ARTICLE: Julee Peterson

COVID-19 is stress-testing EdTech Products. Will you meet the demand?

The coronavirus pandemic continues to rapidly change (and challenge) the world in myriad ways. With social distancing a must for the foreseeable future, educators around the globe are scrambling to migrate to online learning. 

As a product leader at an EdTech company, you are in a unique position to help educators and students in this tumultuous situation. Chances are you’re already doing just that by offering your product free of charge for the duration of the pandemic. That’s a good thing. But the mass migration to your product means scaling up more rapidly than ever before. Will your product be able to handle the increased traffic? What about helping a slew of new users get oriented to your product — and troubleshoot problems? It’s no wonder your head is spinning. 

Not to worry: it’s possible to keep a clear head and meet the spike in demand — while at the same time making small tweaks to your product that add up to a much smoother transition for everyone.  

A COVID-19 EdTech Product Roadmap: What to Prioritize 

Even in “normal” times, it’s critical that you narrow your focus so that you can successfully — and seamlessly — transition a host of new users onto your product. Doing so during times of rapid transition becomes even more critical. Within each of the following categories, start by thinking incrementally. Identify low-hanging fruit (small, fast changes) that can make an immediate impact. From there, you can start to identify and plan for longer-term goals. 

Focus on Onboarding

Onboarding is incredibly important even under normal circumstances. But as hundreds or thousands of new users flood your product at the same time, it’s more critical than ever. This is especially true given that you likely won’t be able to go through your standard product demos with each new instructor. The usual sales process — which includes product familiarization — is out the window. 

The takeaway? The more intuitive your product’s onboarding process is, the better. 

In the short-term, look for small tweaks you can make to help ease your users’ experience of the onboarding process. For example, you might produce a series of brief instructional videos demonstrating how to accomplish various setup-related tasks within your product. Or perhaps you could rework the flow of email communications related to onboarding to provide additional guidance and clarity as users get started. These small tweaks shouldn’t demand much of your team’s time and resources, but they should make a big difference in how users perceive your product. 

In the longer term, this experience represents an opportunity to more fully rework your onboarding process and ensure that it’s as user-friendly as possible. For now, start documenting any pain points you observe and add possible solutions to your product roadmap. 

Step Up Your User Support

With so many new users familiarizing themselves with your product at the same time, your support team is bound to experience a much higher volume of queries. It’s imperative that you scale up this function to match customer demand. 

Make sure your users have a simple way to communicate with your support team, ideally from within your product. If you don’t already have that capability, seek out in-app tools that can be integrated with your product with little to no engineering time. Finally, at least for the short term, make sure your support team is available around the clock so that time-strapped users can quickly resolve problems as they arise. 

Facilitate Communication Between Users

Communication between instructors and students is the glue that will hold their experience of your product together — especially now that they aren’t able to communicate in person. 

If your product doesn’t support the ability for users to communicate within the app, instructors will find other ways to be in touch with their students. This could lead to more stress — and ultimately the decision to move to a different product. In the short term, consider making simple changes that can facilitate communication. At the low end of the spectrum, you might simply reveal users’ email addresses within the app. On the high end, you could (eventually) invest in an in-app messaging system. 

Lend Your Users an Ear with In-App Feedback and Social Listening Tools

If you aren’t already collecting in-app feedback, you should plan to invest in this functionality as soon as possible. In-app feedback collection tools are useful under normal circumstances, but they are even more critical now. That’s because you’re likely onboarding more users at a faster pace than you ever have before. Many of your new users won’t go through your usual sales and onboarding process. The mandate to switch to online learning models right away means many users will leapfrog over the usual protocols. The more you can keep your finger on the pulse of how your new users are responding to your product, the more quickly you’ll be able to course-correct as needed to ensure that your users experience a smooth transition. 

User feedback generated within your app gives your team an understanding of your users’ pain points as they emerge. You can use this real-time feedback to identify priorities and address major issues more efficiently and effectively. If your users are willing to take the time to provide feedback, you can bet their feedback likely feels urgent. Treat it as the pure gold that it is. 

On a related note, when you give your users the ability to provide in-app feedback, you can help them feel heard at a time when nerves are running high. Your instructors must restructure their courses to work online, learn a new product, and help students troubleshoot issues remotely. Students, meanwhile, must adjust to remote learning while orienting themselves to a host of new tools and processes. All with a global pandemic as the backdrop. In short, your new users are more stressed than ever. In-app feedback can act as a pressure-release valve for frustrated users — especially if you have a protocol in place to guide users with negative feedback to your support team for further assistance. 

If you don’t have the resources to quickly spin up a bespoke feedback collection system in-house, consider integrating with a ready made plug-in like Hotjar or Intercom

Finally, remember that your users are likely already offering free feedback on social media — whether or not they intend for you to hear it. Social listening tools, also called social listeners, allow you to track your social media platforms for mentions and conversations related to your brand. You can then use that feedback to uncover opportunities to improve your product. At Openfield, our research team has already implemented social listeners for all the products we work on. Now, however, with social distancing the new norm, social listeners are even more valuable as a way to gain free insight into what your users are saying about your product. 

Embrace Inclusive Design

Now more than ever before, inclusive design should be a non-negotiable for EdTech companies. With all students now requiring distance learning, your product’s success will depend on how well it can serve those students — all of them, regardless of ability. 

As we’ve previously written, your product’s accessibility has legal implications. With more and more instructors and students being forced to work with online tools, an uptick in lawsuits is possible as the pressure mounts. For students with disabilities and their caregivers, it’s already hard enough to navigate the educational system in “normal” times, let alone during a worldwide crisis. While there are guidelines around accessibility, many feel the U.S. Department of Education needs to step up their leadership or risk further marginalization of disabled students. For EdTech product leaders, this represents a golden opportunity to take the lead in addressing gaps experienced by these users. 

Inclusivity is much more than a legal necessity. It’s an ethical imperative. Not just that: By focusing on this aspect of your product during this time, you can increase your brand perception and move your product to the forefront of the EdTech landscape. 

Consider Access and Availability 

Remember that when it comes to the internet, there are haves and have-nots. Many students, including those in low-income households and rural communities, don’t have reliable access to a computer — or even an internet connection. In order to serve all students, you must make sure that your product can be used easily on any device at any time. Your product will be seen as flexible and intuitive.

In addition, many students that do have access to the internet don’t have a stable or reliable internet connection. You must make sure your product can perform at the lowest connection standards.

Finally, remember that some homes have multiple learners who must share one computer. Some students may be doing coursework in the early morning or late at night. This means that your product needs to include flexibility around access times, including your support staff. 

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing the entire world into uncharted territory. Your EdTech company is already being stretched as you take on a new level of responsibility in supporting educators and students. One thing is certain: The work you do is more important than ever. And by focusing on the above priorities, your product is sure to rise to the occasion.

  • Photo of Julee Peterson
    Julee Peterson

    As Accessibility Lead / Senior UX Designer at Openfield, Julee brings a tireless dedication to creating stellar user experiences that work for ALL users by leading our efforts to stay at the forefront of ADA compliance and inclusive design practices. She holds a Master of Science in User Experience Design from Kent State University. Outside of the office, Julee enjoys cruising on her motorcycle when the weather’s nice, gardening and furthering her love of cooking and baking with challenging new recipes. She is currently satisfying her thirst to learn new things by teaching herself to play the cello and speak Korean. 반갑습니다!

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