How learning science informs edtech product development
It’s no secret that the pandemic shift to remote learning resulted in boom times for edtech. Market intelligence firm HolonIQ expects global edtech spend to reach $300 billion in 2022 and up to $404 billion in 2025. The growth is fueling investment, too, as last year venture capital tripled over pre-pandemic levels.
But is all that money well spent on learning products with proven efficacy in the classroom, or are those billions going toward technology for technology’s sake?
With the boom in edtech and so many shiny, new product offerings on the market, it’s essential for educators to select tools they can trust will have a long-term impact on learning. More often than not, these are the tools that have prioritized learning science in their product design, to guide product vision and focus.
Learning science is an interdisciplinary field that combines research from multiple topics, data, and practice with the goal of furthering our understanding of how we learn and improving instructional practices and processes. Incorporating learning science results in thoughtful products that have clear paths for impact on student learning and allow for a targeted and thoughtful experimentation and product iteration throughout the product development lifecycle.
As educational technology companies look to place learning science at the core of their products, there are three key steps to success: aligning their teams around education outcomes, building a feedback loop, and evaluating and validating your results.
Aligning your Development Team
Aligning your team around key educational outcomes is the first step towards integrating learning science into the product development process. The product development team and involved learning science experts have to determine, and ultimately rally around, selected educational outcomes in order to establish a product vision. This may mean a specific learning outcome for students, an overall goal for classrooms and teachers, or a rate of adoption increase in a certain subject. It could also appear through improved student confidence in learning, equitable instruction and lesson content, and the potential to equip students with skills for their futures.
Regardless of the vision and goal, it has to serve as a consistent roadmap for both teams as they move through the development process. Having agreed upon educational outcomes can act as a North Star against which teams can measure progress of a product or its new features. This could accelerate the ability to align, build, and iterate upon a product. Without such an alignment, teams may be driving towards different and less impactful outcomes, ultimately slowing down development and innovation.
Building a Feedback Loop
Once aligned around a common goal, the collaboration is only kicking off. The product team must build in opportunities for learning science consultation and feedback elicitation at key parts of the development process. During the discovery and exploratory phases of product development, consulting with learning science experts can aid in clarifying the product vision and providing focus. During the design phase, consistent communication with learning scientists can aid in improving the intentionality behind design choices, and ultimately keep the team aligned with the desired learning outcome and impact. And finally, during validation and testing phases, learning science may work closely with efficacy research teams to align on key metrics of interest and to pinpoint what aspects of the product could be changed or iterated upon based on the results of a study.
As education companies, we can demonstrate our commitment to learning by consistently being learners in our fields, receiving feedback, making changes, and constantly iterating on our products. As students’ patterns change, we have to meet those changes with new products and features that match their needs. We’re learning companies – we need to be receptive to constantly changing and learning.
Finally, the product team needs to establish a system for validating learning science-informed features. Once a product or feature has been built with the intention of impacting specific outcomes or principles, teams need to participate in experimentation and product iteration over an extended time, validating the tool’s efficacy and capabilities. Companies need the flexibility to include teachers and end-users in the iterative process, using research and long-term studies to determine (and prove) that a tool is effective. Be prepared to receive feedback from your customers, and recognize their expertise as field scientists, partnering with you to ensure your product meets the needs of their learners.
The efficacy of educational technology plays a critical role in the current challenge teachers face in helping students recover lost learning at the hands of the pandemic. By testing the impacts of learning science product integrations on intended outcomes using efficacy research, organizations can build a powerful system of rapid testing and iteration. In turn, teams can accelerate their ability to measure and improve their tools, in a field (and time) where small adjustments can make a huge difference for learners.
As teachers and administrators look to technology to help them improve efficacy in their classrooms, they should be looking for focused, well-researched products based in learning science. And as organizations look to build successful, impactful tools, they need to invest in their product development with a cycle of testing and iteration that puts learning at the center.
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