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7 Social features for a connected edtech app community

Gabriel Troiano
Gabriel Troiano
February 14, 2022
Gabriel Troiano
February 14, 2022

For as long as anyone can remember, some sort of system for people to learn new skills and capabilities has existed. In ancient times, schooling was learning how to fulfill basic needs, pick up a vocation, and maybe even pass on that knowledge to fresh, young minds. While today’s educational institutions maintain many of the same core objectives, it is a lot more structured and includes standardized components.

The concept of learning is not novel, but the methods of instruction have evolved. We have access to more tools than ever before. Integrating them into the classroom is part of making sure students are equipped to succeed in an ever-advancing world. 

Social learning: A key component in the classroom

Educators use the term social learning to describe the process of picking up skills and information through observation and interaction. Unlike lectures, tests, and other formal classroom activities, social learning is informal and cannot be “taught” by teachers. Despite this, knowledge-sharing and collaboration are crucial parts of education.

The power of the other

Dr. Henry Cloud—clinical psychologist, leadership consultant, and author of New York Times’s bestseller The Power of the Other—states the following: 

“The undeniable reality is that how well you do in life and in business depends not only on what you do and how you do it, your skills and competencies, but also on who is doing it with you or to you.”

Humans are such inherently social beings that the people we surround ourselves with have a massive impact on what we learn and how we grow. That’s why there are so many advantages to incorporating social learning methods into our educational systems.

Social learning challenges in 2022

This year’s biggest social learning challenge is fairly evident: We are still living in the midst of a global pandemic, and it has dramatically altered the traditional classroom—likely for good. 

Prior to the pandemic, nearly 9 out of 10 American students from the 3rd to 12th grades were using digital learning tools at school every few days. As health risks rose, however, schools were forced to close and students shifted to remote or hybrid learning practically overnight. 

Educational technology (edtech) has proved to be indispensable during this time, allowing learning to persist despite the limitations of the pandemic. Unfortunately, there are some types of learning—namely, social-emotional learning—that not every platform can replicate. 

Combining social learning with educational technology

If there’s one thing the global pandemic has taught us, it’s that we can’t put our lives on hold and hope everything will blow over in a couple of months. If the world must change, we too must change and find alternative ways to thrive. In the field of education, this means using new technology to recreate traditional classroom components within our current limitations. 

Edtech industry statistics

Educators took note of edtech’s importance pre-pandemic, as evidenced by 2019’s $1.66 billion investment in the industry. But in 2020, data shows the market was valued at $89.49 billion! The expected 19.9% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2021 to 2028 only goes to show that these digital learning tools are staying into the future.

The disconnect between tradition and technology

Sam Patterson, Makerspace coordinator and educator, writes that classroom applications must make it possible for students to interact in digital space. This is particularly important at times when learning primarily occurs online, but it also applies when digital tools are used on-site. Today’s students invariably become digital citizens and must learn how to share online spaces with others.

Edtech apps are usually built with direct, traditional learning in mind. They’re often outfitted with learning management features, virtual classrooms, and perhaps even remote monitoring technology. If this is all your apps have, however, it’s safe to say that it’s more of a consumer model than anything else. 

Making tradition the new cutting edge

The development of social-emotional learning skills (SEL skills) is crucial in students’ education, and edtech companies must do more than deliver learning material. Institutions at every learning level—from elementary schools to universities—should use tools to help students engage meaningfully.

Edtech social features your app must have

The best classroom applications must support collaboration and social engagement. Using technology to communicate, share ideas, and discuss new concepts with teachers and peers encourages growth and prevents feelings of isolation.

There’s good news: it’s possible to enhance your edtech app’s value proposition in a time and cost-effective way. APIs (application platform interfaces) allow you to rapidly incorporate third-party attributes such as social feeds, in-app messaging, live video streaming, and other features. When using an SDK (software development kit) to add on advanced features like these, an edtech company also benefits from the provider’s guaranteed performance and technical simplicity

A few key social tools can add an incredible amount of utility to an education app, turning spectating students into engaged participants. Let’s take a closer look at some you can integrate with the help of APIs:

1 - Student profiles

Students in a classroom get to know each other just by interacting in a shared space, but in an online setting where most disengage as soon as class is over, the task of making connections must be approached differently.

In-app profiles allow students to carve out some virtual space for themselves and showcase their individuality. A profile visitor can see in a glance if someone has a shared interest and potentially strike up a conversation. That initial greeting or spark of interest is often what launches a mutually beneficial learning relationship!

