The 2 minutes that can kill your product

 1 year ago
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The 2 minutes that can kill your product

Time might be the scarcest resource of all in edtech.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking a lot about time.

I spend a lot of time in schools, working with teachers and students, observing behaviour, testing products and learning — that’s what school is for after all.

One thing I’ve learned in this time is that a classroom’s natural state is basically chaos. Great teachers manage the chaos, but the potential for chaos is always there. Like living downstream from a dam — if that wall cracks…

As UX designers and product developers we must remember that our customers and users are not using our products in lab conditions. This is especially true in edtech, which is my field of focus, but these principles apply to almost any industry if you just substitute a few key words:
School = Company / Organisation
Class = Department / Team
Principal = Executive / HR
Teacher = Manager / Team Leader
Student = Team Member / User

Schools often use a mish mash of devices, the devices have a rough life, wifi networks can be sporadic and there are a tonne of distractions. It is super important to consider how your product will perform in sub-optimal conditions.

“if your product is taking time not saving time, you’re dead”

One of the most precious commodities a teacher has is time and there is never enough. No one likes wasting time, but in edtech especially, if your product is taking time not saving time, you’re dead.

Consider these four versions of a forty minute session in an elementary/primary school:

What designers and developers imagine

A perfect block of uninterrupted learning time

What actually happens: best case scenario

Basic logistics start eating into learning time

This is where schools might differ from a lot of companies; while an increasing number of schools have 1:1 devices, in my experience it is still not the norm. A lot of schools I’ve worked with might have a ‘class set’ of 15 devices for 25 students. I guess it makes sense to bureaucrats?

Teachers work around this by pooling their devices and taking turns. Like I said, they’re great at managing the chaos. This does mean that you lose time at the beginning and end of a lesson as students fetch the devices from another class and/or unload them from a cart. And what are the chances that all the devices are charged? Not good…

Once a student has a device in their hands, they still need to log in. It can easily take five minutes to get every student logged in if you’re working with younger students and/or mixed literacy levels.

What actually happens: a typical day


Once we have every student logged in the struggle is not over. There are so many variables:

  • Have the students used your product before? How long ago? How much do they remember?
  • How digitally literate is each student?
  • How developed are their general comprehension and problem solving skills?
  • How many students in the class have special needs?
  • How many behaviour management issues will the teacher need to address while also trying to use your product?

There will be some students who can use your product proficiently, others who need some help and others who are not even engaging with your product at all (they might be having a tantrum, going to the bathroom, arguing with their classmate, or any number of other things).

What actually happens: when s*** hits the fan


Standing in front of an audience of 20+ students with 20+ sets of eyes looking to you for guidance can be daunting. There is an underlying, emotional contract between students and their teachers, ‘I will trust you because you’ve shown me that you understand me and you will help me when I need it’. When we’re designing products, we’re entering that same contract with our customers and users.

When something goes wrong, those 20+ kids of course look to their teacher for help — and they do not want to wait! I’ve been there. It’s horrible. It’s stressful. It makes you doubt, or even fear, the product you’re using.

“When something goes wrong, they have a couple minutes at best to find a solution… The easiest solution is often to stop using your product”

Most teachers are resilient, they have to be. But they’re not IT technicians. When something goes wrong, they have a couple of minutes at best to find a solution before the class devolves into chaos. The easiest solution is often to stop using your product and do something reliable. Pencils and paper never freeze on the login screen. Lego blocks never crash when the network is busy.

And remember, if students are losing productive learning time, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

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