Three Lessons EdTech can Learn from My Recent Trip through the Airport

As someone who frequents the airport, there are many things that I think could be improved about the flying experience. One thing I dislike is when a TSA agent asks to check my boarding pass prior to entering the security line. The additional ticket screening irks me because it seems redundant and at times patronizing. However, during a recent trip with my mother who is both less familiar with flying and who speaks English as her second language, I realized the importance of this ticket screening process.

As my mother and I approached the security checkpoint, she moved towards the shorter TSA precheck line. She was unaware that the line required additional clearance. Before she queued up, however, a TSA agent informed her that the line was for TSA precheck while guiding her towards the appropriate track.

So, what does this have to do with EdTech?

Airports like EdTech products, serve diverse users — in an airport, you’re just as likely to encounter C-suite fliers as you are to meet first time fliers who speak two languages other than English. Likewise, most educational products serve students from varying class backgrounds as well as educators in different roles (teacher, principal, etc.). As airports guide travelers to their desired destination, good educational technology also attempts to guide learners to a desired objective. What I recognized through my recent trip with my mom was that airports accommodate various constituencies, but they’re always designed for the least experienced. I think EdTech can learn three things from my experience.

Recognize Different Starting Points

The efficacy of the modern international airport is largely built on the fact that it is designed for both the frequent flyer and the first-time flier. This means most processes have multiple entry points. For example, frequent flyers can check-in for their flight at home and use a mobile device to get the terminal while the less experienced traveler can check-in at the airport kiosk and receive a paper boarding pass.

In EdTech products, there is usually one entry point with few options to prove prior learning or knowledge. Additionally, the path that is laid out in a product is likely to be designed for a persona that is an above-average student who comes from a college-educated family. For EdTech to reach the growing pipeline of diverse students who may not have the social capital to know the goal or the path intended by the product, it is critical to create entry points that cover prerequisite content and clear pathing for navigating the experience.

Build Intuitive Roadmaps

From the moment someone purchases an airline ticket, there is constant communication from the airline about the flying process: baggage policies, check-in time, etc. When travelers arrive at the airport the communication is similarly frequent and unavoidable — signs about where each terminal is, signs in multiple languages, overhead voices calling passengers to the gate — it’s hard to be lost for long in an airport.

Though EdTech products attempt to guide users through user interface design — many products still lack clear information architecture that meet students where they are in the learning process. This leads to student complaints of being unsure of exactly what to do next on the platform. Though many products are used differently by each school or teacher, EdTech companies should invest more time constructing a suggested pathway that illuminates the end goal for novice users.

Integrate Humans at Critical Breakpoints

For novice travelers, human interactions, are a key component for getting through the airport. Airports do a good job of providing human support at breakpoints in the flying experiences such as ticketing, security checkpoints and boarding the plane. The genius behind the human support is that frequent flyers can by-pass the help keeping the system free for those who need the support.

Though the landscape is changing, EdTech has often paid less attention to how educators and other human support is integrated into the user experience of a product. The reality is that many students need additional support, motivation and guidance from educators to make use of educational technology. Learning is a process and technology products are meant to make learning more efficient, provide scale or simulate new experiences. For the next generation of EdTech products to make an impact on learning outcomes, the focus for EdTech organizations should be on how the tool and educator holistically deliver an enhanced student experience.

Education Nerd | Tech for Social Impact | Future of Work | Coffee Enthusiast

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