UX Education Is Broken —Let’s Discuss, Research, and Improve It

Debbie Levitt
Jul 2 · 9 min read
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Ah, so many ways to learn UX. Some bootcamps are highly flawed and need to change or die.

I’m rather critical of poor UX education. This often shines the spotlight on UX bootcamps (relatively short programs that gives you a certificate) and some college and university programs (which may take years and give you a bachelors or masters).

My consistent messages are:

  • We must review portfolios to learn what people understand about CX/UX and how they apply it through the sample or real work they have done so far.
  • It doesn’t matter how people learned UX; we should give everybody a chance by reviewing their portfolio and/or interviewing them. I don’t go by resumes and I don’t go by how you learned. I look at who you are, the story your portfolio tells me, and other personality traits (learned from how you communicate, what’s in your portfolio, and if I interview you).
  • Many bootcamps are scamming people and teaching them a surface amount of info that breaks the promise of “getting them ready for an entry level job.” We must not blame or point at the people who trusted an educational institution to educate them to the point of job readiness. We must look at the system that’s failing them. Please don’t blame the students and grads. Don’t tell them they didn’t work hard enough.
  • We must discuss, research, change, and improve how those wanting to enter CX and UX are educated.

Should We Avoid Criticizing UX Bootcamps?

Well then someone tell Don Norman, who released a paper in March 2020 saying that UX education was fairly broken at all levels and institutions. He mentions the surface and shallow instruction often given. He announced an initiative to get dozens if not hundreds of experts together to fix this. Good, I can’t wait for his ideas, standards, and improvements.

Why did you get into UX? To be quiet and say nothing when something isn’t right for the customer or user of that product or service? Probably not. We are here to be advocates, especially where people are afraid to speak up, as I’ve found many unhappy grads are.

Bootcamps have new car smell. People mostly love attending them. Many have good experiences. Many feel great and full of hope after graduating. I don’t criticize the “experience” of attending one since most people love that part. Grads’ opinions and perceptions tend to shift over time when they have trouble finding a job and/or when they get into their first job and start to understand that what they learned wasn’t as good a match as they had hoped to the realities of what employers expect from UX practitioners. I could joke that it’s a poor match between the system and the real world but 1) that’s not funny, and 2) if you didn’t get that joke, then you might not have learned some helpful UX approaches.

Guy on LinkedIn Says Stop Criticizing Boot Camps Even Though They “Set False Expectations”

Stop right there, guy. Anything setting false expectations for a user or customer sounds like something we’re here to speak up about, research deeply, and try to improve if not fix. But lets walk through some of the points this person posted plus some of the points made in comments under his post.

  • Criticizing bootcamps devalues the education juniors got from those bootcamps. If there are so many people, posts, articles, and discussions out there questioning bootcamps that you felt you had to post asking everybody to stop it, perhaps we need to look at why so many people question the value of a bootcamp. Not all education has value. We can all name a few scam “universities” and trade schools that had to shut down, temporarily or permanently. A few UX bootcamps have already shut down. One I won’t name put its UX program on long-term pause because of the number of complaints and requests for refunds/ISA cancellations they were getting. Bootcamps devalue themselves by claiming to get you UX job ready and then (mostly) not fulfilling that claim.
  • Criticizing bootcamps hurts juniors’ career prospects and tells hiring managers not to hire from bootcamps. Not if they’re reading or listening to me. I want all people who are qualified to be considered for that job. I want people who are not qualified to not be considered for that job *unless* the job is an apprenticeship or internship, and we expect to train and teach someone who lacks qualifications. There should be zero hiring managers saying to themselves, “This candidate looks pretty good but I won’t consider them because Debbie Levitt doesn’t like bootcamps.”
  • “Maybe [bootcamps] set false expectations…” Hey, guy on LinkedIn, I think your post just undid itself. Is that you criticizing bootcamps for setting false expectations? Or do you tell yourself you weren’t criticizing because you said “maybe” and didn’t go into detail? You know that bootcamps are setting false expectations, which is putting it rather mildly given what people spend on these and the disappointing outcomes happening too often. But you want anybody speaking out about this to shut up? You undid yourself. I also noticed your post really said nothing good about bootcamps, so you double undid yourself.
  • Last time I checked there weren’t a whole bunch of options for juniors…” Self-study, private mentoring and coaching, workshops run by experts, online courses, monthly/annual subscriptions to libraries of online courses, YouTube videos, podcasts, books, conference presentations, Meetup speakers, schools at all levels, and more. Many of these cost way less than what bootcamps get paid. Let’s not pretend that our current highly-flawed UX bootcamps are “all we got” so let’s shut up and eat the poison.
  • People criticizing bootcamps are profiting/profiteering (or) anti-bootcamp statements are for self gain. So we’re not calling out the bootcamps that are profiting/profiteering on people’s hopes? A common but flawed argument is: if someone is strongly for or against something, they must have something to gain (usually financially) from taking that position. I can’t speak for anybody else, but if the author thinks he’s writing about me, perhaps he can tell me what I’m gaining. Maybe you followed me on LinkedIn because you agreed with me. Thanks, but that makes me no money. Some have blocked me because of my bootcamp stance; that’s not a gain. You can’t pretend I’m speaking up against bootcamps because I really hope you’ll come to my school… I don’t have one. I advise people to have a CX/UX mentor or coach; I’m one of many options. The amount of coaching money UX bootcamp students and grads have paid me in the first 6 months of 2020: $200. If you think I’m making monster coaching money from using being critical of bootcamps to draw people into paying me for coaching, you can put that one to rest now.
  • Bootcamps are better than nothing. Learning something is better than nothing. It sounds like we’re starting to scrape the bottom of the cheerleading battle on this one. Have you ever learned something incorrectly and then been awfully embarrassed by something that showed family, friends, or co-workers that you really didn’t get this at all? Do we not care about the quality of what you learned? If you spent thousands learning the wrong things or not really being prepared for a job, is that better than not having spent thousands? We’re supposed to have empathy, right? Talk to the people who regret spending money on bootcamps and see if you still feel that the “something” that they learned was worth the time and money spent.
  • “It’s irresponsible for one to criticize something one does not have first hand experience with.” Mom, I’m sorry that you had that awful experience in that hospital. They didn’t treat you well and your care was so bad that we had to move you to another hospital. But I didn’t experience that first hand, so I won’t say anything bad about that first hospital. LinkedIn guy, would you then also say it’s irresponsible to blindly *support* something one does not have first hand experience with? This is the type of argument we see when someone has run out of compelling reasoning so they resort to “you’re irresponsible if you do that” or other ad hominem-style attacks on someone’s character or actions. Problems often require those who haven’t experienced the problem to speak out, criticize what’s going on, and be part of the solution. I think 2020 has given us many examples of this.
  • “Bootcamps are a good introduction to design thinking.” You can get a very inexpensive introduction to design thinking just about anywhere on the internet. You do not have to pay a bootcamp $6K or $15K to be “introduced” to a topic. How about the bootcamps barely introducing you to a topic or leaving that topic out completely? How many people are expected to work in an Agile environment, yet the bootcamp never tells them what that is? We don’t need expensive bootcamps to introduce people to “design thinking,” as the guy on LinkedIn suggested. Design thinking isn’t UX, which is a whole other discussion, but raises the question of: what should people be learning when trying to move into UX? If a design thinking certificate were enough, IBM gives those out for free.
  • You’re either a gatekeeper or a mentor. Are you sure? And did we make UX better when bootcamps removed the gate so that everybody who applied was accepted, and everybody who attended got a certificate regardless of the quality of their work? Is that helping our industry be more respected? Is that working for the job market? It’s OK to have a gate. It’s OK to have standards. We need to have standards again. Not everybody graduates from hairdressing school yet nearly nobody fails out of UX school. We should have standards for program entry. We should have standards for depth and quality of work. If you want to call that a gate, go ahead. I can be for standards (and gates) while also doing a mountain of mentoring and other things designed to help people.
  • Bootcamps only make sense if you lower your expectations and keep finding courses to take and things to teach yourself. This sounds like the bootcamp is broken. How much money should we spend on something for which we should have low expectations, something that won’t really teach us what we need to know? If you need to lower your expectations for something, it sounds like you’ve been told some false claims. The problem isn’t you. If you need to lower your expectations for what bootcamps can do for you, maybe just skip them altogether and look at other options. You might save a lot of money and time.

