We’re sensing a lot of pent up desire to move on big picture initiatives in 2024. The past couple years were filled with many unknowns as investment in the sector was heavily scrutinized for both early-stage and mature EdTech products. If you’re like many product leaders we talk to, you may be looking at 2024 with continued trepidation but feeling the pressure to address underlying issues that are keeping your product from being the best it can be.
But 2024 could shape up to be your best year yet — if you play it right. We compiled a list of critical trends that will be the biggest influencers on your business.
Entering 2024, many EdTech product leaders we’ve been talking to were expressing the need to shift away from triaging UX emergencies to focus on the long-term strategic groundwork that will enable their teams to stay focused on established business goals.
— Trevor Minton, CXO
1. The Shift From Acute Problem-Solving to Long-Term Strategic Thinking
Feeling cowed by 2023’s economic landscape, many EdTech companies played it safe last year. They focused on addressing shorter-term needs and urgent UX emergencies while underlying strategic issues that cause them continued to build.
2024 is the time to re-prioritize that strategy. UX emergencies are bound to happen, but if you’re prioritizing them over your business strategy, you’re not setting your company up for long-term success. This year, dedicate yourself to reducing emergencies and design debt that accumulated in 2023 and your overarching goals. An external UX agency that specializes in EdTech can help you manage the day-to-day and the long-term at the same time.
You must have consensus on your UX research priorities
If you find yourself prioritizing acute problems more than strategy in 2024, you might have a gap in your UX research plan. Our research team sees a lot of UX emergencies that could have been avoided by mapping out long-term priorities in a research roadmap that illustrates how all initiatives overlap and support one another throughout the year and beyond. Or if they understood how their users actually use their product.
Research roadmaps are crucial for prioritizing initiatives that everyone is on board with, including your users and stakeholders. Otherwise, you could make a costly step in the wrong direction.
Our research team sees a lot of UX emergencies that could have been avoided by mapping out long-term priorities in a research roadmap that illustrates how all initiatives overlap and support one another throughout the year and beyond.
— Sarah Freitag, Director / UX Research
2. Increased Budget Scrutiny and Scope Creep
Our research team has noticed an increase in design scope creep — often resulting in timeline emergencies with engineering teams. The problem is, companies want to test all the iterations of work possible and let users make the final call. We can blame last year’s intense budget scrutiny for this decision paralysis. But it’s time to get moving.
As you can imagine, more scrutiny and scope creep extenuates timelines. Not only that, but it can deplete your budget with poorly-executed testing. An experienced EdTech UX agency like Openfield can help you narrow down ideas and strategically test your strongest solutions against one another.
The scrutiny isn’t just from product teams — EdTech users are also more critical of the products they use
The market is saturated with EdTech products, and users are determined to simplify the number of products in their toolkits. That means they have a more critical eye when it comes to adopting new technologies that could potentially add to their cognitive load instead of reducing it.
This puts the onus on your UX team to deliver. Like other companies in your sector, you’re probably constantly tracking metrics to prove the success of your product. Without support in gathering and triangulating information, you can’t make your data work for you.
And making your data work for you is absolutely essential in order to deliver value to your users. UX research can help you weigh the need to add a new feature versus evolving and improving the current user experience.
General tightening of funding means that product teams are putting more emphasis on features that support growth or revenue generation. Leveraging UX Research will help you identify and communicate where the real value lies for your users.
— Lauren DeMarks, Senior UX Designer
3. Renewed Interest in Investing in Product Improvements Despite Funding Contractions
As expected, we saw a reduction in VC EdTech funding in 2022 and 2023. Investors were more discerning about which products to fund, and products with dwindling efficacy and usage simply wouldn’t make the cut.
Despite the tighter budgets, we see more clients and prospects planning to invest in sweeping product updates. They spent last year with us exploring, designing, and testing new solutions, and are now primed for some pretty major launches in the fall. Across the board, these solutions are specifically aimed at directly addressing the biggest UX pain points and bringing EdTech up to modern product standards.
And it’s a prudent move. In 2024, VC funding will likely remain stable or even improve, specifically in K-12. Even on the non-VC side, there’s a modest uptick in funding of UX design and research. We expect that trend to stabilize or grow in 2024.
We saw fewer product risks being taken in 2023. A lot of product teams that weathered storms spent the last year pondering what’s next. I expect EdTech product teams to cautiously move ahead on bigger picture strategic initiatives that have been on the back burner.
— Jacob Hansen, UX Design Lead
4. Thoughtfully Integrating AI to Add Value
AI was front and center in many roadmap prioritization exercises in 2023. While EdTech companies and instructors alike were initially concerned about how it could harm the learning experience, some companies nevertheless felt compelled to add AI to their products out of fear of being left behind.
Some of these solutions proved less viable than others. This can happen product roadmaps get rearranged to include the latest tech without truly considering the long-term strategy or validating the user experience.
AI has the potential to meet the needs of unique users through more personalized experiences and real-time support. But it has to be a conscientious effort. 2024 calls for more thoughtful AI integrations to ensure that these features add value instead of detracting from it.
More self-led learning
With the advent of AI, we expect more personalized learning plans for students that promote self-led learning. EdTech tools may even evolve with students through learning phases (i.e. from high school to college, or from college to professional learning).
