “tech support” role.
  4. Design sequencing tools and suggestions.
    During at-home learning, teachers are no longer standing in front of a classroom to give direction. Instead, they must now write clear, step-by-step instructions for using digital tools, so students can complete assignments at home.In the virtual classroom, teachers think even more carefully about the sequence in which they want to use digital tools. This sequence of events must be set in motion in order for students to successfully complete and submit work or interact with one another online. As teachers integrate edTech tools into the curriculum, sequencing suggestions informed by learning science and pedagogy will become even more important for student engagement. Like UX designers, teachers are always iterating. They reflect on what works well and what doesn’t. They constantly receive real-time feedback that strengthens their instruction. When an assignment is easy or interesting for their student to complete, teachers build engagement and see results. With the right sequencing support, your edTech tool can become even more indispensable to this process.

When “Easy to Use” Becomes “Easy to Integrate”

When surveyed about the qualities of an edTech product that influence buying decisions, teachers always place “easy to use” in their top two or three responses. Teachers are simply too busy to figure out how to use challenging products.

In our new reality, we expect teachers to now add considerations like “easy to integrate.” The way teachers value good UX design won’t change, but their experience using many edTech tools has given them new expectations. The most valuable edTech tools will be those that integrate easily into their current suite of digital tools or into their curriculum.

Even after the need for at-home learning fades, we hope teachers will shift from casual edTech users to users who rely heavily on digital platforms for instruction. We hope that edTech products will transform from supplemental to core instructional tools.

Teachers Are Poised to Become edTech Super-Users

As teachers become more sophisticated consumers and users of edTech, complex features will be vetted in ways they never have been before.

In the long run, this is great news for edTech. Sophisticated users engage more deeply with products and help designers create more powerful, user-friendly tools. In addition to designing key features with teachers in mind, brands now have an added incentive to reduce the UX threshold of their products for their new super-users.

The baseline student data teachers collect in the fall of 2020 will give UX designers a better indication of the challenges and successes of at-home learning. We’ll know whether UX designers have done a good job of giving teachers the right tools—and the right support mechanisms—to reach and engage with their students.

Teachers now understand how the most sophisticated digital tools work within their technological ecosystems and support their existing curriculum. Our hope is that they’ll never go back.

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