ARTICLE: Annie Hensley

Find a scalable solution for your next EdTech project with the right UX partner

As an EdTech product manager facing time and budget pressures, you might be looking for a shortcut to get your product to market faster. In these instances, cutting UX research or testing may seem like the best approach.

However, while many shortcuts are designed to make tasks quicker and easier, not all shortcuts produce desirable results. In the world of EdTech product development, cutting corners in UX simply isn’t an option. 

Not fully implementing UX research and design processes can result in:

  • Lost time, wasted effort and higher costs by building a product the market might not want
  • Increased burden on your CX team to support users who find your product difficult to use
  • Decreased revenue, lower customer loyalty and diminished market position

So the answer isn’t shortcutting UX; it’s scaling UX to meet your project’s evolving goals. 

An external UX partner like Openfeld can implement a flexible solution that fits your project by bringing the right levels of knowledge, processes and collaboration to your team at exactly the right time. 

Leverage the Collective Knowledge of an External UX Team

Regardless of size, all product teams could benefit from augmenting their internal expertise. So it makes sense that one of the first things an external partner can provide is bench strength.

This is a benefit when you have a UX problem that needs to be solved quickly but don’t have the internal resources to tackle it. In those instances, your first course of action might be to hire someone new. But the hiring process takes time. Then your new hire needs to be onboarded and brought up to speed. And, even then, they’re still only one person bringing one viewpoint. 

An external UX agency can quickly (and easily) scale your team up or down when it makes the most sense to do so. This flexibility will always keep your team right-sized and on track to meet your goals.

But it’s more than simply placing expert team members in the right seats. When you partner with Openfield, you’ll benefit from the collective UX knowledge that our team has amassed of work in the EdTech space. 

We keep current on UX and EdTech practices

At Openfield, we challenge our team to stay current on happenings in the EdTech space and share best practices with each other — and, consequently, with our clients.

How do we do this? 

We set intentional time for cross-team collaboration, give feedback on the problems we’re trying to solve, and engage in a formal knowledge-sharing process. Our team also holds regular EdTech in the News gatherings in which we share and discuss relevant EdTech trends and how they impact the work we’re doing.

This is particularly valuable in the initial brainstorming phase. When you’re looking for as many ideas as possible — and as quickly as possible — the library of knowledge our team has collected is passed on to you. We won’t only share the general learnings; we’ll also share how it applies to your particular project.

We know the universal problems instructors and students face

Your product helps a unique user group meet their individual needs. That’s why it has a place in the market. But we’ve found that instructors and students each have a number of shared,  universal problems when it comes to EdTech products. 

Openfield’s researchers talk to thousands of instructors and students throughout the year, which allows us to draw connections so you can build a product that balances universal problems with unique needs. 

Two examples where we’ve applied our learnings about universal problems are right-sizing and onboarding: 

  1. Right-sizing your product. Let’s look at gradebooks. Many product owners want to build a robust gradebook into their products. But is a comprehensive feature set really necessary? In most cases, instructors only need to record grades in your software before moving that data into their learning management system (LMS). Paying attention to this predictable dynamic enables your team to determine where you should integrate with learning management systems rather than overbuilding within your product.
  2. A simple onboarding experience. Instructors want a simple onboarding experience. They don’t want to be overwhelmed with extensive features all at once. They need to get up and running with new EdTech products quickly. 

Instructors also need to be equipped to serve as tech support for their students. Acknowledging this need means you can introduce your product to instructors at the perfect pace in order to increase their adoption and ongoing usage.

We move EdTech projects forward with benchmarking

While you’re likely already looking at what your competitors are doing, your team may not have the bandwidth to explore what’s happening outside of the EdTech space. And there’s a lot to be learned.

Your users’ mental models (how they expect technology to work and how they think about various processes and tasks) are shaped by their interactions with other tools, interfaces, and products. They approach your product with expectations based on how they are used to doing things, whether that’s completing a form, participating in remote meetings or collaborating online.

Our team continually benchmarks outside of the EdTech space to find commonalities that can be leveraged in our clients’ work. By keeping tabs on analogous products and tools, we understand and anticipate commonly accepted UX design conventions and can quickly implement variations of these into new products. This keeps teams from investing unnecessary effort into new solutions for common tasks. Instead, they can focus on the design and development of new capabilities and features for your product. 

