How Smart UX Design Turbocharges Student Engagement

Technology Tips

How Smart UX Design Turbocharges Student Engagement

By Sean Oakes     Apr 7, 2018

How Smart UX Design Turbocharges Student Engagement

Because today’s young learners have grown up with devices ingrained in their lives, they are naturally sophisticated consumers of digital product design. Many of them have been immersed in apps and digital games featuring engaging user experience, or UX, since before they could read. To captivate these students, educational technology has to be more than just a container for instructional content—it has to offer the same level of engagement as the consumer apps they’re used to—in other words, a seamless and enticing UX.

What exactly do educators need to know about UX? For me, it has a wide variety of dimensions, encompassing disciplines like design, usability, human-computer interaction, and more. Research from the journal Interacting with Computers notes that UX design plays a direct role in improving user satisfaction and ease of use. I believe that thoughtful, research-based experiences are what make good learning tools exceptional. When we get it right, we don’t just make software look different, we make the experience different—we facilitate joyful teaching and learning.

I love to see learning that doesn’t feel like a job, whether it’s through great educational games or creating an easy-to-use interface that a student didn’t expect. As every teacher knows, students are most comfortable when education doesn’t feel like an onerous task. To truly connect with today’s smartphone-toting digital natives, effective UX should deliver an experience as engaging and inspiring as the interactions they have with their favorite teacher.

Setting Teachers and Students Up for Success

My company creates interactive and personalized UX, and our job is to make the experience for the teacher and learner as clear and stress-free as possible. We start by researching and identifying how different learners are being asked to approach different problems. This takes more than gathering people together in a focus group. If you’re not in the classroom with teachers and students, seeing their devices operating on their Wi-Fi network, you’re missing a big part of the picture.

Our research includes interviewing the future users of our products and collecting information to understand what will engage them. We look for answers to questions such as: Where are we giving the teacher deeper insights about their students? How would an adult learner approach this topic? What about a first-grader? How will special needs students interact with this product?

For example, we recently worked with an exceptional company, Learning Ally, to create a new audio reader app called LINK. The reader was built for students with dyslexia, visual impairments and other learning differences. Inspired by the research conducted by Learning Ally, we included special visual elements that would set these kids up for success. Based on what we had learned, we worked to create a simple and tailored interface for the app that would not only engage and delight this specific population of students, but also lower their stress and anxiety levels while working within the platform.

Inspiring a Love of Learning

When I was in elementary school, the typical classroom environment didn’t connect with the way I needed to parse new information. Over time, I have observed many different types of learners who have made me realize that our role as UX designers is to facilitate opportunities for students to love what they’re doing and learning. For kids who are struggling in class, that’s a steep climb. Kids who love going to school every day and are at or above grade level need to be challenged, too, but they should be challenged by the material, not the tool they’re using.

Kids don’t really love Chromebooks or phones or apps. They love fun, and when we can help teachers make the challenge of learning fun in any medium, we don’t just impart knowledge, we build great learners.

Thoughtful UX design clears the way for both struggling and excelling students to develop a passion for academics by streamlining the structure and flow of edtech tools so users can easily identify what they need to complete their assignments. From there we take that straightforward framework and turn it into something greater than the content that’s being presented.

In the end, technology is not meant to replace teachers, but to help them become better facilitators in the classroom. As George Couros has said, “Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational.” When a teacher connects well-designed and customizable edtech to their curriculum and pedagogy, it gives their students a chance to become deeply engaged in learning, not just for that moment, but for the rest of their lives.

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

More from EdSurge

Get our email newsletterSign me up
Keep up to date with our email newsletterSign me up