Best Practices

How Houghton Mifflin Harcourt uses Pendo to help teachers do their jobs more effectively

Published Feb 1, 2024
When it comes to education technology, the difference between a good digital experience and a great digital experience can make a large impact on teachers’ and students’ lives.

This is something that Jay Brewer, senior vice president of digital product design at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, always keeps top of mind.

“These people spend a Sunday night planning for Monday morning,” said Brewer of teachers who use their product. “And so if we can eliminate Sunday night, they can actually just get up and teach Monday morning.”

At a high level, Brewer is responsible for ensuring their platform can support getting teachers set up and ready for the school year ahead. This involves creating multiple steps, features, and processes to support them. “You have to have your classes set up, know who your students are, assign materials, plan your lessons, and more,” Brewer noted. “We want to drive—and improve—all of those workflows.”

It’s also Brewer’s job to determine where and when users’ (teachers’) needs aren’t being met, and then work to ensure their platform meets those needs. “We’re always trying to optimize for teachers’ time and increase the amount of time that they can be engaging with students,” he explained. With Pendo, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt leverages robust quantitative and qualitative data from their app to do just that.

Leveraging feedback to build empathy

Knowing what teachers think about their platform provides the ultimate insight into how Brewer and the rest of the product team can improve it. Houghton Mifflin uses Pendo to collect always-on feedback from directly inside the product, and then utilizes Pendo Analytics to add context to this qualitative data.

“Users can go into the Resource Center and provide feedback right in the moment,” Brewer shared. “And the great thing about Pendo is it’ll tell us what page it came from, and where that frustration was starting from.”

Brewer also noted that Houghton Mifflin combines this spontaneous feedback with NPS surveys to better understand what their users are struggling with in the platform and identify any key themes. “For an educational platform, it’s really about empowering the teacher to connect with students. So we really use Pendo to do that and look at [teachers’] unmet needs.”

Analyzing feedback collected through Pendo has not only helped Brewer and team develop more innovative solutions in the product—it’s helped them have more empathy for their users. “Pendo allows us to uncover [how teachers feel] versus just not knowing,” he explained. “This means we can approach users not about the fact that they’re complaining, but as an opportunity to figure out how to solve those problems.”

Using in-app onboarding to increase preparedness

Another important way Houghton Mifflin uses Pendo is to onboard teachers onto their platform and ensure they set up their classes properly. “If a teacher doesn’t actually set up their classes and they don’t have kids assigned, our platform is pretty useless,” Brewer explained.

Since teachers have a lot of things to set up at the beginning of a school year, Brewer and team are focused on making workflows as streamlined as possible. “We test a lot of prototypes for the flow and actually test out those flows in Pendo,” said Brewer. “Then we try to find the places where users are getting the most stuck or spending the most time.”

When it comes to their in-app onboarding experience, Brewer noted that they’re found success making some steps required (i.e. setting up classes) while allowing teachers to come back to others (i.e. setting up professional development). “We can catch teachers in a better moment and say, ‘Hey, you haven’t set up your professional learning yet,’ and remind them directly inside the app at a better time in their journey,” said Brewer.

And in the spirit of collecting feedback for continuous improvement, the Houghton Mifflin team follows up with teachers to see what they thought of the onboarding experience. “We might think we did a good job, but a teacher might say, ‘I hate doing all of those little steps,” Brewer added. “It’s a combination of iterating with onboarding and using analytics to see where the gaps are. We feel very confident being able to understand usage, guide people along, run tests, and engage with teachers because of Pendo.”

Want to see how other companies are using Pendo to deliver better digital experiences for their customers? Check out our collection of How I Pendo stories.