Start Your EdTech Project with the Right Team at the Table

In any project, usability questions or risks lurk beneath the surface and threaten to undermine your product’s success. A UX partner like Openfield ensures that the right people are at the table from the beginning and that each one has the opportunity to voice their ideas or concerns. 

For a successful conversation, you need representation from:

  • The Product Owner
  • Research
  • Design
  • Engineering
  • Learning Science

Your UX partner can facilitate discovery sessions and ongoing touchpoints that keep team members aligned and your project on track. And, if your internal team is missing any of these voices, your UX partner can embed members to fill in the gaps or fully staff the team. This assures you’ll have the right group assembled and resources to fill in any gaps along the way. 

Use UX Research for Speed and Efficiency

UX research can be used to increase speed and efficiency. 

If you need to go to market quickly, a research team can set up a monitoring plan that follows up with users after they start using the live product. Based on the information gathered, any needed changes are thoughtfully applied in future iterations. The result? A product that is in market quickly but still addresses critical UX concerns. 

Similarly, to keep designers from spinning their wheels, research teams can facilitate co-creation sessions. These sessions include instructors and/or students who are trusted users. They provide input and ideas early on and help improve the efficiency of the design process. Because end users provided first-hand input into the product design, the likelihood of validation is higher. The result is less rework prior to the final product release.

An external UX partner like Openfield has research tools and capabilities like these readily available to deploy for your project at the time — and at the scale — that best aligns with your overarching project goals.

Answer questions as you go — or when the time is right

Engaging a UX research team during the planning phases can be an invaluable resource during a project kickoff. This team can alleviate fears or mitigate risks for the project team by determining how to get the best information and when.

If you’re wondering if that same feature addresses the needs and desires of your users, the research team can draw on previous research, conduct surveys or gather qualitative feedback to answer that question.

In either case, the research team makes recommendations as to how much information needs to be collected and the timing of those activities. This ensures that the findings can be applied at the appropriate time — whether that’s prior to launch or in a future iteration or feature release.

Navigate Internal Pressures or Silos with an Unbiased Voice

Depending on how your business is structured, you may need to communicate with a variety of stakeholders throughout the product development process. For some organizations, this can also bring additional pressures or silos that you must break through in order to be successful.

When you need to “sell” a project up the ladder or align teams with conflicting visions, a UX partner can act as a neutral “voice of reason.” A skilled partner will consider your business needs while keeping your users’ needs front and center. With none of the barriers you may encounter internally, your external UX partner truly represents user needs and can talk candidly about how best to meet them. 

Openfield has the unique ability to bring an unbiased voice and facilitate the sensitive conversations that need to happen to keep your project moving forward.  

A Scalable UX Solution is the Key to EdTech Project Success

Whether you’re a small startup constrained by a limited budget or an established product with pressure to go to market quickly to stay ahead of the competition, project constraints are a perennial part of digital product development. And those constraints inevitably impact your approach to UX research and design.  

If you need to fill a resource or knowledge gap, align stakeholders or speed up a product launch, consider engaging an external partner. Their ability to apply previous knowledge and scale up or down as needed will help you overcome hurdles and still get to market faster, more efficiently and with superior results.

Let’s talk about how Openfield can create a solution scaled to your success.

  • Photo of Annie Hensley
    Annie Hensley

    As Director of UX Design, Annie is responsible for ensuring our team continues to deliver superior client and user experiences that result in tangible business outcomes. That includes fostering collaboration and crossover between our design and research teams, mentorship and career guidance, stewardship of Openfield’s culture and values, as well as, contributing to strategic decisions that ensure our company continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of EdTech clients and users. Annie is a lifelong runner whose recent Indianapolis and Chicago Marathon times qualified her to compete in the Boston Marathon in 2022. Her goal is to tackle the rest of the 6 world majors by adding New York, London, Berlin and Tokyo to her list of running accomplishments. Additionally, Annie loves visiting parks of all sorts – theme parks, ballparks, National Parks (even rewatching Parks and Recreation too many times to count).

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