Two years after the start of the pandemic, it’s worth looking back at how quickly education has changed. Homeschooling and home office have massively changed our lives with the constant online presence and the enormous amount of information we digest daily. Both students and educators had to invest in technology infrastructure to battle these challenges. We think it’s important to acknowledge that the level of digital development has helped overcome obstacles like the lack of physical conversations and closed schools. We’re spending more time on digital devices, which as a result, have changed our social habits too. All these factors affect the user experience in digital education, which also needs to adopt these changes as quickly it can.
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UX research in education
As defined by the Nielsen Norman Group, user experience encompasses all aspects of the end user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products. When we think about user experience in education, we need to consider the needs of students, teachers, and school leaders alike. It is also important to distinguish between public and private education, as this brings different methods to UX professionals. Before the pandemic hit, the focus was mostly on students. But now researchers need to involve teachers and tutors as well as other stakeholders in order to build great educational platforms.
Know your users
UX research plays an important role in finding out what students need, what their motivation is, what problems they face, how they interact with the product, and how they feel when they use it. Now that we have more than two years of experience with the pandemic behind us, it is important to explore a bit more who are the current users. The hybrid or fully online education has either stayed in the practice or completely gone back to offline. How do we know whom to design for when the user experience comes from such a mixed variety of platforms?
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The unexpectedly changing educational conditions have made students and teachers increasingly flexible & adaptable. When starting a research, for example at university, UX professionals need to dig deep into the actual and potential educational platforms. We need to understand how the staff and the students manage hybrid and online learning. On top of that, we also need to clarify the positive outcomes of those and the pain points.
Once we understand these, we need to map out the best practices, what tools they used, and which ones they are going to keep. This is relevant for the teacher as well as the students. Also, it is important to discover the students’ and the teachers’ personal life. The more we know about their environmental conditions at home, the better we can design for them.
UX research to improve the journey of digital education
Education has evolved rapidly with the expansion of online tools. Student and teacher behaviour has also changed dramatically. Attention spans have dropped from 12 to 8,25 seconds, requiring a new kind of engagement. People are looking for easily accessible content that they can reach anytime, anywhere. This content needs to be more interactive, fun, simple, and flexible. In the last two years alone, an enormous number of applications, software, and online platforms have appeared on the market in response to changing user behavior.
UX research can help identify users’ real problems and needs. It can also help us understand their goals and motivations for existing products. With research methods like user interviews and usability testing, we can easily find out what’s not working and what needs to be changed. When we need to design an educational product or make changes to an existing one, it often happens that the research phase is missing and clients don’t consider the user experience. If we believe in education, we need to think about redesigning existing education systems to provide a better experience for all users involved.
Apart from digital platforms, UX research takes an important role in generating inquiries and applications from prospective students. This means mapping out the most relevant information from the educational platform we are working on. website. We want to make sure that users get the relevant content quickly and easily, whenever they are looking for it. Often, we can accomplish this by reducing the multiple paths in the information architecture, making changes about logins, or even digitizing paperwork. And that is where UX design goes hand in hand with the research project. While UX research helps us uncover students’ needs, design helps us build relevant solutions.
UX design in education
The impact of UX design on digital educational platforms
Researchers and designers have to face the needs of several stakeholders. They all have different goals, challenges, problems, and motivations.
“Understanding student, teacher, and school leader needs, and developing educational experiences that serve those needs, is the ultimate in service design,” according to UX designer Pilar Strutin-Belinoff.
Designing in education is very similar to other industries, but the designer should be mindful that the experience in education must be efficient in order to achieve the learning objectives. Another important part of the design is applying user psychology to help students retain information, enjoy the learning process, and reward them.
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The real impact comes when the learning experience is supported by
digital technology and users can easily switch between online and physical environments. The online space also needs to be as engaging, challenging, inspiring, and stimulating as the real-life experience.
How is design used in digital education?
In digital education design, we need to consider the grade level we should be designing for. Is it for middle schools, higher education or adult education, private or public sector? These all have their individual needs and specifications we have to focus on. Last, but not least, it’s important to consider what tools to use to keep your design up to date with current trends.
