ARTICLE: Sarah Freitag

No insight left behind: how to get the most out of your EdTech UX research participant

UX research is the cornerstone of your EdTech product — without it, you won’t be tapped into your users’ evolving needs. Knowing your goals is one vital aspect of research — and another is creating fruitful conversations with your research participants. 

As a product leader, you’ll want to make sure your research is being conducted in a way that provides the least biased and most productive results. If research conversations aren’t adapted and adjusted to get the most out of your participants, insights are being left behind.

In order to meet your UX research objectives, your team ought to define suitable interview demeanor and refine strategies with participants.

How to Connect with EdTech Research Participants By Flexing Your Interview Approach

Effective UX research requires building a multi-dimensional skill set. Most of those skills — articulating the aim of the research, conducting the research, and evaluating and interpreting the results — revolve around data.

Your researchers also need the ability to positively connect with people they interview. Naturally, participants are more willing to offer information to someone they find likable and trustworthy. 

Skills like these can empower researchers to elicit honest responses from participants.

Strike the right emotional tone

The ideal emotional tone encourages conversation but maintains subject neutrality.

Researchers should tune in to participants’ verbal and non-verbal energy tones — and then reflect that energy back (if possible and appropriate). A more reserved, quiet person should be engaged similarly. And a more outgoing, extroverted person can be treated with more warmth and liveliness. 

While it’s important for a participant to influence a researcher’s energy, researchers must guard against influencing the content of the participants’ responses. Any fluctuations in your verbal style or tone (expressing approval or disapproval) may influence the participant. And that invalidates the result.

Adapt conversational approaches to the participant

Your conversational approach should reflect an understanding of the participant’s educational role and maturity.  

  • Instructors should be addressed in a more professional, formal manner.  
  • Higher ed students can be engaged in a more conversational, approachable way. 
  • Children need research to be fun. Props, toys, rewards, and imaginative play can all help connect with young children. Older children respond well in paired interviews, “what if” conversations, and the opportunity to share their personal interests and tastes. 

Be aware of visual cues you might be sending

A productive research conversation relies on more than well-chosen words. Just like emotional tone and conversational approaches, clothing (formal, professional, or casual) should be chosen with the kind of participant in mind.

Tools of the trade like lab coats and clipboards can make participants feel safe — or more inhibited. Adapt and adjust as needed. A backpack and notebook might make your researchers far less intimidating.

6 Different UX Research Respondent Types to Inform Your Approach

Keeping a valuable conversation afloat can be a simple task or feel like a daunting chore depending on the person. A strong facilitator is able to adjust their approach to fit the needs of their audience to keep the conversation flowing. 

Your research team can consult the list below to identify the personality of their interviewees — and use the corresponding strategy to keep conversations engaging and purposeful. 

1. The Quiet Participant 

A quiet participant will benefit from think-aloud techniques. A simple statement like, “I don’t quite follow,” encourages participants to explain things in new or more detailed ways.

2. The Agreeable Participant

If a participant seems more agreeable than honest, they need reassurance that their honesty is what will help shape the best experience for future users. If that doesn’t seem to help, it may be necessary for researchers to probe for contradictory reactions and dig deeper into what makes the two situations different from one another. 

As your researchers find contradictions, they should draw out more things participants don’t like about your product. If they are still struggling, researchers can talk about related products and draw parallels to yours to determine a participant’s true likes and dislikes.

3. The Validation Seeker

If a participant is looking for constant validation of their actions, researchers shouldn’t comment on their ability to do a task correctly. A participant’s way of thinking should never be influenced. Researchers must avoid leading phrases, reassure the participant, and redirect them towards the activity at hand. 

4. The Performer

Your researchers need to be careful that participants are not performing for the sake of an interview. You want the session to provide insight on participants’ natural behaviors. Tasks can be framed into realistic scenarios with realistic timing. Participants should be reminded of the purpose of the interview and asked for examples from recent real-world experiences. Phrases like,”Tell me about a time when . . .” or “Walk me through how you did x yesterday” can be very effective.

The more your team can put the participant at ease and into a real-world mindset, the more natural answers you can obtain. 

5. The Tangent Starter

Passionate participants can provide the most useful feedback when they are focused on the topic at hand, but their passion can often send them off on a tangent. The best way to deal with this situation is for researchers to acknowledge the way the user feels about the tangential topic and then redirect them by clarifying the task or restating the question. 

Sometimes tangents can accidentally uncover additional insights about the participant or prompt additional questions, but they also detract from the main goals of your session. It’s important for your team to understand the time constraints and know when to redirect. Researchers can always revisit the tangent at the end of the interview if there’s time. 

6. The Venter

Similar to the Tangent Starter, it’s best for researchers to acknowledge this kind of participant’s emotional feedback and then redirect and focus their attention. Once researchers realize they are in conversation with a Venter, they ought to set expectations early. The researchers should be clear about the kind of feedback they are looking for and adjust questions to be more specific to your goals. If clients are particularly vocal during the recruiting process, your team might want to use these strategies early. 

Your team will find these tips and tricks helpful as you craft UX surveys as well. Gathering relevant, reliable information from participants requires asking the right questions — in the right way. If you don’t develop conversational savvy, you risk leaving key insights for your EdTech product behind.

  • Photo of Sarah Freitag
    Sarah Freitag

    As Director of UX Research, Sarah draws on her deep understanding of EdTech users and her background in research, design and business strategy to enable our clients to make confident decisions that result in products that solve real needs and create demonstrable impacts on their business’ bottom lines. Like her design-side counterpart at Openfield, Sarah is responsible for fostering collaboration, team development and for bringing new strategic initiatives and methodologies that allow our company to stay ahead of the curve of what EdTech users truly need to realize higher levels of learning and teaching success. Sarah is an avid reader and an adventurous explorer. Highlights from her favorite travels include Morocco, Peru, Italy, Denmark and France. With the recent pandemic-induced reduction in travel, she makes it a point to fulfill her wanderlust with another one of her passions, cooking and baking, by experimenting with recipes inspired by cultures around the world.

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