September 29, 2020

What’s Your Baseline? How to Make UXR More Valuable for Your Next edTech Product

UX designers in the edTech space are specialists who participate in a community of educators. To design well, they must have more than a working understanding of best practices in UI. edTech UX designers also need a background in learning science and user research. These specialties help UX designers accurately identify and design for the specific needs of the teachers, students, and parents who use their tools.

With a specialized background in UXR, edTech designers establish a baseline understanding of their users over time and quickly identify gaps in understanding during each new client project. These user baselines also allow designers to use the UXR phase more effectively, scaling research to fit a project and investigating tactical ways to quickly improve a product for its intended users.

This is especially true when designing for a specific subset of edTech users. edTech designers then start with a research baseline and use it as a framework to re-examine their assumptions. Foundational knowledge of user needs accelerates the development process in these cases and creates an even stronger framework for the user research you conduct.

Here's a quick breakdown of common research baselines you can use to ask better questions during the UXR phase of your next edTech product.

The Key to Designing edTech for Teachers

To meet the challenges of an edTech product for teachers, edTech designers must understand the foundational needs teachers have—their challenges and pain points—and be able to further narrow their focus to specific subject needs. They must also understand the entirety of a teacher's world, whether a teacher works with underserved populations or is gearing up for state assessments.

When you talk to real teachers throughout the UXR process, you're able to look beyond the needs of a fictional persona. Throughout surveys and interviews, you'll refine your understanding of how teachers navigate digital and offline tools. Once you know what a teacher's pain points are, you can prioritize them and establish their relationship to your business goals. You'll discover whether your tool will work in their classroom and likely make tactical changes to your product.

By working with edTech specialists throughout the UXR phase, you'll be one step ahead. edTech UX designers already know enough about the needs of teachers to work from a specific user baseline—even if we test those assumptions throughout the process. Here are the baseline assumptions about teacher pain points you need to know to design more effective UXR sessions:

Teachers conduct their work on mobile devices.

Understanding how and when teachers are likely to use edTech products on their phones is a must. Most likely, you'll need to simplify sequencing and processing for mobile design to make the product easier to use on the go.

For example, if you had a product centered around student assessments that could only be completed on a desktop, you might consider a professional development component to your product that worked well on mobile devices. We know that many teachers want to access this kind of content outside of their own classroom environment. Mobile-first professional learning content is a great baseline assumption to work from as you design your user experience research for a teacher persona.

Teachers are looking for more ways to address SEL growth.

Teachers recognize that technology plays a role in mitigating isolation during remote learning. edTech tools that help teachers reach students more effectively and build SEL skills will become ever more valuable. Research suggests teachers are more optimistic than ever about the ability of digital tools to facilitate one-on-one connections at times when those are not possible.

Teachers use edTech tools for instruction in one of three ways.

There are three different modes of instruction: whole group, small group, and individual instruction. We know these are consistent modes, especially for teachers of younger students.

Teachers with high school-age students tend to adopt individualized instruction modes when using edTech products. This is often because students have their own ChromeBooks issued by their school, which means teachers can depend less heavily on shared resources.

But individualization features do more than facilitate adaptive learning for individual students. They also aid adaptive learning in small groups. Work with teachers to discover how individualization features for your product will also affect full-class teaching.

Why Designing edTech Software for Students is Uniquely Complex

Designing edTech software for students is a much more complex task than solving for the common needs of educators. One complicating factor is age and grade level—the differences between K-2 are vast, and the jump between K-2 and 6th grade is even bigger.

Designing tools for students in higher ed is a different story altogether. All students are now adults and data and privacy concerns shift completely—just to name a few moving targets.

Even though designing for students comes with its own unique set of challenges based on age, grade level, task, and access to school technology, there are still a few baselines you can always work from when you're conducting UXR for your product. Here are three assumptions to work from:

Age affects independent learning with your edTech product.

The younger a student is, the more their teacher or parent needs to be involved in their interactions with your product. This will affect how you design everything from log-in screens to interactive features.

When you design edTech tools for older students, on the other hand, they're able to be more independent within your product and complete tasks on their own. It's also easier for a teacher to assign a group project to older students. Students and teachers alike may come to expect these types of instructional features from your tool.

Students expect consumer-like design patterns.

For most students, the context for interacting with edTech tools will be consumer products or games. These products have a high production value and plenty of digital media for kids to peruse. What are the patterns of consumer media that might apply to your product? Whether it's well-produced video instruction or complex game-play, the features in your edTech tool will be held up against the best consumer products on the market.

Students will use your edTech product at home.

Digital learning products always extend from the classroom to the home. Even during our pre-pandemic era, edTech products were regularly used in the home on shared computers or mobile devices. The better you understand a student user's home environment, the more successful your tool will be in the market.

For instance, if your product is designed to improve reading and literacy skills, you already know there's a good chance it will likely be viewed on a mobile device at home. You might even be able to assume that your student users will need more help figuring out next steps since they're out of the classroom and no longer receiving one-on-one instructional support from a teacher.

With these baseline user assumptions in place, you could instead focus your UXR efforts on finding the right balance between rigid sequencing and designing for students agency within your product. You'll want to ensure that your software directs student progress from the moment they log in without taking away elements of student independence, engagement, and discovery. It's a tough balancing act to get right—which means it's the perfect contender for your UXR efforts.

Designing Software for edTech's Fastest Growing User Base—Parents

Parent users have always had a facilitating role in edTech tools designed for younger students. When most students started remote learning last spring, parents took on even greater roles in learning technology. This is unlikely to change anytime soon. In fact, we think parents users are here to stay.

Here are a few of the baseline assumptions you need to make about edTech's next big user:

Parents are looking for easily digestible insights.

Parents with younger students have a co-working relationship with their children within a product. Parent users will facilitate, guide, and troubleshoot as their young children complete tasks.

As their children age, parents play less of a role in how students use a learning tool. Instead, they begin looking for insights into their child's performance. Parents of older children may want a dedicated portal that displays data on how their child uses a specific product.

What administrative data captured by your tool might be valuable to a parent user? Everything from how long a student session lasts to engagement or achievement rates helps parents get more involved in their child's education.

Parents want to weigh in.

Now that parents are more involved in remote learning with digital tools, they're looking for more ways to interact with their child's teacher and provide feedback on tools. They're become more savvy than ever about everything from ease-of-use to integration. The more opportunities you provide that open the channels of communication between parents and teachers, the more valuable your edTech tool will be.

As you can see, the assumptions you begin with when designing edTech products shape the kind of user research you conduct. With the right research and evidence base, you can build off of user assumptions and conduct ever more meaningful UXR sessions.

UXR is always valuable—but it's even more valuable when you can work off baseline assumptions and truly scale UXR to the most unique aspects of your product.

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Published by: Sean Oakes in Digital Strategy, UX Design