Does it seem to you that every edtech vendor and educational software provider is pitching some new social tool?
Yes, learning is social. We get it. But does your educational platform really need to be social as well?
We have social features baked into learning management systems. Social tools attached to lecture capture publishing sites. Social elements integrated into media management solutions. And social features in digital course packs.
It is no longer enough for our students to read an article on a web or mobile platform, they must "add value" to the experience by "connecting" with fellow learners.
Nobody can ever be alone with their educational content. They need presence awareness tools to let them know which of their fellow classmates are also online, looking at the exact same materials.
I propose a few modest rules of thumb if you are thinking about baking social features into your edtech platform:
First, Pay Attention to Making Sure That Your Software Actually Works: Before you spend a second or a dime adding new features, please make sure that everything you already have works well. Is your software fast and robust? Are you compatible with all the browsers and all the mobile platforms? Are there any bugs at all?
Second, Spend Your Resources to Simplify the User Experience: Now that everything works, can you make it simpler? Can you clean up the UI so that it acts and behaves with more elegance. Are there features that are overly complicated, navigation paths that are not intuitive? If someone needs to be trained on your software then something is wrong. Spend resources to make it simpler, refrain from new features.
Third, Understand That Our Students Have Plenty of Online Social Options Already - They Probably Don't Need Yours: Are our students really clamoring for a Facebook for the LMS? Are they desperate to be online friends with their classmates, web buddies with the people who happen to be studying the same materials? Maybe they don't have access to their own social networks because Facebook slots have sold out, or because signing up for Facebook is too expensive? If you ask students, "would you like social features built into this educational platform?" of course they are going to say yes. Social sounds like it makes learning easier. Who wouldn't say that socializing is better than studying. Don't listen to them. A popular feature in a focus group does not make for good software design.
Fourth, Admit that Social is a Buzz Word, Not a Business Model: Are you adding social features to your edtech platform because you think that social tools will make software company more appealing? Aren't investors smitten with the social graph. Slap "social" and "mobile" on to your product and watch the investors stream in. Good luck with that.
Someone at your edtech company needs to stand up and say "no to social". Will it be you?
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