What do we do about this?

Guy posting to LinkedIn had no solution other than he wants vocal people to stop talking about the problem. Doesn’t sound like the heart and soul of CX and UX to me!

I have ideas that could be solutions. I don’t call something a solution until I’ve tested it a bunch of times (because, UX). But these ideas are hard to test in a recession/depression economy where the UX job market has somewhat dissolved. We have more layoffs than we’ve possibly ever seen while having the most entry level people trying to get a job. It’s out of balance.

But the bootcamp will leave up their ads telling you that you just need a UX certificate to make 3x what you’re making now, or something like that. They will leave up the ads that say if you’re unemployed, just get a UX certificate from them. These places are making too much money on hopes and dreams for them to change. Some bootcamps were recently acquired or have investors, so it’s all about showing revenue, and that means selling the dream. The reality isn’t matching the dream, and that’s a problem.

Mindlessly cheerleading people just because they want to work in our industry isn’t what a mature industry does. It’s part of the problems with bootcamps; people doing poor work during their courses are sometimes told their work is good because the bootcamp wants to sound or be supportive. The future of our industry needs people who are learning, understanding, and practicing the science, psychology, and time-tested approaches in our industry. We don’t mindlessly cheerlead anything; that’s part of CX and UX.

Bootcamps tell you they can make you job-ready. Most people don’t end up job-ready, and we shouldn’t demonize the people who are saying this out loud and fighting for better education for those who will be the future of our profession. Speak up. Research what’s going wrong. Brainstorm what can be improved. Bootcamps should be facing change or die moments, but many are unlikely to change, and with financial backers, some are unlikely to die. Look at what you and your company can do to bring deep and quality CX and UX education to the people who are our future.

Delta CX

Actionable, thoughtful articles on CX, UX, what’s wrong, and how to improve our work and industry.

Debbie Levitt

Written by

Delta CX author | Customer Experience Strategist, Architect, Speaker, Trainer. “The Mary Poppins of CX & UX.” Learn more at DeltaCX.com and Pty.pe.

Delta CX

Delta CX

Delta CX is a model bringing CX & UX together in task and in name with the key goal of improving the products, services, & experiences that we offer our users & customers. Learn why quality should be our #1 priority, and how to rededicate to true customer centricity. DeltaCX.com

Debbie Levitt

Written by

Delta CX author | Customer Experience Strategist, Architect, Speaker, Trainer. “The Mary Poppins of CX & UX.” Learn more at DeltaCX.com and Pty.pe.

Delta CX

Delta CX

Delta CX is a model bringing CX & UX together in task and in name with the key goal of improving the products, services, & experiences that we offer our users & customers. Learn why quality should be our #1 priority, and how to rededicate to true customer centricity. DeltaCX.com

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