As we begin 2023, the education industry is in a very different place than where we were during the pandemic. With nearly all schools returning to in-person instruction, the reliance on technology solutions as the sole provider of learning is not as prevalent. That means EdTech product users are really scrutinizing what they are willing to take a chance on. They’re not going to simply use whatever is available. Instead, they will be more discerning about the products they adopt — and those they remain loyal to.
So the question becomes what will make instructors and students want to use your product, now that there is more choice?
The short answer is recalibrating your product to move ahead of the competition and remain a relevant option for users.
But what should you do to recalibrate? We’ve compiled helpful advice from our team of UX researchers and designers based on trends they see on the horizon for 2023.
The pandemic caused an EdTech boom … Now these products need to figure out where they live in a world that isn’t as dependent on EdTech.
— Kyle Bentle, UX Design Lead
Product Resiliency Is Where You Need to Focus Budgets and Investments
This year will bring more scrutiny on the dollars spent to fund EdTech products across the board — from those who create the budgets to those who approve them. Due to uncertainty in education budgets overall, internal budgets for EdTech products aren’t likely to increase in 2023. Industry watchers are predicting that investment in the sector will continue to slow. That means new features won’t likely be predominant on product roadmaps. Instead, the focus will be on improving and maintaining features that already exist. In worst-case scenarios, some product teams may see their budgets drastically reduced or even cut entirely. We would strongly caution you against taking the latter approach as your users and buyers alike would likely experience adverse effects and begin to look to competitive products for higher value.
According to an article in EdWeek Market Brief, Patrick Brothers, co-CEO and co-founder of HolonIQ, a market intelligence firm focused on the education industry, predicts investments will continue to shrink to pre-pandemic levels. “Those who choose to perceive this drop as a temporary one-off and hang on to old habits and models will struggle to compete,” according to Brothers. Similarly, venture capitalist (VC) funding for EdTech products is expected to decrease. In fact, 65% of investors are planning to invest the same or less this year. For the EdTech products they do fund, VCs will be looking for the ones that have proven staying power. So for early startups, it will be harder to secure money before showing results.
However, allocating budgets to initiatives that improve your current product and produce ongoing value will continue to be a good investment.
Make room in your budget for great UX
The needs of your users are constantly evolving. As evidence, consider how user needs have changed just over the past three years due to the pandemic. That’s why ongoing assessments of how users see your product — and what they would like to see — should be part of your 2023 product roadmap. Investments in both user research and feature updates that improve the user experience will ensure your product stays relevant.
If you must cut your budget, consider looking at other cost areas before UX. Not adequately improving your product’s user experience may cost you much more in the long run than you could ever hope to save in the short term. If your product falls behind from a UX standpoint, you may find yourself with so few resources that all you can do is react to your users’ frustrations rather than staying ahead of your competition. A series of bad experiences can spiral into a loss of users and sales very quickly. And the price to regain those users (or attract new users to replace them) is significant, even if you eventually fix the issue. That’s why it’s smart to keep UX as a line item in your budget.
Whether you’re a larger, established company or a startup, investment in EdTech is being more carefully scrutinized than ever. Now is not the time to reduce or eliminate UX. Doing so may result in a loss of users and sales that your competition can use to unseat your position in the market place.
— Brian Keenan, Co-founder
Allocate resources to create and manage a design system
Design systems continue to prove themselves to be extremely beneficial to EdTech products. These standards for UI components and elements encourage designer/developer collaboration and significantly expedite development time.
For products with limited budgets, this is good news. An effective design system does take time and resources to develop and implement. But this upfront investment will prove invaluable as your system improves design and development processes over the long term.
I would encourage product teams to find time and resources to create and manage design systems that streamline dev processes and ensure consistent user experiences in the long term.
— Jacob Hansen, UX Design Lead
Will AI Become 2023’s Biggest Disruption?
For EdTech teams, AI technology represents tremendous opportunities to greatly enhance the effectiveness of their products when integrated strategically. Product teams have been well aware that AI technology will play an increasing role in their products for some time now. But the undeniable change is how quickly products such as ChatGPT and the like have been adopted in just a few short months.
A few potential examples of AI integrations into EdTech products include:
- Personalized learning experiences powered by algorithms that analyze student data to tailor learning pathways and content to individual needs and preferences.
- Automating tasks for instructors such as grading and assessment in order to free their time up to allow them more control over and creativity in how they engage their students.
- Predictive analytics that will enable educators and institutions to identify problems and address them before they grow into full-blown crises.
- Enhanced natural language processing that enables more sophisticated interaction between users and EdTech products.
While the promise of AI technology is exciting for EdTech, we need to be very careful when implementing it to ensure we don’t allow potential biases inherent in the tech to make our products more difficult for underserved populations to use. The onus on our industry is to ensure the technology is integrated ethically and responsibly, and that it is implemented in ways that truly enhance student learning and outcomes.
