ARTICLE: Kyle Bentle

EdTech products must meet the needs of hybrid classrooms. UX can help.

The COVID-19 pandemic turned the traditional in-person classroom experience on its head.  Students were suddenly remote, and instructors scrambled to continue teaching. While most students have returned to the classroom, the hybrid model — where some students are in person and others are remote — is likely here to stay. And that brings a series of unparalleled challenges and opportunities for EdTech products. 

This evolution of the traditional classroom offers great freedom and flexibility for both instructors and students. But it also presents new problems for teaching and learning. 

Effective UX design can help defray pain points and create products that are valuable for all users — whether they’re in-person or remote. For your EdTech product to have a lasting impact, it must accommodate the realities of the hybrid classroom.

Hybrid Classrooms Create New Challenges For Instructors and Students 

While the stresses of learning in lockdown are in the rearview mirror now, hybrid classrooms are still in flux — and causing tension for instructors and students. Whether you’re building a new EdTech product or iterating on an existing one, current user stresses should inform and inspire your product design.

Instructors Are Stretched Thin and Disconnected From Remote Students

In order to keep classrooms running during the early days of the pandemic, instructors had to improvise quickly. Figuring things out on the fly is still necessary, especially when some institutions are still operating without a good hybrid plan. 

Managing in-person and remote students can feel like double the workload. Because course expectations are different for in-person students than for remote students, instructors are essentially teaching the same course twice. And that is a recipe for burnout.

In addition, instructors are often disconnected from remote students. Instructors may record lectures and send them to students who watch them later. Even when there is an opportunity for instructors to directly observe them, students often opt to keep their cameras off. Connection that was once a given in the classroom now has to be deliberately recreated.

Remote Students Are Struggling and Distracted

Remote students experience their own version of classroom disconnection. They may not feel supported by instructors, who are doing their best with the resources available. A rift can develop between in-person and isolated remote students. Group work, a foundation of classroom learning, is especially difficult in hybrid environments.

Remote students have to manage frequent technical issues and may be subject to digital inequity. Not all students have reliable internet access; some may be stuck with older personal computers that simply aren’t up to the task of remote learning. 

And without a controlled in-person environment, boredom and distraction run rampant. For learning to occur, the right educational tools are mandatory.

Hybrid Classrooms Require EdTech Products That Flex and Connect

Given the host of challenges instructors and students face with hybrid learning models, your EdTech product must have the ability to adapt and connect — more than ever before. Without these qualities, your product simply won’t be relevant in today’s hybrid classrooms. 

Flexibility for In-Person and Remote Students

Product flexibility, in the case of hybrid learning, implies serving all user types while keeping learning outcomes in mind and giving instructors a product that fits in seamlessly with their existing suite of tools.

You can’t anticipate all of the different types of users, environments, and content your product will be used for. Now a single student or an entire course can shift modes over a semester, remote one day and in person the next. It’s imperative to map out and solve for as many situations as possible

Your product also must prove flexible in its ability to play well with others. Instructors are using a wide variety of EdTech products, and you should be sure your product fits into that ecosystem. The products that succeed in hybrid classrooms will work harmoniously with other classroom tools, digital or not. 

Ability to Connect Students and Instructors

EdTech products need to prioritize connection and collaboration between instructors and students. In order to be truly valuable in hybrid settings, your product should help:

  • Facilitate conversation. Can remote students communicate with the instructor effectively during lectures? Keeping remote students engaged requires an open, easy channel of communication.
  • Answer questions. Can instructors immediately see questions that are posed by remote students and address them? Unacknowledged questions may cause a student to get frustrated, retract the question, and withdraw.
  • Indicate student confidence. Can instructors measure student confidence in their own understanding of material? Instructors need to know where knowledge gaps are — for both in-person and remote student groups. 
  • Measure student engagement. Can instructors see how much time students spend on assignments and how well they perform on those assignments? Instructors can use that data to make decisions about what to keep and what to modify to meet learning objectives. 

UX Research and Design Can Help EdTech Products Meet the Needs of Hybrid Classrooms

Understanding your product users via UX research is even more important when their needs are so varied. Inclusive research can sample hybrid and on-site learners to help you better understand their pain points; observation of a live hybrid class can also lead to actionable insights. 

Effective UX design can ease onboarding for new users in a hybrid setting. Simplicity is key. Any extraneous features bring the risk of bloating your product and creating an experience that doesn’t make the instructor or student’s life easier. Your product should also be meeting or exceeding accessibility guidelines, so no student is without the basic support they deserve. With the proliferation of EdTech products to choose from, your product must be easy to use — or it will be discarded

The hybrid classroom offers massive opportunity for EdTech companies. The diverse needs of users require innovative, timely solutions in easy-to-use products. And the products that rise to the occasion will be the ones that will thrive.

  • Photo of Kyle Bentle
    Kyle Bentle

    Kyle’s journey to the world of UX is an uncommon one. After earning a journalism degree from Ball State University with a concentration in graphic design, he spent the next decade working in news organizations in Jacksonville and Chicago. In his previous role as designer and journalist at the Chicago Tribune, Kyle juggled the needs of many stakeholders while collaborating on multidisciplinary teams under immense deadline pressure. As a data visualization expert, he brings a rare ability to analyze and translate complex information and concepts into engaging and understandable stories. Outside of work, he enjoys time with his wife, Lee Ann, and their dog, Scooter. Among his hobbies are biking, spending time outdoors, and painting poorly (his words).

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