THE UX(R) Factor

Big ideas have small beginnings.

The Important Role of UX in EdTech

June 10, 2021

This post was originally published on May 10th on Mindspark's Greenbook Channel, The UX Factor.

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In the modern-day classroom, educators and teachers alike are looking for unique and meaningful ways to integrate technology into the lecture room. In many cases, there is an expectation that students receive an education synonymous with the lifestyle they live outside of the classroom, allowing them to make deeper connections between experiences. Yet, enriching students’ education requires platforms that are easy to use, enticing, engaging, and informative.

What Are They Learning?

The top priority for educational platforms should certainly be to create value in the learning process, but doing so requires removing complex processes, allowing the student to learn the content instead of learning how to find their homework or assignments. If you are yet to experience the pain, felt when trying to navigate through a poorly designed (education-based) application – whether as a parent assisting their children with homework or as a first-year university student trying to get a handle on their studies – then, rest assured that it will surely be an overwhelming process, moreover, one that completely removes the student from the true task at hand. This is where UX and UI design become invaluable in the realm of education. Everything from data presentation to effortless navigation and platform exploration must be intact, smooth, and seamless. In a classroom that becomes completely dependent on technology for communication with parents/guardians, posting grades, and offering up resources, the aspect that will matter more is not the platform’s usefulness but its usability.

In case the world hasn’t noticed, students are engulfed in the world of social media. When a student is presented with a new educational app, there is an inadvertent comparison made between said app and social platforms they already use. This presents a challenge to some, but, in actuality, what it offers is valuable insights into how important UX design is in present-day “Edtech.”

A mix of engaging and gamified learning, personalized imagery, and effective visualizations go an extremely long way, for example. Simple adjustments, such as mimicking the instant gratification found in receiving a ‘like’ on a post, can be replicated by including progression meters on assignments or checkmarks next to completed tasks. The inclusion of “icon characters” amongst other tactics such as grading through visuals is also instrumental. There is much to be learned by what engages our students and what magic is worked behind the scenes, which, in turn, enables UX writers and designers to truly capture the excitement and participation of the modern-day student.

Photo credit: Kahoot!

Exemplar 1: Kahoot!: quizzes and games

Kahoot! exemplifies the ideal integration between the appropriate educational experience and a well-designed, engaging design. Through this platform, students are asked to keep their eyes on the screen and type in a PIN number that is associated with the quiz or game at hand. Students then choose user names (this can always be a fun experience) and play along with all students in the classroom who have a device. They are then prompted by some very highly anticipated music, which is then followed by a series of question types (multiple-choice, true/false, yes/no) based on the preprogrammed questions designed by the teacher. Students are then meant to answer the questions based on the colors presented on the screen. For example, there might be a red square that represents answer A, the right answer. Students will see this, amongst many other wrong options, appear on the phone, and they must select the correct answer.

All alongside the way, students track a leaderboard and receive points. Each question is accompanied by images and the traditional (and catchy) theme song. Now, of course, the process here is intended to formally assess the comprehension levels of students at the same time as it becomes a fun and competitive game. This is because of the intuitive design, presentation tools, and many other quirks encompassed by the app – all of which can be credited to user interfacing and design. This is a true example of how informative/educational can effectively utilize UX and UI processes to create an immersive and exciting educational experience.

Screenshot from Duolingo

Exemplar 2: Duolingo (language learning)

Perhaps one of the most sought-after yet challenging skills to learn is how to speak another language. Yet, Duolingo has made this process seamless, eventful, and exciting through various designed tasks and visuals. Duolingo students are presented with numerous different subject areas, such as “Travel,” “Food,” or “Shopping.” They are then taught various words within that subject, all while earning badges, rewards, and points. Each word is presented with preset characters or images that correlate to the word at hand, while questions are also presented as fill-in-the-blanks, multiple-choice, spoken word (through the mic), or spelling exercises.

Duolingo is also notoriously known for its mascot, which is an owl. The owl holds you accountable to your daily goals by offering reminder messages and encouragement all along the way. Daily steaks on Duolingo also provide badges of accomplishment and create an incentive to return to the app to not lose the beloved streak. Again, the true nature of the app is for you to learn how to speak a secondary language. However, the magic behind the scenes is truly created through the simplicity of the platform and accompanied by the many designs, images, and gamified tasks that are part of your educational journey. Without UX design, it would be hard to imagine how this application would sustain the number of users it does (120 million).


Conclusion

Ed-tech is being adapted internationally, and it continues to grow year after year, with global investments reaching US$18.66bn in 2019, while the overall market for online education is projected to reach $350bn in the next 4 years. In education, the smallest improvement can make the biggest difference, and the same rings true for designing, programming, and organizing the platforms used to facilitate that learning. Thus, this fast-growing industry must continue to leverage and utilize areas such as UX and UI intelligence, not just to separate themselves from the mass competitors but to truly impact the one area that matters the most – student learning.


References:

https://blog.duolingo.com/which-countries-study-which-languages-and-what-can-we-learn-from-it/#:~:text=Duolingo%20data,currently%20teaches%2019%20distinct%20languages.

https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/12/17/1961785/0/en/Online-Education-Market-Study-2019-World-Market-Projected-to-Reach-350-Billion-by-2025-Dominated-by-the-United-States-and-China.html

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