Prioritize User Retention Above New Features
EdTech products — and their user numbers — grew at lightspeed during the pandemic. The industry scrambled to develop products and bolster features to support the needs of a significantly larger user base.
But a return to the classroom environment means today’s world is not as dependent on EdTech products as its sole learning source. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance to find ways to secure your position in the market. For many EdTech products, that means prioritizing customer retention.
Now that users have more options and the luxury of being more selective about the products they use, it’s critical to keep students and instructors using your product. Rather than introducing a host of new features, take stock of what your product already does well and build on that. If your EdTech product is older, use 2023 to “modernize” your offering to meet the expectations of today’s users.
When it comes to increasing user retention, we see three areas rise to the top of the opportunity pile.
One of the main concerns of EdTech product users is the time required to learn how to navigate the platforms. The best onboarding experiences help users get up to speed on your product in a simple, effective and impactful manner.
Onboarding quells any difficulties a user might have when they first start using your product.You might also add additional onboarding features if you introduce or update features midstream.
If it’s been a while since you revisited your onboarding experience, take some time to review the ways users acclimate to your product. If you uncover areas that are causing difficulty, plan to fix them so the user experience remains positive. And if your 2023 roadmap includes new product features, make sure that your current onboarding experience is equipped to support their introduction.
As we begin 2023, students and instructors find themselves jockeying between in-person and remote learning scenarios. Many are experiencing both as part of a hybrid learning model. As this trend continues, users need the ability to move seamlessly between smartphones, tablets and computers. In fact, in today’s landscape, all users have the right to expect this functionality.
Review your products to ensure everything is optimized for all devices used by students and instructors. If it’s not, use this year to respond to this user requirement.
Value beyond the classroom
Continuing to support learning as students transition out of the classroom is another way to retain your current users.
Look for ways to translate coursework into the critical thinking and soft skills required of the workforce. By showing students how what they are learning is applicable in a broader context, you can build longer-lasting connections.
Similarly, think about how your EdTech product can provide value for the student who has graduated. Are there ways your product can help them upskill or reskill to increase their viability in the job market or their existing work?
I expect to see more emphasis on corporate learning and training. Soft skills development and upskilling will likely be more prevalent and present opportunities for EdTech companies to broaden user bases as students transition into the workforce.
— Sarah Freitag, Director / UX Research
Champion a Holistic Student Experience
Your EdTech product is only successful if it helps students achieve learning goals. And the more engaged a learner is, the more likely they are to achieve their goals. But that requires an understanding of the full student experience — both in the physical classroom and a digital learning environment.
Today’s Gen Z college students have different preferences than the millennial generation. If you haven’t been evolving your product year over year, then you may have a product that no longer serves your core demographic. And if students don’t have a positive experience with one product, they’ll move to something else.
The more we think holistically about the process of teaching and learning the better our products and our industry will become.
— Jesse Bruce, UX Designer
Create engaging learning experiences
As more students return to the classroom, the need to keep them engaged remains. EdTech products are in a unique position to create meaningful ways for students to learn — even in a physical classroom.
One way is by providing features that gather student responses to a question anonymously. This gives quiet students the chance to participate without the stress of being singled out. When they are free from the worry of that stressor, they can be more engaged in the overall learning process.
Additional ways EdTech products can contribute to a more engaging learning experience include:
- Personalized experiences that lead a student to resources curated based on their level of mastery or learning styles.
- Micro-learning offerings where small, digestible pieces of information that focus on what’s important are delivered to the student.
In prioritizing the student-facing parts of their product, EdTech companies are putting more effort into making sure their products are a real value add to the student learning experience.
— Lauren DeMarks, Senior UX Designer
Emphasize collaboration and connectedness
Coming out of the pandemic, the value of collaboration and group work continues to increase. This trend first emerged in 2022 and we expect it to continue through 2023.
Students leaving a period of isolation are eager for more peer-to-peer interactions. Gen Z students especially are having a harder time feeling like they are part of a community. Therefore, EdTech products should continue to explore the “social” aspects of education and introduce elements of connectedness into their products.
Tools like online forums, peer review activities and group projects that encourage participation both online and offline can help foster more collaboration in the classroom.
There will be renewed emphasis on group work and collaboration in product roadmaps and strategy discussions. During the pandemic, many students felt isolated and disconnected from their peers and instructors. Despite returning to classrooms, EdTech product teams should look for ways to support community building and shared learning.
— Annie Hensley, Director / UX Design
Don’t ignore equity and accessibility issues
Issues of equity and access will continue to require attention and demand creativity. EdTech companies should focus on ways to make sure their products serve students that are negatively impacted by the widening equity gap in education. Additionally, accessibility compliance is not just a necessity. It’s also a legal requirement.