Design trends are on a fast-changing track and they remain for a specified period only. It is based on concepts used in the past and helps us to bring something creative and new. The stakeholders expect from UX professionals to apply the latest trends to their possible platforms, therefore we need to measure carefully which elements are adaptable and making sense. Offering different design solutions with the latest trends can be a handy workshop to figure out the design pillars.
Here are some points to keep in mind when re-designing an educational website:
- Revise the information architecture considering all kinds of user personas
Talk to the stakeholders and refine which elements of the current website will be added to the new design.
- Changing the content or only the structure
Talk through each and every point that will be used in the future design from the old version. Make sure what is expected to be seen on the new platform.
- What kind of visuals fit with the institution’s culture?
Learn about the educational space, and talk to representatives of the institution to know what their culture is. The more information you get, the better design options you can offer them.
- How much white space is needed?
This is always a tricky question. Starting from the landing page it is important to count on how many sections and elements are part of the layout and what is the message of each page.
- Collaborate with as many people as you can
Involve other team members and hear their vision. Collect feedback and offer opportunities to have workshops and ideation sessions with the stakeholders.
When we talk about design in education, UX professionals can help clients with recruitment, and build tools and games for learning and teaching. They can also increase the engagement and effectiveness of online education.
Personalized learning for digital education
Online education has offered more personalized learning than ever before. Students can choose from different devices and locations from where they would like to join. The teacher has the opportunity to follow up on the performance of each student and keep track of their progress.
Students and teachers can give immediate feedback to each other and change the learning path at any point. Like this, the development of each individual gets more attention. Also, teachers can keep track of the entire learning curve and help to fill in any gaps where knowledge is lacking. Teachers can control the content in the additional resources section by adding videos or podcasts that can help students to engage with further information. This can help young children and adults as well, given how important continuous learning is today, and prepare them for the job market.
It is expected now that many learning platforms offer students the option to select different levels and change the learning tracks anytime they need to, like in video games (beginner, intermediate, advanced). Time spaced reminders help users complete tasks right after the completion of a course or training session which strengthens the microlearning skills. Here is a good example of how students can use a digital tool for collecting and analyzing data for their field exercise.
Gamification in digital learning platforms
When technology and education are combined, it can base a very strong pillar for the next generation. They connect different experiences and this is where UX plays an important role in knowing the user’s needs, problems and motivations. Schools tend to offer more and more electronic textbooks so users can get access to the knowledge center whenever they need it.
Gamification has appeared on many platforms for achieving better results. The best example is the well-known Duolingo application where users can have listening exercises, flashcards, and multiple-choice questions to learn new words, phrases, and sentences. They use different ways to entertain users and give them some meaningful information while rewarding them at the same time. It also has a community-building feature and makes learning a lot more engaging.
Virtual reality in digital education platforms
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The evolution of realities – Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Extended Reality (ER) – has influenced many industries recently. Education has also taken place in this race by transforming the exam management system with AR technology. Institutes will need to adopt online platforms which help to conduct practical exams and voice-based assessments where users can have an option to record answers. Additionally, AI-based systems can provide insights into student performance, and they can also create analyses for each topic or test. One such tool is Eklavvya, an Indian award-winning platform that can help in the evaluation of subjective assessments. During the exams, the users add their answers by typing them or via a speech-to-text.
Another very good example is from Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine where students can use virtual 3D cadavers. Here, medical students can perform digital dissections while using touch-screen workstations. The augmented reality headset supports them in practicing ultrasound imaging and interpretation with the 3D bodies.
And of course, as the amount of data is growing super fast, t users expect to have faster and more accurate answers when they search for a question. AIs can support FAQs in educational platforms by using the technology to answer questions.
UX research and design had a huge impact on the digital education sector and it has become more accessible, flexible, and efficient. There is still a lot to be done to make sure that users get a personalized experience and engagement that is aligned with their needs. The pandemic has shown that when UX best practices are combined with digital education the learning experience is just as enjoyable as the classroom feeling.
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