Product-related Decisions
Content vs. Platform-Focused
Should I focus on course content development or on courseware platform capabilities?
In the Next Generation Courseware Challenge grant, some participating providers linked the intrinsic value of courseware to technology’s ability to deliver learning through thoughtful, evidenced-based user experiences.

Others felt that proven pedagogical principles should guide development choices, or that content trumps user experience design in effective courseware. Does the value proposition of courseware lie in its platform capabilities or in its content?

At the institutional level, purchase decisions are based on both platform and content, and the type of school (e.g., two-year or four-year college) may determine its priorities. Administrators will typically want to know how your product’s capabilities will add unique value to infrastructure and overall learning capacity in the institution. They will want to understand your platform’s analytical features and how to leverage data insights beyond one classroom to benefit overall student success.


What is the criteria by which your adoption committees assess courseware? What emphasis do you place on the quality of the content versus the quality of the platform?

Your platform offering must be scalable, of course, and ideally, modular. You’ll have to show that your courseware can flex with institutional priorities while staying compliant and accessible. And it must be user-friendly to staff and students who may have different levels of technical ability.

Instructors, on the other hand, will generally make purchase recommendations based on the quality of the content in courseware. They will first look for errors in the content. They will also consider how well the lessons track to curriculum standards and stated learning objectives; whether student learning is measured correctly in assessment materials; whether they can customize learning materials to suit their own classes; and whether the content represents their discipline perspective and the common approaches they see in the analog textbooks. It is important to remember that the instructor evaluating your courseware has a bias towards existing workflows, practices and products. An introduction or evaluation of anything new will be compared to the tools they've used previously.

Marcela Daltro, Professor of Business Administration

During the Next Generation Courseware Challenge (NGCC) program, creating assessments presented a bigger challenge than expected for some courseware providers. The effort to design high-quality questions as well as test them in the platform was time- and labor-intensive, and therefore expensive. But it really doesn’t pay to cut corners. When content isn’t as well made as it could be, the learning experience for both students and teachers suffers. Moreover, poor content negatively impacts the research and analytics underpinning the courseware platform.

Even when the providers took the time to develop high-quality assessments, instructors typically wanted a broader choice of assessments, as well as customization capabilities. These customer demands added complexity to developing assessment content and impacted the learning design of platforms.

“By the nature of calling it courseware, content is still king and the right content for the right audience is critical for success. You can have the best technology, but at the end of the day, if you're not delivering the right content, you're going to lose. Unfortunately, you will find only a small number of instructors that will raise their hand and get involved in that content creation.”

Andrew Smith Lewis, CEO of Cerego

Quality content should not be overlooked, even though the development challenges tempt many courseware providers to focus on platform capabilities instead. Regardless of how innovative your platform is, you need the right content to achieve success in the education technology market.

Best Practices
Content vs. Platform-Focused

Build or plug into a large assessment database. Give instructors access to a variety and abundance of quality questions. Elicit help from instructors in making sure that there’s some flexibility in your assessment tools—whether through question customization or by having a large pool of questions to choose from.

Create easy-access demo environments for instructors to get to know your content as well as your platform. Familiarity helps teachers utilize your courseware creatively for their own students’ needs in terms of assignments, grading and interactions.

Personalize course content redesign by working directly with instructors and institutions. Request the institution’s current curriculum or the instructors’ syllabuses. Engage in “instructor feedback days” to make sure that your content and platform interactions are aligned with their specific classroom needs.

Leverage potential partnerships with other publishers. They often have content expertise but lack technical sophistication to bring their content to market via these new interactive platforms.

Listen to your users and establish fast and reliable ways to improve the content based on their feedback so that the content improves in meaningful ways.

Case Study
A Focus on User Experience

Intentional Futures identified ten key design lessons for developing effective courseware based on student and instructor interviews, user experience design principles, learning science and instructional design best practices. For courseware providers, this workbook helps to assess and improve product experience. For educators, it builds understanding of courseware in the classroom and helps assess current and future products.