How do you go about designing an edtech product with features that complement classroom learning?
The road from concept to market presents countless diversions which can lead even the best intentioned startup off course. All too often founders find themselves operating from the development trenches, a place where making informed decisions about which new features to add can be both difficult and confusing.
So, here are a few pointers that will help ensure your product develops into a useful tool for students and teachers alike.
1. Find the weakest link and work to strengthen it
Start by listing all the steps in the learning process, from the presentation of new information to activity driven reinforcement and diagnostic assessment of student progress. Next, identify those areas for which teachers rely on student diligence and time spent outside of class, as well tasks which take up teacher time and could be better executed by a computer.
Now that you’ve identified the weakness, build a tool that provides a better solution. For example, Lingua.ly’s product helps teachers and students locate authentic target language content from the web that contains an optimized ratio of known to unknown words to facilitate learning from context. It saves teachers from scanning the Internet for relevant realia and gives students a better chance of acquiring new language from comprehensible input.
2. Don’t be a one feature wonder
Identifying the missing link gives you a starting point, but building a product that fills only one gap can narrow your target audience considerably. Instead, identify a systemic learning challenge and then take a look at the related problems and follow up steps needed to ensure your activity creates lasting value for learning.
For example, when you read from content you often need to look up words in a dictionary. Therefore, don’t just provide the articles but add a look-up and word bank feature at the same time so your tool becomes more dynamic and valuable to users. Lingua.ly even goes so far as to add a flashcard maker and spaced repetition review system for a comprehensive yet flexible learning platform.
3. Keep things open
To make an edtech tool that functions as one piece in a greater learning ecosystem, you need to keep things open and transparent. Having worked in the language industry for the past seven years and witnessed the debut of a number of digital products which claim to revolutionize the way we learn languages, Duolingo among them, I can tell you that flexible and open systems which integrate with classroom language learning are few and far between.
There’s no easy way for an intermediate high school Spanish learner to use a fixed content app in conjunction with what they are learning in class because a closed system takes control away from the learner and fosters reliance on prescribed content. Open systems like Lingua.ly and Quizlet allow the user to independently practice words they have learned in class and make the most of technology rather than taking attention away from teacher-directed learning.
Developing a new edtech product is challenging enough on its own, let alone carefully selecting complementary features, so don’t forget to test your product at every step along the development path with target users. Use their tips and feedback to guide you and ensure that your product is a success when you enter the market!
About the author
Meredith is a linguist who has spent the last seven years working across the language learning industry in various roles from teaching to curriculum development and teacher-training. In her previous position, Meredith managed the special projects team at Education First where she led development of the EFTE, the world's first free standardized adaptive assessment tool and platform. She holds an M.Sc in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition from the University of Oxford and a B.A. in French language and literature from Georgetown University.