August 22, 2022

How Our Edtech Research and User Experience Teams Better the Experience

By Kim Russell, Vice President of Research

Edtech Research Human-Centric Approach

“In the long run, curiosity-driven research just works better... Real breakthroughs come from people focusing on what they're excited about.” This quote from British Psychologist, Geoffrey Hinton, couldn’t be truer for our Cengage Academic Research Team. Led by Kim R., VP of Research, this team of experienced researchers is passionate about ensuring educators and learners have the best possible experience using Cengage Group’s edtech products and services.

 

What are the Edtech Research Team’s Main Priorities?

At a very high level the Cengage Academic research team is laser focused on understanding the current education landscape of the K-12, Higher Education and International markets as well as understanding what current trends will persist and what’s coming next. We aim to understand the needs, pain points, moments of joy and overall experience of all educators and learners. The research team’s work centers on:

  1. Overall Landscape of the Education Space: Where we are today, what does tomorrow look like and what will the longer-term future look like? This type of information helps us identify major needs or challenges faced by faculty, teachers, students, institutions, schools and administrators. 
  2. Deep Dives at the Discipline and Course Level: We know that every course and discipline is unique, as are the educators and learners within these courses, so it’s essential that we do research to understand the goals, outcomes, needs and challenges in every course. While we know there are some similarities among courses, the differences in needs can be significant so we work to understand these needs and differences. We do not make any assumptions and never stop asking questions and talking to educators, learners and administrators.
  3. Understanding the User Experience: Technology should enhance our experiences and enable us to do more, with added efficiency. A major priority for our team is to deeply understand how people use our products and services. We need to understand what they want to do with our products, how they currently use them, where they struggle and what’s working well. We observe educators and learners to understand not only how they use our products, but how they work, what are their common workflows. We do this research so that we can design our products around existing behaviors, ensuring an intuitive experience that makes our customers happy instead of just trying to teach them how to do something new.

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How Does an EdTech Research Team Do Its Work?

We listen to our customers. We talk to them, and we observe them. Our research team strives to get a comprehensive view of the customer experience. We seek to understand the market landscapes in the markets in which we operate by looking at trends in education technology and market segmentation. “You can only identify real needs through research that includes observation, field testing and other methods that give customers a voice and access throughout the design process,” says Alan G., Customer Insights Researcher, previously a professor of sociology.

In the past year, our edtech research team engaged over 15,000 educators, learners and administrators in a variety of different research projects that provided meaningful and actionable insights. The team is comprised of people with deep expertise in the research field, as well as within the education space. These experiences and expertise fuel our research programs. For each research question or topic, the researcher will design a comprehensive research plan that includes a variety of different methodologies used at the right time, to get significant results that enable us to act. Technology is a big enabler for us and we’re constantly exploring and utilizing diverse tools to engage customers. How we design a research study and engage with customers has an impact on our customers’ experience and what they think of Cengage Group. We design our research in the same way we design our products - with the user experience at the center. We want that experience to feel fresh, modern and positive. The team is full of life-long learners passionate about delivering meaningful educational solutions that meet the changing needs of our customers. We try things and we take risks.

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The Importance of Human-Centered Edtech Research and Design

No product, service or solution will be useful if it was not researched, designed and built with the user at the center. Researchers and product teams can hypothesize about user unmet needs, but to truly empathize and understand users, they need a human-centric approach to every phase of the research and product development lifecycle. Cengage Group’s human-centric research approach is to observe, listen, ideate and test with users at every phase. By taking this approach, we learn valuable user behaviors that help us address and solve unmet needs and know what we shouldn’t solve for. At Cengage Group, we leverage multiple research methods to understand users and triangulate insights to provide a cohesive and comprehensive view into their world. Whether that be observing Instructors teaching, students learning or gaining their feedback on our products – we constantly put them at the heart. This allows us to build valuable, easy-to-use products that provide amazing user-centric experiences.

“Human-centered design is all about grounding your work—in our case product design and development—in the real needs of your customers. Human-centered design is also iterative. I’m proud that Cengage Group is committed to human-centered design. The investment in the Academic Research team, which includes a trifecta of customer insights research, product development research and user experience research, is a prime example of that commitment,” says Alan. 

