StudyBlue UX Reflection

A little bit about the website

StudyBlue is a studying platform where users can upload their own course notes and create online flashcards. StudyBlue also provides crowd sourced content and gives users the ability to connect with other classmates through the platform.

Screenshots from my own account

The basic version of the site is free. The free version provides everything a user might need to create their own content and access some crowd sourced material when creating flashcards. Upgrading to pro (a minimum of $7 per month) gives the user access to a greater volume of shared content, unlimited access to study guides, and removes any ads.

The desktop site is accompanied by a mobile app that must be downloaded separately. The app includes all the same functionality as the desktop, although it is time consuming to type out flashcards on such a small screen. The benefit of the mobile app is the ability to carry your study materials with you and access them wherever and whenever you need to.


Ok, but what’s so great about it?

Productivity apps and websites constantly rave about their ability to improve student’s chances at success. StudyBlue markets that their product, “empowers more than 7 million people to master any subject” (studyblue.com/about). That’s a pretty tall order if you ask me.

I am a firm believer that you get what you put in; if you don’t invest some solid effort into your learning, no amount of digital tools will help. That being said, I feel that StudyBlue has created an experience that makes studying much less overwhelming.

Check out the following testimonial video that I created for StudyBlue:


Let’s take a step back

The testimonial video that you just watched reflects my honest experience using StudyBlue. As I mentioned, I have been using the application for about 4 years and have accumulated an archive of materials for over 10 different courses. I would say that qualifies me as an expert user of this application.

However, with anything that becomes habitual, people often begin to ignore minor annoyances and develop work-arounds. For this reason, I decided to go back and take a critical look at my experience with StudyBlue to evaluate whether I had become blind to these inconveniences. Through this process, I found myself using many short-cuts to get around various challenges using the application.


Step 1: Task flow

I chose to map out my most common usage pattern with StudyBlue. This pattern includes: adding a new class, uploading materials to that class, and then studying the materials created. I am currently working toward my Project Management certification, so I decided to focus on these study materials since I will need to start preparing for the exam very soon!

If you want to take a closer look, this flow can also be found on my mural page!


Step 2: Empathy Board

As I went through the tasks above, I took note of my thoughts, feelings and actions on an empathy board. I tried to be as objective as possible and list my genuine emotions.


Step 3: Experience Mapping

From the empathy board, I organized my thoughts, feelings and actions by the task associated. I also revisited the task and noted questions that I had at each stage as well as potential opportunities for each task.

By organizing this information into a chart, I was able to compare the various action steps more easily. Based on this information, I created an experience map of the process. I would like to note that this map is based on my own personal experiences with the application, and I wouldn’t expect that it is reflective of every user.

Overall, I would say that my StudyBlue experience remained positive and I still plan to use the website to prepare for my CAPM exam. As it turns out, my favourite features (creating and using flashcards) ended up being those that were the most intuitive and user-friendly. Since these are the primary features of the product, I can see how their positive experience overshadows the draw backs. The negative experiences that I encountered do not really have an effect on the quality of my studying as they are not directly related to the studying task. However, I still believe there are some important areas for improvement based on the pain-points identified.


Step 4: Recommendations

Pain-point: Adding a new class

Before taking a step back and critically evaluating my interactions with the application, I had never really appreciated how frustrating it was to add a class that did not fit the predetermined categories. I often ran into this challenge in my undergrad as many of my courses were under the “Department of Knowledge Integration” which was never listed on any databases other that the University of Waterloo. I always settled for “Interdisciplinary Studies” which to me settled the issue but did not fully resolve it.

StudyBlue allows users to submit a department to them for approval. However, they give no indication to the user how he or she will be contacted if this request is approved. In the meantime, you must stick with a different name in order to add materials.

I think it’s important for users to feel connected to the content that they are creating. There is currently a disconnect with this process. StudyBlue presumably restricts the course titles to a predetermined list in order to grow the crowd sourced aspect of the application. After all, they wouldn’t want user typos to disturb this organization of materials and prevent students from connecting with their classmates.

Recommendation:

Rather than allowing users to add a class without approval, I think a solution would be to allow users to create study materials without creating a class (currently, cards can only be created if they sit within the selected class). To ensure that content is searchable, StudyBlue could require that the student enter tags that would relate to the flash card deck. The user would be able nest these materials under folders that they could name.

Pain-point: Locating Classes

The current home screen of the application is a list of recently studied materials with a navigation bar on the left (see task flow). This system presumes that recently studied material is likely the most important to the students, while old courses are pushed to the archives. The system has also decided that the “Backpack” would store courses that the student is currently taking. However, StudyBlue never asks the user how long their courses are or which courses they are currently taking. StudyBlue seems to arbitrarily choose which material is most important to the student.

Recommendation: Interactive Backpack

StudyBlue should allow the user to organize materials in a way that is meaningful to them. The proposed solution is an additional page to the site that would show users their virtual backpack with courses they are currently taking as well as past courses. The student would have control over this organization. Additionally, previous courses could be organized by semester or category so they can be easily found by the student. The backpack would also act as the landing page of the site, with recently studied materials on the left navigation bar for easy access.

Pain-point: Forgetting to sync

If the student forgets to sync recently created material with their mobile app, they could potentially have a negative experience as they would be unable to access their materials if need be. Many smartphone users have data access, however it should not be assumed that all users have this option especially since offline access is a marketed feature.

Recommendation: Notify me!

A simple solution to this problem would be a notification system. Once a user has created new content (either by adding flashcards or uploading new study material), StudyBlue could provide a friendly reminder to the student.


Through this process, I was reminded of the importance of good observation skills. Recognizing user needs is about more than listening to what they say! Identifying problems and difficulties that people never knew they were encountering is the key to developing meaningful solutions. I have sent my recommendations to StudyBlue in the hopes that my observations might offer even a small ray of insight.

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