The design of educational user interfaces and experiences (UI/UX) has existed as long as educational technology itself. However, it has not been until recently that awareness around and appreciation of educational UX has risen. Therefore, the question on how to properly design educational technology and its interfaces that interact with the learners and instructors is more pressing than ever.
Designing for EdTech is multifaceted and, thus, there are many aspects of it. UX designers that moved to the education field from other ones will appreciate practical design tips such as those listed on UX matters, click here.
These tips are useful from a “technical” design point of view. However, there is more to it, as good educational design needs to align with good curriculum design.
A corollary of the latter is that EdTech UX designers need to collaborate with Instructional Designers and Pedagogists very closely, on top of the usual User-Centred processes with learners and instructors. This can be challenging with regard to resources and project management.
However, perhaps the single most important difference between traditional UX and UX for EdTech is how empathy with users differs. Empathy is always of paramount importance in the UX process; it should be able to help the UX team and its organisation go beyond the “what” of requirement analysis and understand the “why” of it better:
“Empathic design is the process of developing an understanding of users, not just their overt needs, but of their constraints, practices, problem-solving approaches, contexts, and the interrelations between people as a whole.” (Source: www.interaction-design.org)
This is important in any design project, as the users rarely want to use a product or a UI itself, but rather to complete a task by interacting with it. It is highly unlikely that this morning you checked your email because you love the mail application’s UI; you wanted to read your email, not to use the app. The app and its UI are necessary means to achieve an end.
The user, then, typically has a choice of means to achieve the desired end—i.e., various email apps offer different features. These apps have features that satisfy different needs, and if empathic design has been applied, it is probable that a mail app exists to suit most user groups.
This is the most important difference with regard to empathic design for education: choice. More often than not, learners do not have the luxury of choice: in formal education and corporate training alike it is the teacher, school, district, or talent-management department that decide what piece of EdTech a learner will use. Often there is good reason for this, as in the case of compliance training. Sometimes it may come down to the personal preferences of the instructor.
Regardless the reason why, an EdTech UX designer will have to take under consideration that the learners will not only want to use an app to achieve a goal, but also that the app or the goal may have been chosen for them by others. Therefore, in order to design for this situation, a high degree of empathy is needed: an EdTech UX designer has to care for the learners in order to understand their needs and constraints, and to balance out their lack of choice.
Empathic and caring design are, of course, no substitute for the aforementioned practical design guidelines and traditional design knowledge. However, they are principles that can facilitate and greatly enhance the UX design tradecraft, and significantly benefit the learners.