Why We Design for the Learner First

Written by

Mark Johnson

on March 3, 2018

The primary users of Pathwright are the hundreds of thousands of students completing learning steps every day. None of these users pay us.

Instead, they pay our customers who are made up of a much smaller group of school administrators, IT directors, and content creators from educational organizations of all sizes. (In fact, we have several customers who make way more money than we do.)

From a more conventional business perspective, it would make sense for us to prioritize designing primarily for the users who pay us first and then for the learners who don’t pay us, right?

That’s exactly what many of our competitors do, and it’s working for them, at least on business side of things. However, if you’ve ever used any of the more conventional LMSs (learning management systems) or marketing-oriented course platforms you’ve probably seen how this plays out: eventually, the product becomes 90% administrative actions, content authoring, and/or marketing tools, which is what 90% of the paying customers say they want. That leaves perhaps a measly 10% of features and polish focused on the actual learner experience (LX), which in contrast is where most 90% of the usage actually exists.

We take a different approach. Whenever we develop a new feature for Pathwright, we start with the learner experience first and then work our way back from there.

Why is this important?

By starting with the learner experience we can:

  1. Make the teacher’s job easier. Many of the jobs teachers have to do are not related to actually teaching. Reminding students about due dates, motivating them to catch up when they’re behind, and giving them a clear next step, are all things that Pathwright handles for teachers out of the box. Once curriculum is on Pathwright, a teacher can almost put it on “auto pilot” and focus their efforts on the more valuable things like one-on-one mentorship and feedback.
  2. Reduce the support burden. We have schools with thousands of learners that have single digit support requests for an entire year. In fact we’ve had customers cancel their support system integrations with Pathwright simply because there wasn’t enough support to worry about. The LX design we put into our product saves a whole lot of time and money for our customers.
  3. Avoid distorting the brand of our customers. It’s bizarre to me that many prestigious institutions and brands will use learning tools that look like they were designed a decade ago. Worse than that, the poor design often creates a negative first impression and a lot of frustration that gets transferred to the institution or teacher, not the software itself. At Pathwright we believe the learner experience should be clear, modern and beautiful so that it reflects the quality of teaching and guidance that our customers offer.

While the above approach may not be the most obvious business strategy, our team has been happy to grow slowly and steadily for years by putting the learner first every time.

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