While no one product can solve these problems alone, all EdTech companies can evaluate their product offerings and make updates to reach a wider range of instructors and students.
Emerging technologies like AI, VR and the metaverse will also present new accessibility challenges. Product teams should start learning and understanding the implications now so they are ready for development when the time comes.
A lot of EdTech product companies do not adequately put the issue of equity on the table when it comes to building their products. Continuing to explore solutions to these problems is extremely important.
— Tanner Sotkiewicz / Senior UX Designer
Align service design principles into your UX practices
Service design carefully considers all the technology, people, and processes that make up the experiences your users have outside of your digital interface. While similar, service design is broader in nature than UX but it can contribute to higher success rates within your digital product. Service design can help clear hurdles that your target audience faces along the user journey and contextualizes all the interactions a user has into a holistic view your team can build a cohesive and targeted experience around.
Many product teams fail to fully appreciate how challenges their users face outside of the digital product hinder their ability to teach and learn. Service design will benefit all users, but especially those with unique issues. In our research we have seen firsthand how disadvantaged groups grapple with problems that no digital product can hope to solve on its own. Consider, for example, how inequalities in access to the internet is a barrier to even using digital products, or how first-generation higher education students may struggle to navigate applications for college and financial aid, and many other systems before they ever step foot on campus. When paired with solid UX practices, service design principles will truly differentiate your product, but only if you have a deep understanding of your users’ journeys.
We believe 2023 will be the year many EdTech product teams embrace the value of service design. If this is a new concept for your team, feel free to reach out so we can share our experience with you. And join our mailing list for upcoming articles and case studies on the subject.
Support Instructors in the Technology-Enabled Classroom
Technology is still a key part of educators’ teaching experience even as they shift back into the classroom. While they tried many tools during the early phases of remote learning, most instructors are now choosing only the tools they think work best.
Student performance took a hit in the all-remote environment. Now instructors need to work even harder to help students gain traction. The EdTech products with staying power will be the ones that help instructors become more effective at their jobs.
Instructors will seek out technology that offers the most support in the classroom, especially for struggling or at-risk students.
— Alex Hiser, UX Designer
Think about courseware less as a structure for creating and organizing content and more as a guided experience where instructors can learn and adapt alongside their students. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Show instructors the most helpful content and resources to fit the needs of their students.
- Coach instructors on best practices and how to adjust their teaching style by offering in-the-moment suggestions to accompany activities.
- Provide suggestions about how to course-correct when students are struggling.
- Strengthen the student-instructor bond by making it easier for teachers to identify and connect with individual students.
Improve the Delivery of Data for Actionable Insights
The data gathered by EdTech products should inform decisions that result in improved student learning. But that can only happen when data is presented in a way that is usable, but not overwhelming.
Simply providing data to users is no longer enough. Product teams need a complete understanding of all the data they’re collecting in order to present the most relevant data to the user. The data then needs to be visualized in a meaningful way and deliver actionable insights.
While elevating actionable data is an area many EdTech companies have struggled with in the past, it can’t be ignored. Drawing out relevant insights in a more discoverable, consumable way can improve instructors’ decisions about learning outcomes.
Taking it one step further, products that offer insights directly to the students will have an edge over those that only provide data dashboards to instructors.
Address the Internal Impacts of the Great Resignation
Early in the Great Resignation, the Harvard Business Review cited industries with the highest increase in demand for services during the pandemic as being hit the hardest by an exodus of employees. This was true for many EdTech product teams — and the impact continues.
Product teams worked hard to increase product value. But their ability to maintain output was negatively impacted as team members moved to new positions. The scramble to replace them created an ongoing struggle.
Now product teams are seeking to restore stability in both their team and their products. That makes 2023 the opportune time to explore creative ways to bring continuity to your team structure and your product design and development processes. The right UX research and design partner can be a force-multiplier for your team.
Stay on Top by Continuously Demonstrating Value
In 2023 we expect to see users continuing to walk away from EdTech products that don’t make their lives noticeably easier. Now that we’re on the other side of mandatory remote learning, your product is no longer a lifeline — it’s a choice. So it’s more important than ever to have a firm understanding of what your users are asking for — and what your competitors are delivering.
As we see more corporate budget cuts in the year ahead, defend your roadmap fiercely with a well-articulated risk/reward argument. Continue to talk to your users about their experiences — both good and bad. Prioritize discovery sessions that will help you better understand students and instructors. Then experiment with and prioritize new ideas that will produce more effective, relevant and outcome-driven solutions.
It’s easier said than done to strike a balance between adding features that directly align with your competitors and those that differentiate your product. But finding that sweet spot will make your product even more valuable for your users. Then, when they have a choice, they will still choose you.