Educating the educators: Solving onboarding issues on Early Years tool Teachermate

Users were signing up, but churning almost immediately. Here’s how my team set out to fix the issue, with a focus on UX research and writing techniques.

Our final three-week group project as part of General Assembly’s UX Design Immersive found us in three-person groups and working with a real-life client with a problem to solve.

Our client was Oliver Mahoney, CEO of Teachermate — a digital product aimed at Early Years practitioners working in nurseries and reception classes across the world.

The aim of products like Teachermate is to reduce/consolidate admin, speed up processes and enable smoother communication between staff and a child’s parents or relatives. But Oliver’s brief highlighted a high level of churn, with users signing up for the two-week trial but leaving at the end without signing up to a paid plan (indeed, Teachermate data suggested 50% of users churned before building their very first child — the first call to action).

Our primary objective was to examine onboarding and registration user flow, with a secondary objective focused on UI and features.

While my colleagues and I worked on all steps of the double-diamond throughout this project, I focused my attentions on the research side and will largely focus on this in the below case study.

Assessing the competition

Onboarding approaches on Miro and Slack:

Our project began with a lot of assumptions but not a lot of information to go on. We started with research to build an understanding of Teachermate’s competitors. Early Years management software is a competitive space, and we looked at 12 competitor sites, including Tapestry, Eylog, Famly and Blossom.

We found a lot of conformity in homepage conventions, including:

  • Clear description of key features
  • Images of the software
  • Trust-building around data and security — for example: badges, testimonials from users, consistent colour scheme
  • Prominent free trial buttons

As onboarding was flagged as a primary objective, we decided to look at indirect competitors with a compelling onboarding process. Teachermate is primarily a communication tool — internally between educators, and between educators and parents — so we examined Miro and Slack, communication tools with a sleek and frictionless way of onboarding users.

Finding target users

Navigating Teachermate’s white space problem in user testing

Our client didn’t have users or ex-users of Teachermate to speak with, and the target user — education staff working with children aged between 0 and 5—was extremely specific. This presented a high initial barrier to our research.

Instead, we focused our attention on finding education professionals of all levels, on the assumption that all would be familiar with digital admin and communication tools, and that through interviews and user testing we might gain valuable insights into Teachermate itself and education software in general.

We also produced a survey, aiming to uncover more general information about how users like to learn online software. Key findings from 60 respondees:

  • 84% of those surveyed most like to learn new software through onboarding screens or video tutorials
  • 57% of those surveyed expect to be able to learn how to use a new platform in 10 minutes or less (only 11% would spend up to an hour)
  • And asked ‘Do you ever find yourself bouncing out of software because you can’t work out how to use it?’, 92% of those surveyed answered ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’

Clearly, there remains an assumption that users will figure out software — but in a competitive marketplace like Early Years software, that is a long way off the mark.

Interviews and user testing

I leveraged my network and arranged one-hour Zoom calls with six educational professionals. I began with 20 minutes of interview focusing on their job, digital tools and major pain points, and then moved onto user testing on the existing Teachermate site.

Our affinity map, grouping and labelling observations

Taking insights from the interviews and sorting them into digital post-its in Miro, we built an affinity map and isolated three key areas — time, knowledge gap and useability

There’s little time to learn new tools. If staff can’t learn or see the value in a tool quickly, they’ll have to find a workaround or return to tried and tested methods.

Not all Early Years staff are that technically adept. Tools need to be simple enough for everyone to pick them up — and quickly.

There’s scepticism around childcare software. Is it really going to save you time, or is it just one more tool to manage?

Some good news — when our users saw Teachermate, they liked it.

“The observation tool could save you around five minutes per observation - that’s maybe 40 mins per day.”

“Ooh, it’s got attendance tracker, engaging with relatives, and assessment all in one. Usually you’d have different tools for those.”

“A lot of education software is very unintuitive — this isn’t that bad!”

But getting used to the software did involve a fair bit of trial and error. One major pain point hinged on unintuitive taxonomy — eg the Homebook, a way of communicating between staff and parents; and Child Groups, a catch-all way of making nursery rooms, classrooms, art clubs, etc. Others missed or struggled to find key features such as photo crop tools, user guides, and ways to contact parents.

