Designing for Education
The most important disruption to have happened to how people learn, has been the penetration of the internet. Online video as a delivery medium makes access to high quality education possible for large masses of population.
If we observe any structured learning system, it’s very apparent that the lecture delivery is only one part of the learning process. The entire act of learning is a complex web of diverse behaviours (watching a class, taking a test, solving a doubt, discussing with peers, revising…) with various actors involved (teachers, parents, institution, peers…).
With the penetration of internet in education and online learning, comes a very interesting product & design challenge:
How do we digitize learning?
One way to approach this challenge is to identify the principles that dictate the act of learning & the system of education. These principles should remain relevant even if you change the medium of learning: Sitting in a classroom in a school, or sitting in your bedroom while studying on your phone.
The initial study
When I was preparing for my move to Unacademy, I spent a month studying the space of competitive exam coaching and offline education. I noticed a few high-level principles that hinted at the fundamental human needs & emotions – and this had nothing to do with the learning happening offline.
I started building these out and realised that they remained very strongly applicable to building a great digital experience for coaching and education online as well. Fast forward to today, 9 months later, I’m still able to map the work we do at Unacademy very tightly to these principles. This tells me that they have held up pretty well.
Let’s jump in:
The first principles
- Education should be orchestrated: Design a curated and planned journey for the learner to follow. Do not leave it to them to create their own learning plan. Minimise the decision-making on the learner’s part, to keep their end of commitment as simple as: “Just show up.”
- Education is for everyone, but it’s not the same for everyone: Every learner has a different need. The product should recognise and accommodate these needs in order to make the learner successful. Figure out your personas and cater to them dutifully.
- Keep the learner engaged and active: Involve the learner in the process of learning. Design the content and the delivery with the learner’s interest level and engagement in mind. Build tools that require active learner participation in different ways.
- Manage learner motivation continuously: Education is an arduous and often stressful process. Make it less so by driving a positive behaviour change through solving for intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Solve for intrinsic motivation by providing helpful short feedback loops that give the learner the feeling of improving every day. Solve for extrinsic motivation by inculcating the sense of belonging in a learner by designing a peer group.
- Learners need feedback: Help the learner improve continuously through timely, detailed and actionable feedback. Innovate on the nature and depth of feedback provided, by leveraging the data analysis capabilities and the large sample sizes available.
- Content design & delivery beget engagement in education: Innovate on content with the power of technology. Content can be interactive, personalised (fast or slow), and can even leverage the modern graphics & animation capabilities to explain complex concepts better. It doesn’t have to be boring.
- It’s a journey, but outcomes are important: The final outcome should always be the focus of this journey. Every action the learner takes should take them one step closer to their desired outcome. Not every learner may achieve the outcome, but the product should aim to equally maximise the odds of achieving the desired outcome for every learner.
This set has been a work in progress for a long time. But I finally feel it’s in a shape where it covers the areas we would like to focus on. If we do a great job at addressing these through our products, we’d have gone a long way in leveraging the power of technology in order to make a real tangible impact to millions of learners.
Caveat: I concur that learning means different things in different contexts. These principles work well when you’re learning for a specific goal (i.e. competitive exams), but while learning to play guitar or learning to swim, you’d find these to not be as helpful. But you can always develop principles for those applications similarly.