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Design of Age Appropriate and Intuitive EdTech Products

 Design principles and learning objectives have to be kept in mind while designing educational products for kids

Since the advent of the technological revolution, the use of technology has become so ubiquitous today that it somewhat serves as second nature to even the youngest generation of our kind. A number of tech companies engage in developing products that encourage learning. One such exciting product is MEER (Micro: Bit Enabled Educational Robot), developed at Next Education. The purpose of the tool is to teach kids the basic premise of technology and it can be coded to perform stunts of sorts. Open-ended and customised products have immense potential to yield response from kids. Such products are changing the way the human brain learns.

EdTech Product Guidelines

Here are some guidelines which educational technology companies should keep in mind while designing something for this generation.

  • The product must be purposeful and educational:  Here, we are required to understand the age group we cater to. The product must be in constant adherence to the syllabus as well as the maturity level of the consumer base.
  • The product must be interactive and intuitive: Effective interactivity in use of apps encourages children to be more brains-on and hands-on, is engaging and empowering, and gives a child complete control so as to support their learning potential. High levels of involvement and engagement is a good indicator that the child is focusing on the activity or exploration and not on the functionality or jazziness of the product.
  • The product must encourage a child to be in control: The child must be in control when using the application or product and not vice versa. The applications which offer multiple solutions to a problem are more appropriate than those where there is only one right answer and the child has several attempts to find the correct answer and where a timer is used only for quizzes rather than for daily problem-solving.
  • The product must encourage collaboration between the teacher/facilitator/parent and child: A feedback system should be placed in order, so as to keep all the parties within the learning loop.
  • The product should strengthen home and school connections:  Bridge the home and school environment such that the selected product or its use can be transferred from home to school without any additional costs for the parents/guardians.
  • The product must not contain any indication of violence or stereotype: Avoid products with images which resemble aggressive actions such as images of weaponry.  Be overly cautious and steer clear of stereotypical images or actions related to social class, ethnicity and gender distinctions.

Children of Different Age Groups Respond to Technology Differently

It is important to be mindful of a couple of factors while designing interactions for kids as they perceive the world differently from adults. Also, kids of different age groups respond differently to technology.

Kids up to 2 years of age are said to be in the sensorimotor stage. In this stage, it is difficult to design software for toddlers as little to no interaction can be expected from them. They can’t read and all instructions can be delivered only in the form of audio, video and animation. They can also not be expected to use input devices such as the mouse effectively.  Edtech innovations such as claymation and crafting videos can engage a child’s attention and also prompt them to make the objects that they see in videos. This could be an innovative way of using technology to promote psychomotor skills in toddlers. 

In the preoperational stage (ages 2–7), children have brief attention spans.  They are also at the stage of gaining literacy. Designers are advised to avoid the use of the keyboard, except for the occasional hit and key approaches, where the kid has to hit the button which acts as the key for a desired response. Although kids learn to operate the mouse,  the designers should be mindful of designing large targets. 

In the concrete operational stage (ages 8–11), children are on the brink of gaining adult cognitive abilities. They may gain the potential to use sophisticated software but are still young enough to appreciate a playful approach. Gamification of learning platforms with fun graphics and story-based approaches can be an interesting way to tap children’s attention. They also learn to use the mouse and keyboard without any difficulty at this age. 

Finally, a child reaches the operational stage at the age of 11 years and above. Now that their capabilities and cognition are similar to that of adults, designing software for them is much less challenging. However, their interests and tastes remain different and a designer must be intuitive to design a product for kids. 

Design Distractions

Now that we have discussed how to design an education technology product keeping in mind age appropriateness of kids, it is also important to harp on what these products should not have. 

  1. Too many bells and whistles in an application, software or a product can be distracting and interfere with learning. 
  2. Technology with varied sounds can be a hindrance to the learning process. For instance, the sound of unrelated background music in an ongoing learning action can distract kids or end up taking them to a different page or site.
  3. Products with unnecessary marketing banners or advertisements deviate the child from the learning goal. 

As designers continue to explore the possibilities, kids may use technology to nurture their relationship with nature and environment of past, present and future. Imagine a day when a child gives ear to something from history, and technology brings the corresponding historical elements right in front of them in the form of virtual reality, where they can talk to the people they learn about. With such possibilities within our children’s reach, the future for play and education of kids is very bright indeed.

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