As one user put it:

“I need to have the time to play around with it, I guess”.

Our persona, Anne, reflected the insights gleaned in user testing — passionate about her job, but rushed off her feet and not tech-savvy enough to understand or get to grips with software intuitively.

Running a content audit

Earlier, we established that when it came to Early Years sites, trustworthiness was key. Currently, some aspects of Teachermate’s existing site fell short in this area.

  • Users pointed out spelling mistakes or came across bugs in the mobile app.
  • Teachermate homepage used a different colour scheme to the internal database section, giving the software a disjointed feel.
  • News section hadn’t been updated since March 2020 — can give the impression the site had been abandoned. One page featured unmoderated comments and was filled with spam.
  • Pricing is buried — it’s on a secondary page, and once you log in to the app it’s very difficult to access.
  • Poor SEO — homepage and copy lacks appropriate keywords, hurting search traffic.

Not all of this fell within project scope, but we resolved to tackle some of it while collating the rest in an end-of-project wrap-up for the client.

User testing

As we moved from low-fidelity to high-fidelity, we implemented a number of changes in response to user testing.

Our homepage in low, medium and high fidelity (left); Onboarding in low, medium and high fidelity (right)
  • Onboarding panels were too small. We made them clearer and distinguished further using drop shadows and greying out the background.
  • Users felt overwhelmed by pricing info. We removed some of the detail, adding text to recommend a package for the user — and explained why.
  • The button to ‘Add child’ got buried as this page filled up with profiles. We moved it from bottom right to a more visible location in the top left.
  • Confusion around coloured dots on child profiles. A user thought this might indicate a child with special requirements. We took this idea and ran with it — and further user testing indicated it was a good idea.
The bulk ‘add child’ page, including dots to indicate special requirements
Solving Teachermate’s empty states issues with clear onboarding

Final design

Watch a Vimeo walkthrough of our high-fidelity prototype above, tackling two user flows — onboarding, including adding a child group, children, and a first observation; and a user following the CTA to sign up for a paid plan.

Our high-fi prototype both met and exceeded the brief, featuring the following new features and UI.

  • Clear onboarding at first log-in, showing the user round the app’s key features
  • Empty states information, introducing the purpose of each feature for new users
  • ‘Bulk add child’ and ‘Bulk add child group’ — reducing the time and steps it takes to set up a new Early Years setting
  • Clear pricing — including sign-up CTA near to end of free trial
  • New style guide, with a cohesive colour pattern derived from the logo that meets accessibility guidelines to AA levels

Client feedback

The feedback from Teachermate CEO Oliver Mahoney was very positive — there were a lot of proposed features and approaches he said he had never considered. He hopes to implement our work in full on upcoming sprints.

Next steps

Our three-week sprint was complete, but a final round of user testing revealed some potential next steps.

Colourised key explaining special requirements. This new addition was received positively in user testing, but users requested more specific info visible at a glance — info on eg allergies or medical conditions need to be accessible rapidly.

Care tracker and accident forms. Premium features locked for users on free trial but available after sign up.

Access to children’s data. Users had understandable concerns around data protection — investigate levels of permission so nursery managers can have full access to children’s data while limiting the access of staff.

Key learnings

It’s possible to do a lot with a little. In the first few days of our project, we felt we had very little to go on: no Teachermate users to interview, no strong data from the client, and a user base — nursery and primary school workers — that was specialised and hard to reach. But through competitive analysis and interviews with education professionals, we managed to get over this original hump and proceed to the design stage with strong insights.

Focus on your strengths. This was my first project using Figma, after training in Sketch and the pace of the project meant I couldn’t be as involved in the prototyping as I’d have liked. A happy by-product of this was that I was able to focus closer on my favoured areas of UX — including user interviews, affinity mapping and microcopy.

Thanks for reading. If you want to talk to me about this project or anything else, you can find me on LinkedIn.

Writer and editor specialising in UX and content design.