2 - Personalized feed

App users can stay updated on what’s happening in their communities with personalized feeds. Being able to see what their connections are talking about and join in on the conversation enhances the feeling of community—and it’s a big part of informal learning. 

Students can use their own timelines to post questions, comments, and accomplishments while others “like” or reply with their own views. Some APIs even come with sorting tools that allow learners to view their feeds depending on whether they want to see content from a specific group or community, content relevant to themselves, or content that is an aggregate of both.

3 - Groups and communities

Throughout the course of a class, students and teachers work together on projects, build bonds over shared interests, and join clubs and other extracurricular activities. These topic-specific and interest-based groups are where deeper relationships are built. A Groups social feature ensures there is a place for them to congregate. 

Edtech apps are significantly stickier when learners connect, making Groups a crucial feature that every online learning community should have. Community sub-groups also allow social learning to take place on a smaller, more intimate scale as students interact in a different way than they do in class.

4 - In-app chat

Chat is what we probably consider to be the most important edtech app social feature. After all, it allows learners and teachers to directly interact both asynchronously and synchronously. A robust Chat API enables a student to send multiple types of files (text, image, audio, video, file) to get their message across. 

The good news is that there’s more than one type of in-app chat that users can benefit from. The following types are particularly beneficial for educational communities:

1-1 Chat

One-on-one messaging is a great chat feature that allows students to have conversations, send files, and even join video calls with each other. Whether they’re getting homework help, starting a study group, or simply socializing, user-to-user chat lets learners make connections beyond the classroom. 

Group chat

Just as you can join Groups to gain access to topic-specific communities, group chats are used to communicate on a personal level. Learners can use group chats to collaborate on projects, review study material, brainstorm, and socialize. 

Group chats can be classified as Community or private User-to-User chats. The former is a public chat channel that members and school leaders alike can send messages in, whereas the latter is a private chat channel that members can create themselves.

Live chat

Every education app should have real-time messaging as a key feature. During online classes, workshops, and other events, learners may have questions they need answered immediately or wish to participate in live activities. The real-time nature of live chat creates an immersive experience that can’t be replicated using asynchronous communication and is particularly crucial during lessons and activities. 

Live chat should be available for both peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor access. While there may be some questions only the teacher can answer, other students should be able to share their thoughts, provide additional resources, and offer encouragement to their classmates. 

5 - In-app video live streams

Most educational apps already come equipped with video features used to provide students with learning material. But is yours outfitted with live streaming tools? 

Students and teachers need opportunities to interact in real-time. Doing so helps them share experiences and receive quick feedback. Learning environments, in particular, benefit from live community interaction. Live streams create more immersive experiences and replicate the traditional classroom environment much more closely. 

Aside from classes, live streams can also be used for events and activities. Even for higher education students, for whom platforms are often built to be asynchronous, can benefit from being able to participate alongside their peers (and even interact in an embedded chatbox!), wherever they are in the world.

6 - Push notifications

Online learning is often less structured than on-site learning, and it can be difficult for students to remember upcoming classes, tests, and assignments. Opt-in push notifications are features designed to encourage the completion of these tasks. 

Aside from the classroom reminders, push notifications help to engage users and keep them updated on what’s happening in their communities. If a student interacted with a post they created about an interesting observation in a group, push notifications let them know that they’ve received a reply.

Over time and as engagement grows, your education app could become the primary space where groups of students and educators come into contact. Push notifications prompt them when needed and keep them coming back for more.

7 - Content moderation

Education-centric communities are often centered on specific demographics and should be moderated accordingly. The focus of edtech apps should be on learning. When creating an educational space, developers should use all the tools at their disposal to remove any distractions taking away from that experience. 

Many social SDKs give administrators the ability to control the content put on public groups so they can maintain safe and relevant environments conducive to learning. 

Help students connect with social features on your edtech app

The method may have changed, but the intent of technology-aided learning remains the same: to create effective and engaging environments for students to pick up new knowledge and put it to use. 

Learning management systems that merely deliver resources and receive student work will not help your edtech app engage and retain its users like it needs to. Social features make education more well-rounded by going beyond study materials and fostering interactive learning. 

At the end of the day, human connection is what we’re all searching for. An edtech platform equipped with social features will allow students to tap into the social-emotional aspect of their learning and get the most of their education wherever they are.

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