ARTICLE: Trevor Minton

EdTech users are more stressed than ever. Here’s how to be part of the solution.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend life as we knew it — including the usual in-person educational models — students, teachers, and administrators are more stressed than ever before. You’ve seen it with your own eyes. Your EdTech product users are struggling with unprecedented challenges. And they have the elevated anxiety to match. 

So what does that mean in terms of your product’s ability to meet your users’ needs? 

You already know that user experience (UX) research and design principles are core to your EdTech product’s success. But here’s the thing: The students, teachers, and administrators who rely on your product don’t ever use it in a vacuum. Each person brings his or her own set of stressors, priorities, and constraints to the table. That’s true in the midst of a pandemic, and it’s true in “normal” life, too.

Which means your UX research can’t be limited to your users’ direct interactions with your product. To design the right solutions within your product — and effectively reduce user stress — you must first look at your users’ lives outside your product. 

Users Bring More to Their Interactions With Your EdTech Product Than Meets the Eye

It’s all too easy to think of your users only in terms of how they interact with your EdTech product. What do they need to accomplish within your product? How easily are they able to complete certain tasks? Which features seem to be causing the most friction, and why?

Don’t get us wrong. Those details are critically important. But if your understanding of your users is limited to happy and sad paths within an app flow, you’re missing a very real opportunity. 

Remember, your users’ academic programs, performance, and personal life situations all come to bear on their experience with your EdTech product. By understanding your users and their lives more holistically — especially the ambient stressors they’re struggling with — you can develop more empathy for your users. And that empathy is key to unlocking stress-reducing product solutions

Of course, EdTech products have always had to take user stress into consideration. Whether students are completing a timed assessment, taking an exam, or reviewing a list of upcoming homework assignments, stress is an inherent part of learning. But if there’s one thing the pandemic has made clear, it’s that external stressors can have a real impact on students and educators alike. 

Consider this: According to a pair of recent studies, 44% of surveyed college students reported that their biggest challenge in the fall 2020 semester was dealing with stress, anxiety, and loneliness. In comparison, only 21% identified “keeping up academically” as their greatest challenge. Instructors, meanwhile, are dealing with their own mental health challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic represents an extraordinary time in many people’s lives. But even after it fades away, the fact will remain. EdTech users (like all product users) will always have to contend with a variety of expected and unexpected stressors — stressors that are sure to impact the way they interact with and perceive your product.  

Let’s be clear. EdTech products aren’t silver bullets. They can’t take away or solve many of the external stressors that negatively impact their users. But they can avoid piling on added stress. Not just that: With the right user insights and UX design expertise to guide you, you can create an empathetic in-product user experience that makes users feel supported. 

How to Reduce User Stress Within Your EdTech Product

When it comes to creating a stress-reducing user experience, there’s no secret formula. In some ways, it’s really just a reminder of the value of excellent UX. After all, a seamless user experience always reduces stress, while a frustrating one produces the opposite effect. But if you want to build a truly empathetic EdTech product, you’ll need to understand your users beyond their strict interactions with your product. Put simply, you’ll need to design your product with people rather than one-dimensional “users” in mind.

At Openfield, we help our EdTech clients do just that by taking the following approach: 

User research that goes beyond happy and sad user flows

We work with our clients to conduct user research that reveals the larger context in which their products will be used. Specifically, we uncover the most common challenges a product’s users face in their school or work (and even, to an extent, in their personal lives).

From there, we help our clients understand how those challenges could impact users’ ability to interact with their product as well as teach or learn effectively. To do that, we look at much more of the user’s journey than just those moments they interact with the app or product.

We ask: 

  • What is happening in users’ daily lives? 
  • What is their environment like? 
  • What are their most pressing stressors? 
  • What are users trying to accomplish when using your product? 
  • What obstacles might they face in achieving those goals? 
  • Are they pressed for time? 
  • Is the product optional or required? 

Questions like these provide important context that can be used to prioritize the right features and UI elements for the students, teachers, and administrators you serve.  

Designing With Stress-Reduction in Mind

Once you have an idea of what your users are up against, you can make design decisions with stress-reduction in mind. It bears repeating that it’s beyond the scope of any EdTech product to solve all of a user’s personal, professional, and scholastic problems. But it often makes sense to prioritize in-product design decisions differently depending on users’ external stressors. 

Sometimes the solution is as simple as creating empathetic, encouraging microcopy. Other times, the answer is a bit more complex. 

For example, we know that most students find timed assignments and exams to be stressful. From a pure stress-reduction standpoint, the best thing to do would be to take away the timed component of those activities. But in most educational settings, that’s simply not an option. Timed assessments are just part of school. 

If your EdTech product facilitates timed assessments, you can’t remove the stressor. But you can work to make it less, well, stressful. That might boil down to simple design decisions, like making the timer the right color and size and positioning it so that it’s visible but not dominating the screen.

Making your product’s purpose and benefits clear

Another important way to preempt user stress is to set (and meet) realistic expectations about your product. You can do that by clearly communicating your EdTech product’s purpose, benefits, and outcomes. This is important whether your product is used voluntarily or as a required part of a course or classroom.

You can ensure your product’s purpose and benefits are abundantly clear at every step by doing things like: 

  • Crafting clear messaging 
  • Giving users actionable, data-driven insights into their performance, goals, and the status of various tasks 
  • Creating a consistent brand and user experience across each of a product’s touchpoints 
  • Generally making sure your product lives up to the promise it gives users

The right UX team can help you to better understand your users and keep their broader needs in mind. Want to learn more about how Openfield guides EdTech companies like yours in creating empathetic, stress-busting user experiences? We’d love to hear from you.

  • Photo of Trevor Minton
    Trevor Minton

    As CXO at Openfield, Trevor collaborates closely with our clients and ensures that our team delivers world-class design thinking and execution that results in strong emotional connections between users and digital products. He is passionately enthusiastic about music, local and international soccer, automotive design and racing, and getting under the hood of his old but new-to-him BMW to keep it on the road for another couple of decades.

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