In 2023, we saw a race to jam AI features into products across all sectors. But in 2024, EdTech product teams will need to better assess how the technology can actually enhance the user experience instead of just adding superficial new features.
— Tanner Sotkiewicz, Senior UX Designer
5. Balancing User Acquisition with User Retention
User acquisition and retention is a tough balancing act. You should never prioritize one group of users’ needs without testing and validating possible solutions with another. And the more you include VIP users in your process, the more trust you build with them. Trust among product evangelists can make all the difference if there are any pain points in launching a new feature to satisfy new users.
We’re seeing EdTech companies judiciously invest in a combination of product improvements aimed at retention in addition to complementary capabilities that address significant unmet needs. On the new features side, they aim to significantly improve value for both existing and new customers through functionality that strategically fits with the mission of the product. On the retention side, the focus is on improvements to existing aspects of the product that will dovetail nicely with the new ones.
We’re seeing EdTech teams carefully invest in a combination of product improvements aimed at retention, along with new, complementary capabilities that will help them differentiate by addressing significant unmet needs of new users.
— Chris Albert, UX Design Lead
6. Re-Prioritizing Accessibility and Inclusive Design
Accessibility is just as important as it was last year. But with all the pivoting last year required, many EdTech companies let other priorities take center stage, only to find themselves scrambling to catch up with accessibility standards.
If you’re in that position, bear in mind that the definition of accessibility is more nuanced these days. The prevailing notion is that digital products shouldn’t just fulfill ADA requirements. Your EdTech solution should leverage inclusive design practices to serve the needs of your entire user base — which includes underrepresented populations (e.g. indigenous populations, single-guardian households, etc).
Not only is inclusive design important from a DEI standpoint, but leading EdTech companies recognize it as a differentiator. Inclusively designed products have the potential to service more users instead of simply the most privileged. And when you keep up with the needs of your users, you’re more likely to create products that can go the distance.
Many EdTech products fall into the trap of deprioritizing accessibility, only to find themselves scrambling to catch up again in the future. Traps like these are easily avoidable by incorporating accessibility into core aspects of the product, such as libraries and documentation.
— Alex Hiser, UX Researcher and IAAP Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC)
7. Supporting Instructors and Students’ Mental Health
The past few years exposed the amount of burnout both instructors and students face. While the pandemic spotlighted mental health issues such as isolation, learning loss, and educator attrition, the truth is that we were long overdue for a mental health check. The pandemic simply laid bare a growing crisis in education that we couldn’t ignore any longer. Today, mental health is a top concern for students and teachers in — and out — of the classroom.
One solution to burnout is the simplification of EdTech tools. Instructors are more inclined to adopt product integrations as opposed to entirely new EdTech. We’ve learned in our research that some instructors will avoid introducing valuable tools altogether, simply because they don’t want to waste time onboarding students.
When designing an integration, consider your user’s entire ecosystem of processes and products. Your products should not only plug into their ecosystem but also integrate and communicate with other products to create a more seamless experience from required tools, such as their LMS.
Educator burn out is a real problem. As EdTech product leaders, we need to provide the tools and resources to help support the teaching environment to make it a more sustainable profession.
— Kyle Bentle, UX Design Lead
Creating opportunities for engagement inside and outside the classroom is also key to preventing burnout by addressing students’ need for community and belonging. In addition to providing breaks between lessons, meaningful micro-interactions, and real-time feedback, your product should incorporate multiple learning strategies for different types of learners.
AI can also be instrumental in this effort, both personalizing the learning experience and reducing instructors’ workloads. With a reduced workload, instructors can focus on creating meaningful connections with their students.
8. The Digital Natives Are Becoming Parents and Teachers
The digital natives are growing up and taking on new roles that affect decision making about which EdTech products will be used at home and in classrooms. We need to think about the increased expectations being brought by the growing portion of teachers and parents of K-12 students who have always had access to computers and the internet. That means that any digital product that might have previously eluded calls to modernize may see their luck run out.
The reality is, users hold all technology to the standard they are accustomed to interfacing with on a daily basis. Your EdTech product is competing not only with other learning tools, but with everything else that’s built for a screen. To keep users’ attention engaged in your UX, take notice of what Digital Natives look for in their must-have apps and make sure your product is just as easy and enjoyable to use. It’s critical for the viability of your product, especially as users are eager to pare down the amount of digital products in their toolkits.
We need to recognize that the digital natives are becoming parents and teachers who increasingly will have more of a voice in which EdTech products they use in their homes and classrooms. There will be less and less tolerance for lackluster user experiences as more of them enter these new roles.
— Annie Hensley, Director / UX Design
A Partnership With an EdTech UX Research and Design Agency Will Help You Address Immediate Needs Without Compromising on Long-Term Strategy
If you feel unprepared to keep up with your daily UX needs and calls to modernize your product in 2024, now is the time to connect with Openfield.
As a UX research and design agency that specializes in EdTech, we empower companies like yours to execute your long-term strategic plans without deprioritizing immediate user needs. That’s because we balance the quick wins and incremental fixes with the ambitious overhauls, helping seamlessly bridge the gap between your short and long-term UX roadmaps.
Ready to give your sweeping product updates and modernization efforts the attention they deserve? Reach out to our team.