Why Ed-Tech should not be user-led

Any self-respecting digital company will base its products around the user. Close study of user habits, the topics they search for, their online journeys, the platforms they inhabit, and the preference they express all go to inform a product. It’s the best way to make sure people actually used the thing.

It mirrors the approach that consumer companies have always taken with their products – that tasty blend of herbs and spices will have been changed plenty of times to make it appeal to the widest possible number of people. Creating products that people like is the best way to stay in business.

Unless your business is education.

Education has always been results-led, not user led. Would children choose to pick up Shakespeare? Would they want to do those maths tests? Follow up on that physics problem? We’d like to believe otherwise, but no – no they wouldn’t.

Yet so many digital tools and apps for kids are ‘user-led’, but via developers who seem to have forgotten what normal users are like.

This could take us into a whole other world of a developer’s view of what normal is, but, in education, user choices don’t lead the user journey – the choices of schools, teachers and parents do.

If you’ve watched a school-age child using a maths application for example, you’ll take a first look and see that everything looks fine – nice interface, a variety of problems to solve, with explanations to take them through it.

Then watch them use it – endlessly taking the easy route, failing to challenge themselves and only ‘solving’ the questions, or question-types, they know, or taking on the hard stuff and just guessing – taking potshots at the answer like they were taking potshots at aliens in the game they just minimised as you walked through the door. The explanation goes resolutely unread. Things remain unlearned.

The user-led approach in education forgets that your average 11 year old is not the best judge of the right steps to take. education is strongly directed in every area, until it comes to digital where it seems to be created by people who were either incredibly good at self-direction as kids, or who have forgotten what children are like.

So, just for once, developers should forget their principles and remember that education is a heavily directed process. The user, for once, is secondary.


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