When you think about online products with SEL features, what comes to mind? Most likely, you picture a popular mindfulness tool, like the Headspace app, or an edTech tool like BrainPOP. (In our user surveys, teachers never fail to mention the online platform's ever-popular "brain breaks.")
While mindfulness techniques and technology breaks certainly help students develop SEL skills at home, teachers use the term "social emotional learning" differently than most product designers. For educators, incorporating SEL into the classroom means helping students build the social and emotional skills they need to participate successfully in learning environments. This covers a wide range of abilities, including developing strong communication skills, setting individual goals, and taking responsibility for one's actions.
Right now, edTech product owners have a unique opportunity to change their approach to online SEL and better serve the needs of teachers. In fact, your student-facing products already have many features or examples of UX text where you can support SEL growth right away.
Don't retrofit SEL into your product or roll it out in the next phase. Save yourself time, money, and hassle by designing with an SEL mindset from the beginning. You'll win over teachers who already support your product, and make a more valuable tool.
How to Design SEL Features That Teachers Really Want
While some UX solutions for SEL features take longer to design and execute, other design and copy changes are easy to implement in the short term.
Whether you design subject-specific or content-specific apps, incorporating SEL features should be top of mind as you build. You'll be rewarded with higher levels of user satisfaction and more teacher buy-in for your product.
Here are six meaningful ways you can address SEL growth in your products today.
1. Develop a supportive content strategy
Voice and tone can make or break your product—especially in edTech. If your content team hasn't mindfully considered how you communicate potential error cases to younger students, you may even cause unintentional harm.
For example, overly technical error messages might indicate to an L2 student that their language choices are wrong, even when they aren't. Similarly, unclear directions or directions written for a more advanced reading comprehension level could overwhelm or discourage young students.
In addition to writing more mindful error notifications, consider how teachers communicate with their students. How can UX copywriting reinforce a student's growth mindset in every interaction? Every product touchpoint, from activity directions to highlighting incorrect quiz answers, is an opportunity to provide students with positive reinforcement.
2. Design affirmative, warm UI
edTech is only now starting to move away from cold, industrial visual design. Whether you're showcasing student achievements or showing students how far they've progressed through your experience, your UI should be friendly, authentic, and genuine.
In addition to color and design, consider incorporating imagery that channels emotion, complements positive UX copy choices, and reinforces a student user's efforts and achievements. Non-verbal cues, like animating a smiling character after a student completes a task, are strong signals to students that they're on the right path in your experience. These small UI decisions model the link between perseverance, effort, and progress, helping learners develop critical social-emotional skills.
3. Anticipate teacher-student touchpoints
In order to help students build self-awareness and self-management skills, teachers often begin their days with an emotional touch base. They also use verbal or non-verbal cues throughout class to help students become more aware of their feelings. By incorporating similar cues and touchpoints into digital learning tools, you can support SEL growth in edTech, too.
Non-verbal cues are especially helpful for students who have difficulty reading emotions. When apps include visual cues that emulate human contact, students see appropriate emotional models for sadness, frustration, and happiness. This tactic is at work in plenty of consumer products already—just think about how happy that DuoLingo owl is when you go on a streak!
4. Improve onboarding experiences
Teachers often onboard students to new products as they learn about the product themselves. When digital tools anticipate the needs of students during the onboarding process, it takes the burden off of teachers and eliminates student frustration or confusion.
If you're designing a product meant for young learners, consider using a visual overlay to help students focus on the most important task on each screen. You might even incorporate a voice-over to provide sequential narration, or use visual cues that follow a student as they move through the experience at their own pace. These UX and UI strategies provide immediate feedback for learners and reinforce their successes throughout the experience.
5. Create synchronous activities for remote learning
Now that so many students and teachers must learn remotely, planning synchronous activities helps create a collective classroom experience. Whether your product collects up-votes in real time or provides space for student-created content, you'll give students more opportunities to develop their social skills in remote environments. Even if we return to the classroom full time, teachers appreciate the added flexibility of being able to shift between synchronous and asynchronous activities in digital tools.
6. Help students develop more agency over their learning
Learner agency and decision-making is a crucial component of SEL growth. Product owners can support this by providing students more opportunities to take charge of their digital learning experiences. This might look like giving students the chance to set their own goals within an app or offering a wider range of genres or topics to choose from in a digital reading platform.
From affirmation and error messages to onboarding experiences, you're already building a digital tool with opportunities to strengthen student SEL skills online. Why wait to roll out SEL features in the next design phase?
Incorporating a growth mindset into your digital tools pays off immediately. When you incorporate SEL features into remote learning tools, you support the needs of real student users—and make it even easier for teachers to adopt your tool in their classroom.
Are you developing SEL features for your new product? Contact us today to find out how we can help.
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