10 guidelines for building a strong EdTech product

One of LANIT-TERCOM’s key focuses is developing e-learning systems. In fact, we’ve been pumping them out for more than fifteen years, our experience ranging from traditional learning management systems to adaptive multilevel platforms for schools and businesses. And it’s that breadth that we’ve been able to leverage to put together the rules the LANIT-TERCOM team sticks to as they’re building a new product.

Analyze the subject domain

You’re never going to make every last student happy. Instead of chasing that impossibility, you’re better off taking time in advance to dig into the educational concepts and methodologies that might work for your product. You can then pick the one or ones you think are best suited for it.

But the most important thing is to pick the right materials. Depending on the platform, that could be methodological guides, recommendations from actual teachers, some kind of popular nonfiction, articles from reputable online portals, or something else.

And don’t forget about balance. Ignoring popular online platforms is a mistake given the fresh, up-to-date data they offer. Of course, you also can’t implicitly trust all the authors out there, particularly if the site lets just anyone publish their articles.

Go with proven educational concepts

Dig into what the world’s leading schools have written about your subject. As pedagogy has advanced, methodologists, teachers, and scientists have published mountains of data both personally and on behalf of the organizations they work for. You can learn from and rely on their experience, study their recommendations, and decide how to apply those recommendations to your product. And if you don’t know where to start, we suggest Benjamin Bloom (Taxonomy of Educational Objectives) and Charles Fadel (Four-Dimensional Education).

Go with proven educational concepts

Make your solution scalable rather than scaled

Most educational institutions and other companies are familiar with e-learning. They probably won’t be jumping over to something radically different, and that makes it a good idea to look through the standard educational systems used in the corporate and academy worlds (LTI, SCORM, xAPI, and so on).

Building your own solution on top of one of those will make your job much easier so long as you don’t try to synthesize everything into an unmanageable mess. You have a target market and priority groups, so work backwards from them.

Don’t be afraid to check out best practices

This is a great time for taking a look at what’s out there since so many platforms have unlocked access to their courses. For some, that’s taken the form of offers for educational institutions, as in the cases of Coursera and SkyEng, while others, like Open Education, have made their courses available for everyone. Even corporate solutions generally closed off to most have gotten in on the party. To take one example, Area9 Rhapsode™, a top adaptive platform for corporate education, launched a few free courses for companies moving to remote work. They even include one on cyber security by Kaspersky Lab. See the world around you as a fount of ideas, and potential competitors as your most valuable partners. At the end of the day, you’re better off learning from their mistakes rather than your own, and you can look to their success as a source of inspiration.

Focus on customer development (custdev) as your key to success

This is a pragmatic approach to product development. As you get down into the weeds, you study the needs and pain points of your potential customers, get a second opinion on them, and chat with experts, all to make sure your hypothesis is on the money. That way, you’ll build your product on the data you get from a potentially interested audience rather than on guesswork. Custdev tells you everything: whether you actually need a specific chunk of functionality, which users will most appreciate your educational model, how user-friendly the interface is, and whether the product meets market needs.

Think through monetization

No matter how gorgeous your educational concept is, and no matter how well you take care of the tech side, the bottom line is that you need to get a return on your investment. And it doesn’t matter where the money comes from—sponsors, paying customers, or integrated ads.

Remember that everything is cross-platform

If you’re going to have a quality service, you need to take care of your users. The product needs to be accessible from desktop and mobile platforms alike, so put together some use cases: studying at home, while driving, while taking public transportation to work, and so on.

The product has to work flawlessly no matter the platform, different-sized screens doing nothing to clip the main functionality. Think though how you’re going to make sure it’s cross-platform from a technical point of view. For example, as we were developing the Rhapsode™ platform at Lanit-Tercom, we used our own functional language called Flow. That ensured the project could be supported and updated as needed. Of course, your situation might necessitate a different solution.

Put your service through its paces before releasing it

Designing and developing a project is one thing; delivering a quality working version is another. And as you go through testing, make sure you give the process as much time and energy as you have—that’s how you’ll keep your users happy. Bring in at least mid-level QA engineers so they can write out test cases, send bug reports to the developers, and then run pre-release testing after the bugs have been fixed. That process takes a few cycles before the product is working perfectly.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember as you’re developing a new project is that there’s no one path to success. Even running through all the ideas above isn’t enough to guarantee a place in the sun for your idea, something that is as true of innovative entrepreneurship at large as it is of EdTech in particular. Instead, think of this as a checklist you can come back to in an effort to keep all the different aspects fresh in your mind. And if you want to break one of the rules, just make sure you have a really good reason since these guidelines are what all successful companies follow.