Unsolicited and uninformed advice on how experts should do their job rarely comes in handy. With that in mind, if you haven’t spent years in classes full of students working against curriculum requirements, IEP or 504 modifications, and state testing requirements, I ask you – each of my edtech colleagues to suggest their solutions to schools – to start a conversation teachers have what they need.
The fact that edtech companies operate outside the classroom does not mean that they cannot position themselves as a support system inside the classroom; however, this means taking deliberate measures to engage class leaders. Because teachers are the main users of our products and, more importantly, the people responsible for learning outcomes, the only way to create successful products is to work closely with them before, during and after the product.
The current state of Edtech
There are several consistent steps that most edtech companies take to engage users in product decisions – such as interviewing faculty and students who will use the product, and providing feedback to the backlog. These actions allow companies to say that they have listened to teachers, but they are not enough to truly understand what can make their products transformative for teachers.
By investing resources in products that constantly need to be recycled or rebuilt, instead of being applied to teachers from the beginning, edtech companies spend time and money. Teachers then spend valuable time and energy on inefficient flows and lack of functionality, and learning suffers. In the extreme, when edtech deliberately makes decisions about products that are not in the best interests of faculty and their students, it only contributes to the breakdown of a system that too often does not provide the basic human right to education to students around the world. the world.
What Duolingo did differently (and how you can do that too)
Duolingo for schools existed for several years when the pandemic struck; however, the company did not invest resources in product maintenance. With the growth of online teaching and learning in 2020, Duolingo’s management has noticed that product usage is constantly growing despite the platform’s volatility. They knew we needed to do better for teachers, but didn’t know exactly what it might look like.
Bring teachers early
We started with previous roundtables to just ask teachers how to be teachers. This allowed team members to better understand the problems of teachers. In a series of open forums, we asked questions about how teachers used our existing tools as well as other edtech products to help us understand what functionality to add, maintain or improve.
In addition to the outdated product, Duolingo had a hidden community of faculty that languished on Slack. One of my first orders was to move this group to the internet space where teachers were already meeting: on Facebook. This group has become and remains a forum for teamwork, where our team can receive immediate feedback on their work, and teachers can actively contribute.
Cite teachers often
We worked with teachers at every stage of the development process, ensuring that what we planned responded to them. And then we opened a new version for testing by teachers before launch to gather feedback on high accuracy.
After the launch, we continued to build opportunities and collaboration processes. We test A / B all we can, which makes teachers the main decision makers for most of what we do. We regularly hold roundtables and interviews to discuss any work that is critical. Our support team provides bug requests and features, and these issues are regularly discussed and prioritized. We hold weekly community events to bring together our teachers and get feedback when needed. We make phone calls and text messages from teachers. Our engineers fly to conferences to talk in person with faculty. And the whole team shares updates with teachers before sharing with other audiences, because we understand that the impact in the classroom is much greater than it can be for any individual Duolingo user.
This early and frequent collaboration with teachers has had a real impact on our product and its future. Before launching, we added features like simplified login options and assignments for multiple classes, and when teachers told us they needed CSV reports to download and assigned stories, we immediately opted for these apps. We responded to teachers whose greatest pain points were interaction and bandwidth by adjusting our roadmap to better prioritize features such as classroom experience and LMS integration.
This is what you need to prove to teachers that you are listening and inspire ongoing collaboration. We do our best to make every decision not with teachers in mind, but with teachers – period.
We have not won yet
Creating a product with the community can be difficult. Collaboration is usually not written for the company’s purposes, so the resources it needs are often not prioritized. Even with the right resources, turning this into a habit and mood requires real investment from everyone on the team. And these relationships require a commitment to ongoing work. However, it is worth the effort. The alternative mentioned earlier is simply unacceptable.
One thing we’ve seen over and over again at Duolingo is that the best way to achieve growth is to provide a great user experience. And what we know about the great experience of teachers is that a community-oriented approach is the only way.
In addition to Duolingo, great changes have taken place that will greatly impact Duolingo’s product for schools and its community of teachers. Having built a culture of cooperation, we can now confidently address this issue. We know that our community believes that we will strive to do what is in their best interest, and they know that we will rely on them to compel us to fulfill that commitment.