As part of our design process, we regularly conduct qualitative, ethnographic research with students, instructors, and other members of the educational ecosystem. This research helps us better empathize with our users, and leads to design vignettes that help us conceive of new capabilities and new products. We’ve recently completed a research program focused on online and hybrid learning, and we’re pleased to share our results here.
Scott Gerlach, the design lead on this program, described how he views the results: “The time we spent with students highlighted how online classes are in a rut, where they are trying to be credit toward a degree but ultimately missing most of the value of an education. Tactically, we saw many students struggling in online classes because they are missing the familiar reference points and compelling social obligations that create mutual obligation and emotional investment in the classroom. More broadly, online classes neglect most of the factors that contribute to self-discovery and trajectory changes for students; as a result, online classes don’t create a lasting perception of value.”
We’ll use these negative findings to craft positive changes for our products, and we share this research with the larger academic community in hopes that it can help them serve students more effectively as well.
Edit: A few people have asked for more detailed on the Design Research methodology, particularly around participants and selection. We don’t use our research to predict – we aren’t trying to look at a small sample in order to understand how our results generalize to a larger population. Instead, Design Research is about trying to build empathy with people in order to provoke new design ideas. As a result, we don’t seek to avoid bias, and instead select our participants based on a research profile. For this research study, our sample was small, was taken from schools in and around Austin Texas (Austin Community College, University of Texas, Texas Tech, etc), and was filled with primarily 18-24 year old part-time and full-time students. Students were selected through friends-and-family recruiting, through craigslist, and through several other online posting services. Research was conducted in their homes, apartments, or dorm rooms. Research sessions were generally 3-4 hours each; participants answered questions, showed us their planners, software, phones, and other tools used in their education, and went through several creative activities.
If you are curious to learn more about Design Research, you might check out this great book by Brenda Laurel.