When it comes to innovation, falling in love with the problem is more appropriate than falling in love with the solution. Solutions require adjustments to adapt to new information, technological advancements, and changing attitudes. Problems are more consistent — but not evergreen — as new problems emerge and others are resolved or become less significant. The better a company knows their users, the more they can work to solve emerging problems and stay a vital part of the user experience.

To understand their customer base, EdTech companies must engage potential users in early conversations to uncover delights, passions, and pleasures users are trying to pursue, and challenges and pain points they are earnestly striving to avoid or overcome. Avoiding or overlooking these conversations limit understanding of target users and unknowingly anchor the product development to untested and unproven assumptions. Products built on incorrect assumptions of users are products built to fail; they simply leave customer value to chance rather than deliberately designing for it. 

Here are three must-have conversations with users that can inform your product development. 

1. Conversations of Identity

In user research, conversations of identity are all about understanding your users, their attitudes, preferences, and dispositions. Questions could include:

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • What matters most to you?
  • What values drive your decisions?
  • Who do you involve in your decision making?

Conversations about identity often occur indirectly as you listen to potential users describe their experiences. For example, a user may describe frustrations with a lack of educational resources and support for individuals experiencing social and economic inequities. In this situation, the user’s belonging to or affinity for this specific population emphasizes the value of equity and inclusion, and may influence their ability and desire to use a product.

2. Conversations of Experience

Conversations about experience enable potential users to highlight situations in their lives that were particularly meaningful or problematic. Questions or prompts could include:

  • Describe your role, position, and responsibilities.
  • Describe a memorable or influential experience you’ve had with _______ (area of practice). What made that experience stand out?
  • Describe a typical experience with _______ (area of practice).
  • What have you tried in the past to make this _______ (area of practice) experience easier, more effective, or more satisfying?

In conversations of experience, focus on the areas of the user’s experience that relate to the product you’re seeking to develop. 

3. Conversations of Purpose

Conversations of purpose focus on goals, hopes, and aspirations of potential users. Questions could include:

  • What are you trying to accomplish in your role or position? 
  • What does success look like in this area?
  • What does an ideal situation look like? 
  • Why is this practice or behavior important to you?

Conversations of purpose are particularly effective in understanding potential user’s success criteria for engaging with a product. This information, synthesized across conversations with other potential users, can form the basis for a product evaluation. Also, like conversations of experience, conversations of purpose often reveal values and attitudes of potential users that should be considered. 

An Ongoing Conversation 

Engaging potential users in early conversations secure the needed focus on the problem and not a potential solution. Refining and synthesizing information from these conversations by developing user personas can further deepen your understanding and empathy for potential users. Ongoing conversations, and subsequent user testing, will introduce you to new problems as they emerge in the user’s life, and ensure that your product remains a relevant part of the user’s experience. These conversations provide EdTech companies important opportunities to validate assumptions and stress-test conceptual ideas before investing significant resources.