Ah Ra C., a Customer Insights Research Institutional Lead who holds a PhD in Higher Education, says that she appreciates our human-centered approach. “Not all companies do that. My favorite question I like to ask during interviews is ‘tell me about your institution.’ Rather than believe educational institutions are cookie-cutter and the same, I put emphasis on believing that each learning institution provides unique value and importance. This approach has been enriching and essential to focusing and caring about our customers.”

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“Human-centered design helps take biases, guesswork and bad assumptions out of our processes. It means we can build accessible, inclusive products that resonate with our users and help them be successful,” says Casey M., User Experience Researcher. “Small insights help fuel our research and can have a huge impact on students and their success.” 

 

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The Important Role of Research in Edtech

Technology, and edtech specifically, can have a profound impact on the current and future state of learning. Among other things, edtech allows learners to:

  • Play around in the safe space of a virtual lab to get hands-on experience
  • Assess themselves and practice with immediate feedback
  • Have a tutor or support when their instructor may not be available
  • Access a wealth of information in an instant

 

Educators can leverage technology to focus their time and efforts on what matters most to them – connecting with their students, helping them achieve that Aha moment, personalizing experiences and content to their communities and a multitude of other things. They can then use curated edtech content, including engagement and assessment materials, support materials and general tools, to save themselves time and effort. The role of the edtech research team is to understand how we can serve these needs and surpass expectations.

We do lots of work with students to understand their learning behaviors, where they are struggling, what they hope to achieve and how they use their educational materials. We follow the same approach with educators and administrators. This research helps inform our organizational strategy and overall products. Our research helps identify what will brings students, educators and administrators value and we work across the organization to build products and services that deliver on that value. The work is never done – we all change, our needs change, the markets change – so we keep researching, validating, testing and improving. “Whatever comes next, our research team will be here to listen and place the perspectives and experiences of our customers at the forefront of our research,” says Allison H., Associate Customer Insights Researcher.

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Together, Our EdTech Research Team is Working to Better the Experience

“I’m inspired by my team members who are smart, motivated and hard-working individuals that come from a wide range of backgrounds, skills and talents. It’s motivating to know that our research has the potential to impact the lives of millions of instructors and learners,” says Ah Ra.

Casey says her favorite part about working on the edtech research team is “that everyone on the team legitimately loves their jobs and cares about the learners. Education is one of the most important things in the world and yet so many people don’t have access to it. By working in this space and being allowed to focus on accessibility and more inclusive practices, I feel like every day I’m one step closer to helping more people get the education they deserve.” 

According to Allison, the best part about working on the research team is “the culture of inclusivity and our awesome leadership team. They provide an overwhelming amount of support and encouragement for our research goals, but also my own professional development. I’m inspired by the people I work with, who all have the innate goal to spread knowledge and increase their skills as researchers. It creates a working environment where I feel as if I am constantly learning something new from my colleagues and consistently have the professional and moral support to ask questions or offer my own perspectives on our research goals.” 

Alan adds, “I work with a brilliant and kind group of people on the research team. We are a fully remote team, but we are excellent collaborators both across the team and across the larger organization. My role as a researcher is valued and Cengage Group’s investment in R&D and commitment to data-driven decision making gives me a great sense of pride. For each of the products we put to market, we have invested hundreds of hours in research and development. We work in collaboration with product, sales, marketing and other teams to bring the customer experience and their voice to the center of all our work.”

 

Cengage Group Employees Help Learners Achieve Their Goals

At Cengage Group, our research and user experience teams collaborate to make tangible improvements. We take the time to do this work because we’re a company that deeply cares about our learner, educator and institutional customers, and we’re dedicated to providing solutions every step of the way on the customer’s journey. If you’re passionate about making education more accessible, visit our careers page learn more about working at Cengage Group and see our current openings for jobs that make a difference.

 

To learn more about our Cengage Academic business and the solutions we offer students and educators visit cengage.com.