ARTICLE: Autumn Gilbert

Ask your users: why UX research is key to an effective user journey map in EdTech

Knowing how and when to conduct UX research is mission critical for your EdTech product. With well-timed research, you have the insights you need to make the best product decisions. And most importantly, research provides a window into the minds of your users. Your user journey maps are case in point.

Mapping your user’s journey without UX research is like a modern-day cartographer working without satellite images. EdTech products shouldn’t rely on journey maps designed out of probabilities. It’s like using a compass and telescope when you have specialized mapping software at your disposal. 

Today’s UX technologies and methodologies leave less to assume and more to ascertain about your product’s users. User journey maps born of precise UX research are powerful tools. And the earlier you incorporate research into your journey mapping process, the better.

Why a Shared User Journey Map is Fundamental to Your EdTech Product’s UX

Journey maps visualize the path a user takes when using your product — and allow you to get to know their standpoint intimately. Who are they? What scenarios will your users encounter? What decisions will they make? How are they feeling? The answers to those questions should inform all aspects of your EdTech product experience.

Most likely, your team members have individual user journey maps that reflect their own limited perspectives and unique metrics for success. One cohesive map should emerge out of your team discussions in the earliest stages of your product development or improvements. When your team carves out a user journey map together, everyone becomes responsible for the entire user experience — not just their part.

The shared user journey map also allows your team to:

  • Understand the full context in which a user engages with your product. A journey map examines more than direct user engagement with your EdTech product. Your team should also consider events leading up to product use and events following product use. Without larger context, you risk trying to draw key insights about users in a vacuum.
  • Identify user motivations when they interact with your product. Knowing the what and when of your user journey map is important. But the why is most important of all. Your journey map should be infused with users’ thoughts and feelings. After all, those are the things that drive their choices with your product. 

What Types of UX Research Are Most Valuable When Creating a User Journey Map

Conducting UX research early and often provides the data you need to perceive your users’ evolving needs. Accurate user journey maps depend on the resulting data. Two kinds of research are particularly informative — and a sound investment at many points of your EdTech product’s life.

Focus Groups

Sketching out truthful journey maps begins with knowing the lives of your users. UX research focus groups are effective ways to elicit honest feedback directly from your users — in real time. 

Students who participate in focus groups can help your researchers process semester timelines in a more nuanced way. One of the end goals for researchers is a fuller understanding of the emotional context of students’ lives. Another goal is discovering what tasks students have on their plates — and how they use your product to complete them. 

In focus groups, researchers and participants plot notable events of the semester, the related feelings about those events, and your product’s touch points. Focus groups reveal students’ mental models, which empowers your EdTech team to make a truly useful journey map.

Focus groups with instructor participants may have different goals. For example, researchers might set out to understand how instructors use particular textbooks. This narrower focus necessitates more specific questions. What became frustrating with the text? How did the publisher respond? What would make this text better? 

Working directly with users in focus groups requires interviewing finesse. So be sure your team’s researchers adhere to interview best practices — otherwise they risk leaving insights behind. 


UX research surveys are another way to gather information about your users’ needs and your product’s usability. Researchers determine key user tasks and formulate specific, open-ended questions to validate focus group findings.

Surveys should be carefully written and structured in order to get the most reliable results. Appropriate questions can include:

  • What do you use to complete this task?
  • When do you complete this task? 
  • How satisfied are you with your current way of completing it? 
  • How important is it that you complete it? 
  • Why is it important? 
  • How many hours per week does it require to complete this task?
  • What are the top two factors you consider when deciding if or when you complete this task? 

When to Initiate UX Research for Your EdTech Product

Focus groups and surveys can empower your team to build a user journey map, but that’s not a one-and-done event. Journey maps should be dynamic and responsive to changes in both your users’ lives and in your product. Build research-based journey maps at inflection points like these:

  • In the discovery phase. The earlier you can include research to make an accurate user journey map, the more intuitive your product will be. Fuel product planning sessions with knowledge of your users’ lives, motivations, and mental models.
  • In response to product trends. Adopting trends is only wise if your users will adopt them, too. Research can reveal users’ real needs and desires — and remove wrongful preconceived notions your team might hold.
  • In response to friction. If you are encountering specific product issues (perhaps from customer experience reports), it’s a good time to revisit the user journey map. Where are users getting stuck or frustrated? What is happening before and after that event? 

A well-developed, cohesive journey map is an essential tool for your EdTech product team. By utilizing different methods of mapping your user’s journey, you’ll be able to get more information about user patterns and decisions. And most importantly, you’ll stay close to the one thing that should guide your team — the evolving needs of your users.

  • Photo of Autumn Gilbert
    Autumn Gilbert

    In her role as UX Researcher Autumn adds a high degree of compassion and observational skills to our team. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Northern Kentucky University. But it was her during experience going door-to-door interviewing villagers while attending the Ethnographic Field School in Orange Walk, Belize that she found her true passion for research and learning about the world. Outside of work, Autumn enjoys knitting and crocheting scarves and hats that she donates to those in need, reading and doing puzzle books. She is a self-professed “old lady”, but the energy she brings to our team never gets old.

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