#37 Building Learner Centric Habit Forming EdTech products
Last 5 years have seen explosive growth in newer EdTech products engaging learners inside and outside their traditional education. A lot of them are online - without strongly imposed deadlines, physical proximity to fellow learners. Learners with best intents also fall through disengage with an online course.
How can we use insights from psychology and behavioural science to design products that help learners actually stick with learning and build it into their lives in the same way that they habitually go to the gym?
Reinventing and transforming education begins by deeply knowing and understanding the needs of today’s learner.
Learning Products today need to be -
Personalized - One size doesn’t fit all! Each learner is different, with different motivations, learning styles and innate challenges. Learning Products must acknowledge that and enable personalized pathways.
Active, Social and engaged - Learners continuously engage in responsive technology, whether through social networking, gaming for badges or being part of online communities. So why should learning be any different for them?
Real & Skill-based - the end of the road of learning has to yield a pay-off – beyond an education, learners need skills to get a job.
Lifelong & Continuous - Learners can pick up a few skills, come back for more later. Learners indeed keep building breadth and identify a depth. They should be able to do this seamlessly from where they left off the last time.
Building EdTech products from ground up over the past 4 years, we intently listened to over 80,000+ learners as we built this platform ground up. We observed them using the platform in a physical setting, we reviewed millions of click data from the platform, we spoke to thousands of our learners over the past 4 years, we took inputs from our mentors and industry partners and kept evolving the platform.
Here are some universally applicable learnings on how habit-forming EdTech products of the future must be built.
#1 Design personalized learning journeys
Consider every step the learner will take to use your product and take aggressive measures to make these steps simpler, frictionless and delightful for them. Define stages in Learner’s Journey. Anticipate their key platform interactions, peer interactions, outcomes, pain points and emotions at each stage.
Product Awareness - Here the intended outcome is for the learner to accept the need to learn. prompt them to set learning goals. Identify the platform interactions and specific scenarios - make the onboarding as personalized as possible. A learner may have joined from a free program on the platform or paid for a program and started their journey. Both journeys have to be frictionless and delightful.
Achieving the 1st Milestone - Define the 1st milestone that learners should achieve in order to get activated and nudge them towards that outcome. The desired learner emotion at this stage must be of Motivation.
Getting into a Habit - Adherence to the key activities and goals that you have setup. Setup right cues within the product to enable them to get into a habit and then reward learners when they are on a streak. If they are past this stage, they will most likely complete.
On Path to completion - Once the learners are adhering to tasks, they will go above and beyond - will help peers, solve their questions and ensure they themselves are progressing towards completion. These learners will be force multipliers for the community. Leverage their progress to motivate others.
Storyboard entire user experience for all major learner personas to figure out where learners are most likely to drop out, identify key learner emotions at each stage and what can frustrate them. Then figure out what pieces can be eliminated or how can the learner dismay be mitigated.
#2 - Have learners Build Stuff
EdTech Products should move away from passive video-based learning towards Learn = do real work with hands-on assignments. Give your learners a sense of ownership by having them assemble something early in the learning experience. Along with that learners should get real-time feedback on how they are doing. With videos, there’s too much of a time gap between learning and doing. Learners learn best when they’re presented with a concept and allowed to apply and experiment with it immediately.
Also, another pitfall with pure video-based learning approaches is that they can trick you into feeling like you learned something without actually teaching you.
Courses broken down into smaller topics and then even smaller screens on the platform work best: we’ve found that going hands-on and applying each new concept as you learn it helps you retain the information better.
#3 - Make learning as aligned as possible to Real Work
Even for entry-level jobs, some employers will expect to see one to two years of related experience. Therefore the real work environment must be encapsulated into the learning environment.
Build features that enable learners to collaborate together projects, work towards certain deadlines, and finally have them present their solutions. Seeing how someone works on projects can be a strong and reliable signal for how they will perform later in a role.
The skills learners build over a time should be demonstrable. Integration of a learning platform with places where learners typically build their portfolios help in a big way.
Learner Portfolio tells more about their skills and abilities than x years of experience can possibly indicate.
#4 - Keep Learning Social & Engaged
People need people to learn. And the learning products we build must facilitate that.
Think of community and collaboration features within the product upfront, not as an afterthought. Communities can be that growth loop for the product that can lead to a product’s success.
Award badges to learners who solve queries of other learners on forums, get upvotes. Facilitate synchronous and asynchronous learner communication within the product.
Build features that showcase work samples from other learners. When a learner is unable to get the right answer to a challenge, reinforce that x% of learners found this hard” to avoid learners from resigning from the program.
#5 - Share Personalized Analytics with Learners
Use data to deeply understand learners and to tailor supports and personalized learning pathways.
Share with learners what are they particularly good at, what are their improvement areas, where they stand in their cohort. What next steps they need to take to improve and stand out. Make them the drivers of their journey on the learning path. Just give them the right direction. Features on Personalized Analytics will go a long way in keeping learners committed towards their learning goals.
#6- Rewards Learner’s GRIT
Find ways to reward Grit - if the learners are continuously at solving a problem, though without success, award them a badge - just for patiently trying!
We LEARN something the best by becoming momentarily INCOMPETENT.
While learning, there are these moments when we feel that we are momentarily in control and understood things, but then all of a sudden a new fact arises that we dint know before seems somewhat difficult to grasp and at that moment we feel incompetent. It's a moment when people feel like quitting.
But when you go through it, be comfortable with the chaos in your head, absorb it over a period of time - you know something more than before and you then move on to the next thing. Pacing that process is leads to great learning outcomes.
Reward those moments, when they demonstrated GRIT and perseverance. The moments when learners stuck with coursework, even though the odds of quitting were high.
I agree with Amy Ahearn where she says that the crux of designing habit-forming learning products is not to make the learning process seamless and effort-free. Moments of difficulty or dissonance should remain part of a student’s experience.
Learning requires that we shed misconceptions, shift paradigms, or think of things in new ways. Designing a learning product should never be exactly like building the next Uber, where you get the outcome you want with a mere click of a button. Yet, we can apply insights from behavioural change research to help learners persist, even when the going gets tough!