“I am not able to crack interviews even after completing courses from various platforms” - a young engineering graduate describes his plight. It has been four months since he attended his college farewell party but unfortunately, he is still looking to crack his ﬁrst interview.
An abysmal three per cent of students complete the MOOCs (massive open online courses) they take.
Out of them - how many actually achieve a meaningful outcome? A small fraction of this fraction. In a world full of online courses and ed-tech platforms - why do only a very few get the desired result? Is ed-tech making any difference?
What is going wrong?
Let’s take a step back and understand how online products you use every day are built.
Products are built for two kinds of users - consumers and prosumers. The consumer is someone who consumes while a prosumer consumes as well as produces. Your favourite food ordering app is built keeping you in mind as a consumer.
So is your favourite OTT platform, reading subscription and so on. These products have a simple task: make your work easy.
In the last decade, products have started focusing on the prosumer side of the market. Online products in markets like ﬁtness, mental health, meditation, skilling, etc. have a different challenge at hand: make you capable of doing certain work.
No app can do the exercises for you. No amount of watching online content can help you lose weight. What the app can do is provide enough motivation for you to take the action of working out every day. Now that is a very, very different problem.
Education online products are fundamentally prosumer products but they are built like consumer products. Fancy animations, shiny user interfaces and professional videos are advertised to attract students. While they are important to keep students hooked to lessons
- they don’t guarantee skilling. Skills are acquired only when learners practice tasks multiple times.
Without skilling, ed-tech is just infotainment i.e. it is interesting but may not be useful. Without skills, there are no outcomes.
The modern learner yearns for outcomes after all the jazz they experience from the content. A school kid wants to improve their exam marks. A college graduate wants a job. A working professional wants a promotion. Without outcomes, online education will never make the cut.
What is the secret to creating a winning ed-tech product?
Let’s be clear - building products for prosumers is hard. As a product developer, you have to act like a user behaviour scientist and understand how the app can create a context for people to do a hard task like skilling, every day.
Education products should be built in 3 parts: Instructions (content), Tasks (Exercises) and Assessments (Feedback). Product developers will have to leave their comfort zone of content and travel the unknown territory of Tasking and Assessments.
Although ed-tech products are hard to conceptualise, unlike their counterparts in ﬁtness and meditation, they have an advantage - the possibility of getting the action done on the product interface itself.
Product developers often resort to conventional formats like multiple-choice questions to abstract tasking and assessments. This has to change.
It is highly imperative to create tasking experiences that mimic real-life activities. Not only is it easier to relate for students, but it also helps them to learn the accurate application of concepts.
Using instructional design and storytelling product developers have to conceptualize these tasks on the applications. “A case study for convincing your dad for a Goa trip” is a better task for learners of sales & marketing rather than staple MCQs on the 4 Ps of marketing.
The skilling loop closes with good feedback. Good feedback is fast and accurate. Building AI-ﬁrst models will help product give feedback to learners in a way that is way more natural and friendly, yet scalable.
A college mate gives feedback on your project in a very personal yet effective way. Modern learners want similar feedback - if they sense it is formal, they don’t absorb it in an intended way. The recipe includes appreciation, accurate points of improvement, the importance of improvement and next action steps.
Where are we?
We have amazing examples like Duolingo which have achieved real skilling and outcomes by focusing on building for the complete learner cycle and not just content. The next big ed-tech company will be a learning-software product company and not just a content company.
We have to start seeing our learners as creators and not consumers. They come to the learning apps to create skills, to create careers and to create amazing outcomes. Once this perspective will change - ed-tech products will win.
(The author is Co-Founder & Product Head, Able Jobs.)
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