ARTICLE: Trevor Minton

Leveraging learning sciences & UX to put learning outcomes at the forefront of your EdTech product

The best EdTech products aim to meet the evolving needs of their users. What’s also true is that the best EdTech products are working diligently to uncover new opportunities for teaching and learning. In the world of education, meeting your users’ needs means more than simply crafting a seamless user experience. It means facilitating improved learning outcomes.

The future of EdTech will be one in which products are evaluated for their usability and the efficacy of their educational content. In other words, does your EdTech product provide a better education for its users?

Enter learning sciences (LS). Learning sciences is a field that has grown alongside user experience (UX). Learning sciences seeks to understand how learners learn, while UX seeks to improve a user’s interaction with a product or system. These two disparate but complementary disciplines should be integrated in the EdTech space.

Defining Learning Sciences

Learning sciences explores, in an interdisciplinary fashion, the ways in which people learn in real-life settings. The learning sciences framework includes (in part) the fields of cognitive science, psychology, computer science, and engineering.

Like UX, learning sciences leans on research-based validation methodologies. In addition, learning sciences applies rigor to its research questions, testing, data collection, innovation, and design. 

Learning sciences and UX have similar processes and related goals, yet they have been growing as distinct and separate fields. While learning sciences has been busy shaping educational content, UX has been busy shaping EdTech products’ usability. 

Now is the time for the fields of learning sciences and UX to be consistently informing and influencing each other in the EdTech world.

Integrated LS and UX: What Success Looks Like

EdTech products must do better than just taking the printed page from textbooks and organizing it in an interactive, screen-based index of topics.  That “shopping cart” experience, based on users’ mental models, can help users complete tasks. But it doesn’t necessarily contribute to an exceptional learning experience. 

Learning sciences is a rapidly maturing field EdTech UX should leverage — and vice versa. Inherent in learning sciences is the belief that cooperation across disciplines results in a fuller understanding of how people learn. Likewise, building cooperation between learning sciences and EdTech UX can result in an enriched learning experience for users.

If your EdTech product reflects an understanding of the complexity of learning and is easy to use, well, that’s a win-win. 

How to Integrate Learning Sciences and User Experience

UX is most effective in the context of EdTech products when it’s got an equal seat at the table with product and engineering. However, now you need to include a fourth seat at the table, which should be filled by learning sciences. 

Educational content is at the heart of your EdTech product. And that content is governed by learning sciences. Shouldn’t you be including learning sciences in the conversation about the most effective way to deliver that content?

Here’s how.

Include learning sciences in the planning phase of your EdTech product.

Prevent product-specific tunnel vision by giving learning sciences a voice during the roadmap-planning phase. When everyone is attuned to the big picture of delivering real, validated, proven educational content, the way forward becomes more clear. 

Learning sciences can help the entire team make product decisions based on knowledge about what’s most intuitive for learners. Excellent instruction, no matter the medium, is never one-size-fits-all. Learning sciences sheds light on what’s meaningful for individual learners and prioritizes what supports that. 

Define shared goals and objectives for LS and UX.

When learning sciences and user experience define common goals and objectives, your EdTech tool can become an indispensable tool for its users.

Sure, it’s important that you build an EdTech product that’s easy (and even enjoyable) to use. It’s also important to make sure users learn from experiences with your product — not just complete tasks in your product.

Learning sciences can prevent EdTech products from underdelivering on their educational experiences. Learning sciences can also intervene when it looks like the product design is pushing way too far ahead of what learners need. And with mature UX, learning sciences has a sophisticated system in which to deliver content. Mutual benefit is built in.

If you manage ease of use and efficacy of learning in your product separately, the product design may be out of sync with what learners need. On the other hand, when learning sciences and UX work in tandem and with a shared vision, a user’s experience is more likely to be seamless and instructive.

Share validation of individual LS and UX research information.

Learning sciences and UX both use design methodologies to collect data from users, iterate, and improve.

Both disciplines ideally test early and often to validate hypotheses and identify problems. Educational content can be designed and validated for effectiveness, and your EdTech product can be designed and validated for usability. 

And both learning sciences and UX work to gain a deeper understanding of and empathy for instructors and students. 

Sharing insights from each discipline’s respective research efforts has a doubly powerful effect. Your EdTech product can be more tailored to the desired educational experience and outcomes than ever before. At the same time, learning sciences can ensure the content itself is leveraging the medium of the digital product to enhance its successful impact on learning outcomes.

Get Ahead of the Game: Learning Sciences is an Opportunity for EdTech Companies

Good enough digital education products aren’t good enough. The ability to deliver a superior education is what will make some EdTech products outshine the rest.

Forward-thinking EdTech companies recognize that learning sciences is instrumental in helping their products deliver better learning experiences. 

Your EdTech product should strive to be on the frontline, allowing best-in-class UX to work synergistically with learning sciences. The surface has only been scratched. Integrative UX and learning sciences can help guide EdTech teams into the not-too-distant future.

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    Trevor Minton

    As Vice President of Product Experience at Openfield, Trevor collaborates closely with our clients and ensures that our team delivers world-class design thinking and execution that results in strong emotional connections between users and digital products. He is passionately enthusiastic about music, local and international soccer, automotive design and racing, and getting under the hood of his old but new-to-him BMW to keep it on the road for another couple of decades.

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