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 digitise learning?
One way to approach this 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 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: The onus of charting out a learning plan for your learners is on you. Plan out a journey for the learners to follow, don’t leave it to them. The more structured the plan, the more comfortable and confident they are following it.
- Minimise decision-making for learners: Learners don’t feel comfortable taking decisions on their own for the fear of being uninformed or going wrong. When possible, eliminate decision-making completely and when not possible, provide good defaults. Keep their end of commitment as simple as “just showing up.”
- Education is for everyone, but it’s not the same for everyone: Build flexibility in the experience to absorb and respect every learner’s individual needs. Allow customisations in the time of learning, the difficulty levels and the sequence of topics they want to learn.
- Keep learners engaged & active: Disengaged & passive learners don’t perform well and don’t contribute towards good outcomes. They also become potential detractors of your product. Focus on active engagement and learner participation in every feature you build.
- Diversify learners’ engagement: A good learning experience is diverse in the nature of activities learners are engaged in – think classes, tests, practice, asking doubts and more… chain activities together and remove all friction from advancing learners to the next one.
- Learners have low motivation, manage it: Education tends to get stressful. Expect low motivation and build low effort paths to make the learner more engaged. Highlight learner’s effort and input metrics to them to make them feel good.
- Give in-depth feedback on their learning: Learners crave for in-depth visibility into how they’re doing and the feedback to improve their performance. Use technology to reveal stats that are impossible to measure manually and add actionable feedback with tangible next steps.
- Make parents a part of the experience: Parents can be your allies in getting good learner outcomes. Keep parents aware through technology and empower them to intervene at the right moments to help drive the right learner behaviour.
- Social cohorts can drive behaviour change in individuals: Learners of any age mimic the behaviour of other learners in their cohort. Solve for visibility of peer performance and connect that with what the learner can do to improve. Make good performance inherently shareable.
- Keep it fun: Find every opportunity to bake fun & delight into the experience. Not everything needs to be about learning outcomes. Build features that learners love using just because they’re fun to use.
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.