What Education Can Learn From Software Developers

Software developers epitomize the Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck), Innovator’s Mindset (George Couros), and Grit (Angela Duckworth). If developers didn’t have grit, the program would never be complete. The growth mindset is essential because a developer knows that eventually the problem will be solved/software will be developed. The innovator’s mindset is almost always applied in software as it is likely an improvement on an existing software or something new altogether. There are specific methodologies used in software development that can be applied to instruction delivery and professional development sessions. Having worked on several larger software development projects, the knowledge transfer seems obvious. This article focuses on user experience and personas as two methods with the power to improve the experience for all students, young and old!

Importance of User Experience (UX) in Education

What can teachers and administrators learn from software development? Software development companies hire an entire department responsible for User eXperience (UX). User Experience teams focus on emotion, ease of use, and perceptions. How does the user feel when they interact with this product, software or game? Is it fun? What is the desired emotion? Are we achieving our goals? I have yet to see a user experience team in education. Every teacher and administrator own that responsibility. If teachers’ end users, students, are disengaged and aren’t enjoying their experience the implications are significantly higher than that of a software development team. How can we optimize the user experience for our students? How will we capture students feelings about the user experience? How do we prepare our psyche for the results if they are less than desirable? It is also important as administrators that we model what we wish to see in the classroom. The teachers are our students. Are they engaged? Adult learners check out quickly and the same care and preparation teachers invest for the classroom should be invested by administrators. Make learning fun and engaging and get everyone involved.

Gallup provides a Student Engagement and Staff (Q12) Survey schools can administer to get some of this data. The free results come in a more summarized form while the paid results allow a school to drill down more deeply. Deconstructing the data and understanding what to do about it brings the real challenge. What if students and staff are disengaged?

Software Development Companies Use Personas for Perspective


Alan Cooper, a renowned interaction designer realized in his early years of developing software the endless possibilities of features. What features should be developed? He used to talk out loud creating archetypical images of users expected to interact with one of his creations. Later, he moved toward physically building out users with distinct personalities, traits, and habits for which he would develop the software. This method provided focus and perspective. Personas provide developers around the world essential information needed to develop better software.

Personas in Education

Can personas be used in education? Realistically, this concept relies on empathy an essential 21st-century skill. How does it feel to be in this student’s shoes in my class/professional development/staff meeting? Will my delivery work for them? To think about reaching a multitude of personalities, interests, and aspirations sounds a lot like personalized learning, right? Can you imagine personalizing learning for 120 students as a secondary teacher? What if you developed lessons for only three students? Sounds a lot more manageable. This is the value of personas.

Student Personas

Below are three student personas for use conceptualizing whether or not a lesson will work for a variety of students. The personas represent a cross-section. If you meet the needs of these three, you can reach the entire class as they likely fall somewhere in between. The key to success using personas is offering a variety of ways to learn the material and a variety of methods for showing what they’ve learned. Knowing that you have an easily distracted lower-performing student, an average student, and a high-achieving student, offer multiple methods for learning the material and multiple methods for showing mastery of the material. Create your own or use actual students if you wish. Don’t look at every class that you teach, it becomes overwhelming! The key is agility, like in software development. Try something new and if it works, build upon it, if not, reflect why and make necessary changes or eliminate it. The methodology used in software development is called Agile Software Development. Agile represents small iterative development, called sprints. You develop small bits of functionality and ensure it meets the user’s needs.

Student Personas


Adult Personas

If you have a small staff, hopefully, you know them all well enough that personas aren’t necessary. However, there are times when you can get stuck on an interaction with some staff members or other “issue” that can cloud your preparation. If that’s the case, personas can be quite useful. They are also useful when considering a larger professional development training in which you don’t know many of those in the audience.

Thoughts for Consideration:

Staff Personas

Create your own personas and use any framework you wish or choose three individuals to use as your guide for planning. Make sure the profiles or personas represent a cross-section.  Use persona creation as a team building exercise. What information do you need to effectively plan?

I’ve prepared numerous professional development sessions and I tend to fall back to “my perspective” of what works. Over time, I’ve learned to reflect on various personalities to gain perspective. It can be overwhelming to think about how to reach every person in every class, professional development, or staff meeting. However, if using only a few personas (or actual individuals profiles) to help prepare, you are less likely to put your head in the sand. Plan to engage and offer VARIETY versus a one size fits all. Put yourself in the shoes of others versus planning with you in mind.


That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. – Steve Jobs