Designing for Interactivity and Outcomes

I wrote earlier about Revamping our Product Development Department here at Harvard Business Publishing’s Higher Education unit. Part of that revamp included codifying some practices that we would use as part of our design approach. These practices include process, content, learning design, and user experience.

In an effort to frame how the learning design and user experience practices should be employed at the outset of eLearning design projects, we recently held a departmental offsite on the topic of Designing for Interactivity and Outcomes. The goals of the workshop were to renew our perspectives on how we design interactive products and how we could more fully embrace designing for effective learning outcomes, and to do so by specifically looking at how and where our User Experience (UX) and Learning Design (LD) practices could help provide shape and form to our offerings. This post gives an overview of the workshop design.

We decided to invite two guest speakers to help us think about how to intelligently and effectively design eLearning experiences that were effective in measurable ways. The first is Bernard Bull, Assistant Vice President of Academics and Associate Professor of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin, and author of the “eTale — Life & Learning in the Digital World” blog. I’ve found the eTales blog to be a great source of thinking on assessment, credentialing, and education in general. The second is Clark Aldrich, education and simulation thinker, writer, interface designer, and consultant, and principal, Clark Aldrich Designs. He’s the author of many books that have guided our thinking over the years, and he provided a pivotal voice back in 2007 when we were first designing our Harvard Business Publishing business simulation product line. Both Bernard and Clark are members of a special advisory committee that we use to help guide our long-term strategic thinking.

I started out the session by outlining the critical role that our Product team plays in the mission of HBP Higher Education, and how we need to continually evolve in order to ensure that our learning experiences are effective amidst the rapidly changing worlds of education and publishing. I used the book The Content Machine (Michael Bhaskar) as a backdrop to illustrate where our new UX and LD practices fit into the picture. I’ve written before on this book, and it’s a great model for understanding the fundamental components of publishing — particularly the idea of framing content.

Bernard Bull then ran a great session on “Feedback, Interactivity, Analytics, and Assessment.” As pre-reading, he had asked our department to read a few articles:

His advice was that we become “deeply informed about the possibilities.” He started by urging us to focus on the ‘emergent future’ of educational products and services, and in turn to focus on the learners. In fact, he quoted Dan Rosenweig of Chegg: “The winning and surviving learning organizations will be the ones that put the students first.” He had good advice for us to follow when re-framing our product offering strategy: that we should discern what is essential in our role as content providers and business educators, versus that which is just important or merely present. He reviewed blended, personalized, adaptive learning , and gamification, along with their respective affordances. And he concluded with some great information on credentialing and competency-based education. He left us with an open question: “How will Harvard Business Publishing put the learners first?”

Clark Aldrich followed up the next day by focusing on “Designing for Interactivity and Outcomes”. He had our group read his article “How would Steve Jobs do training and education?” (Inside Learning Technologies & Skills). He also had us play a few simple branching simulations he had created so that we could experience them and reflect back on them during the discussion.

Clark’s session began with questions to the team about our pre-conceptions of what simulations are. He then proceeded to help us deconstruct those conceptions by giving us an overview of the basics of simulation and serious games from a design and outcomes perspective. He provided an historical tour of the genre, from games to experiments to communication tools to strategic training tools to, perhaps now, a model for how training and education is best achieved. He stressed that great simulation teach you conviction, not just awareness, and that the infusion of charm can go a long way in retaining engagement during content delivery. He encouraged us to create smaller sim interactions that could be embedded in more places and more quickly constructed, along the lines of how video has evolved. And he reminded us that the goal should be “learning without being taught” — that these simulation would be so intuitive and inviting that learners would teach themselves to explore and learn, and build that conviction in stages.

We then turned our attention from discovery to reflection on our own product development process. With our guests providing the what, we turned to the how. Our UX and LD teams each gave overviews of their practices and started to outline how these practices could be integrated into our product design process.

Our UX team, headed by John Gayle, explained that their goal was to increase user satisfaction with the interactions in our environments (the idea of UX as a ‘happiness score’), and introduced the idea of Peter Morville’s user experience honeycomb. Our UX tenets will continue to evolve, but our first draft includes:

  • User-centric design (bring the user into the design process and maintain empathy throughout the complete experience)
  • Big picture, tiny details (maintain a holistic view of the system while hyper focused on the small nuances)
  • Measure and optimize (Extract measurable outcomes from users that feed improvements into the iterative design process)
  • Visualize and prototype (quickly move from concept to testable, deliverable content and applications)

Our LD team, headed by Lin Mahoney and Amanda Comperchio, then gave an overview of how we plan to take a more structured learning design approach when developing products. Their tenets will also likely evolve over time, but here are our starting goals:

  • Accessible (introduce aspects of Universal Design for Learning, including recognition networks, strategic networks, and affective networks)
  • Personalized (assessments, learning levels, preferences)
  • Outcomes-based (moving beyond just ‘learning objectives’, and getting to ‘performance > condition > criteria’ design)
  • Interactive (looking at different learning activities: absorb / do / connection / apply)

We’re excited to start to become more thoughtful, deliberate, and consistent about applying UX and LD practices in service of designing great products for interactivity and outcomes, and the workshop was a nice kickoff.

More on Bernard Bull:

More on Clark Aldrich:

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