ARTICLE: Sarah Freitag

What are your EdTech product’s biggest competitors? The answer may surprise you.

Competition in the EdTech space is fierce. So it makes sense that you keep a close eye on what your closest competitors are up to. You’re probably acutely aware of any gaps between your own product’s capabilities and those of your biggest rivals. So much so that achieving feature parity may be a top priority when planning your product’s roadmap. 

No doubt about it: It’s crucial to understand and keep pace with your competitors. But just because the most comparable EdTech product on the market offers a particular feature or functionality doesn’t necessarily mean you should, too. Follow along blindly with “checkbox features,” and you risk taking your product down the wrong path entirely. 

If you want to chart a way forward that keeps your product at the front of the pack, you must start by expanding your definition of what a competitive analysis should include in the first place. 

Beyond Rival Products: Expanding the Definition of Your EdTech Product’s Competition

Who are your EdTech product’s biggest competitors? As a seasoned EdTech professional, you probably have a ready answer to what feels like a pretty straightforward question. 

Now pause. If you’ve just rattled off the names of two or three comparable EdTech products, it’s time to dig a little deeper. 

The truth is that your real competition may not be quite as easy to identify as you think. That’s because your competitors go beyond EdTech products that perform similar functions.

A holistic analysis of your competition should include the following:

Comparable EdTech products

These are the EdTech products you probably already count as your competition — and the ones with whom you may be tempted to achieve feature parity.  

Analogous products 

Analogous competitors are products or tools outside the world of EdTech that help your users perform similar tasks (even if those tasks aren’t in the educational context). For instance, digital grade books track changes over time, just like stock tickers.  

Like it or not, you are competing with analogous products in that they actively shape your users’ mental models. The digital experiences your users interact with most (think online shopping, social media apps, and the like) implicitly influence the way they expect your product to behave. Go against the grain of your users’ mental models, and confusion and frustration are sure to follow.

Rather than telling you whether to include a particular feature in your EdTech product, analogous competitors can tell you how a particular feature should be designed.

The more you play to your users’ existing mental models, the better. For example, when users build a course in your product, can it be like adding items to an online shopping cart or building a pizza order by dragging and dropping toppings? 

If you start with existing mental models — and the analogous products that shape them — your product will be significantly more intuitive.

Analog tools and processes 

You might not think of old-school physical objects like a printed calendar or pen and paper as “competition” for your digital EdTech product. But depending on how your users prefer to complete certain tasks, they just might be. 

Consider an instructor who has always enjoyed grading student assignments with pen and paper. Why would they log into your product to complete a task they already prefer to do another way? On a similar note, you may assume an in-app messaging tool would be useful (and it might!). But if your instructors have in-person access to their students, they may prefer to simply communicate the old-fashioned way: face to face. 

Journey mapping is a great way to understand how analog tools and processes fit into your users’ existing workflows. If your product includes similar capabilities, it must offer enough additional value to override these non-digital competitors. 

Time 

Instructors and students are busy. With so many commitments and responsibilities, their time and attention are limited. In a certain sense, then, time is yet another stealth competitor you’ll need to contend with.

How does this play out? If it takes your users too much time to complete certain tasks within your product, they may ditch it in favor of another option. 

In order to craft the right experience for your users, you need to understand how they spend (and save) time in their day — as well as which points in the process are negotiable.

Users’ expectations related to time may vary depending on the task. In some cases, they may expect your product to save them time. In other instances, they may value the time spent working in your product or simply accept that certain tasks (like setting up a course) will take longer to complete. 

How to Perform a Holistic Competitive Analysis — and Strategically Improve Your Product’s User Experience 

When mapping out your EdTech product’s future features, you need to think holistically about all the products, tools, mental models, and experiences that compete for your users’ time and attention. And you can’t figure that out solely by inspecting your closest rival’s feature set. Rather, you must start by looking more carefully at your users. 

At Openfield, we help EdTech product teams think more holistically about their competition — and prioritize their product roadmaps accordingly. 

To do this, we don’t just look at your users as they relate to your product. Using a combination of journey mapping, user interviews, and surveys, we uncover a more complete picture of their entire ecosystem, including: 

  • The jobs and tasks they need to complete, both within and outside your product.
  • The workflows, processes, and tools (digital and analog) they currently use to complete those jobs and tasks.   
  • What is and isn’t working for them in their current situation (pain points, unmet needs, and preferences).
  • Any restraints they are forced to work within, including time limitations and system requirements (for example, they may need all of their digital products to sync up with a particular learning management system, or LMS). 
  • The digital products they use in other areas of their lives, and what they love most about them. 

With this deeper understanding of your users’ context, we can zero in on the direct (and indirect competitors) that are currently filling the opportunity gaps left untended by your product. From there, we can make informed and strategic decisions about where to funnel your team’s energy to add the most value to your users — and leave the competition in your rearview mirror.

Interested in learning more about how Openfield can help your EdTech product stay ahead of the curve? Let’s chat.

  • Photo of Sarah Freitag
    Sarah Freitag

    As UX Research Lead at Openfield, Sarah draws on her background in market research, design and business to enable our clients to make solid decisions that increase user satisfaction, streamline process and reduce costs. Sarah is an avid reader and an adventurous explorer. Highlights from her favorite travels include Morocco, Peru, Italy, Denmark and France. She modestly describes herself as a “novice” baker, an understatement for someone who took on the daunting task of making her own wedding cake.

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