ARTICLE: Lauren DeMarks

Incorporating a UX mindset in your EdTech product’s course templates leads to better learning experiences. Here’s how.

In EdTech, your product and UX teams share a purpose: meeting the evolving needs of your users. 

You may be more likely to invest in improving the UX of the visible, user-facing parts of your product. That makes sense — it affects the bottom line. There’s no denying what students and instructors immediately see (like attendance, grades, and assignments) influences what EdTech product is purchased by or for them.

These user-facing elements are made with internal course building tools, yet you probably make far fewer investments in them. From a UX perspective, this is a mistake. Internal tools — like the ones that build course templates — powerfully shape users’ overall experience with your product. 

In short, course templates can help or hinder real learning. Building course templates that are fortified with UX resources ensures you are truly improving the quality of learning experiences for instructors and students. 

An Agile Mindset Keeps the UX of Course Templates Continually Improving

At their best, prebuilt course templates can be wonderfully useful and time saving. An instructor can use the templates to create their own course materials as part of the user-facing experience. They can build, modify, and add from the course structure and activities. Minimal setup for instructors, though, could mean your content team has to do a lot of work behind the scenes — especially when new course template functionality is needed. 

The good news? When you work with a UX team, templates don’t need major overhauls, just iteration.

The challenge with creating course templates is that development of the tools often doesn’t keep pace with publishers’ needs. What is needed in mere weeks or months can take years to implement. But a good UX team can help streamline the process of building templates so the right functionality is available when it’s needed.

Iteration is part and parcel of an agile UX workflow: implement, test via research, iterate, and repeat. The process is constant, flexible, and responsive. UX research determines or confirms the need for iterative adjustments. Your product team may have strong feelings about how course-building tools should work, and UX researchers come with fresh eyes as neutral advocates for the end-users. 

Course templates infused with this process can be:

  • Cost-effectively designed. Course template creators don’t need to “get it right” the first time. Your product’s digital nature allows for UX experimentation and pivots without a giant price tag. 
  • Tested with appropriate research. Just like any other part of your product, course templates should be subject to research, early and often. UX researchers can investigate (via surveys, focus groups, or interviews) if what you’ve created helps instructors in the way you intended it to. 
  • Quickly refined and improved. When your qualitative research produces useful instructor insights, you can immediately implement corrections, tweaks, and updates. 

Rather than “dumping” a template on your users, course template creators should constantly work to align their content to instructors’ needs. It’s a win-win: when the templates are iterative, creators spend less time in the tedious work of putting a full course together. 

A UX Team Can Help You Develop Better Course Template Architecture 

The way content is defined in the internal template building tool influences the ways instructors find content in their own courses. Poor architecture can lead to inefficient and frustrating workarounds. A UX team can help uncover how these problems manifest downstream and help define an architecture that leads to a better instructor experience. 

Prebuilt course templates are not without inherent challenges. Two common architectural weaknesses include:.

Lack of meaningful course activity classification

Prebuilt templates tend to have an excess of activities for instructors to sift through. And not only are there too many activities, but those activities are not properly classified. Many just get filed under “assessment.”

When instructors can’t find what they’re looking for, learning objectives are compromised. 

UX researchers can run discovery sessions that learn and test as much as possible about the instructor experience. Instructors can help categorize activities more precisely in their own language. For example, they may break down the content in the giant assessment bucket into smaller buckets of homework, simulations, or practices. Instructors can also offer feedback about what activities they never choose.

Activity classifications should be intuitive, otherwise time-saving templates can easily turn into huge time wasters for instructors. 

Poor search or filtering mechanisms

Poor internal UX can manifest negatively on the instructor end. The template building tool dictates what content the instructor sees. Inadequate activity classification in the internal tool can mean those activities are hard for instructors to find. 

On the flip side, if course templates recommend relevant activities, it can make building a course easier for an instructor — and thus improve the UX. So, for example, the template might recommend particular activities for active learning after a lecture is given. The instructor will have those options at their fingertips when they are in that scenario. 

UX Can Bring Learning Science Insights to Course Templates

Course templates are critical pedagogical supports. As UX teams in EdTech work more closely with learning science, they can weave critical insights about how learners learn into course templates.

Learning science considers:

  • How learning occurs, both in class and outside of it. Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. 
  • Various, related disciplines (education, engineering, computer science, cognitive science, and psychology). The learning science perspective aims to include all facets of learning.
  • Educational goals. Your product is designed to make teaching and learning easier. You just may be unintentionally creating obstacles to learning outcomes. Learning science prioritizes the experience of human beings as they move toward their educational goals.

The way a course builder internally structures content is the way an instructor experiences that content. Your internal course-building tool should have an experience flexible enough to accommodate the way learning (and teaching) really happens. Iterative course creation isn’t constrained by traditional, linear chapter organization limitations. Content can be organized according to something more intuitive to instructors (like modules, units, or topics).

An instructor might approach teaching a course differently based on each of these organizations. A learning experience expert can help guide best practices for these structures, and UX can create an internal product that is flexible enough to make that happen.

Invest in the UX of Your EdTech Product’s Internal Tools 

If you don’t have a UX team that’s helping to facilitate a more consistent, iterative process internally, your product may detract from your users’ learning experiences. Your product could be at risk — and eventually abandoned — because it doesn’t support learning objectives in an agile way.

Without question, you need to embrace a future where your digital learning tools are built on a platform that allows for constant, iterative content adjustments. And that necessitates a commitment to UX at the deepest levels of your product.

  • Photo of Lauren DeMarks
    Lauren DeMarks

    As a UX designer at Openfield, Lauren combines her love of helping and connecting with others with her passion for design. She holds a BFA from Miami University in Graphic Design, as well as minors in Art Entrepreneurship and Interactive Media Studies. Outside of the office, she is very serious about ultimate frisbee. Having played on both the men’s and women’s teams in college, she continues to help her alma mater introduce young women to the sport she loves so much. Lauren has a thirst for travel, having lived and studied abroad in Luxembourg and state-side in San Francisco, and is committed to supporting products and services that contribute directly to environmental and sustainability issues.

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