I work on the 16th floor of a building. Every time I step into the elevator, I regale my colleagues with a story once told to me about elevators (I have compressed this to a 16 floor lift ride). Once upon a time in a building, tenants were complaining about the lifts being too slow. An initial examination of the problem suggested that the work required to increase the speed or frequency of the lifts would be time consuming and not within the budget of the building, but tenants were threatening to break their leases unless action was taken. The landlords laboured over this problem, and unable to find a viable resolution, decided to look at it from another perspective. After careful observation of the lift users, it was discovered that the real problem, was not the speed of the lifts, but that people were simply bored. The quick fix solution…? Mirrors in lifts were born!
A few months ago, I attended a training session named “LXD in Practice” with Nick Robinson from ELTjam, and was told the above story – which inadvertently ended up my favourite takeaway from the day. This anecdote was used as an introduction to Design Thinking and how to consider re-framing problems in order to find answers.
Perspective is essential in the ELT classroom – being able to think and see from both your point of view and that of your students is a necessity. Keeping the pupil at the centre of all learning activities is now commonplace and encouraged in the classroom. But are we seeing this consistently across the ELT board?
“LXD is product design directed specifically toward learners” – ELTjam
In the ELTjam session, I was introduced to the idea of LXD aka “Learner Experience Design”. This concept borrows ideas from UX and Design and applies them in an education setting, thus ensuring that the learner is the focus of the product and its formulation right from inception.
One facet of product design is knowing your audience inside out through User Personas, a clear set of personas setting out goals and needs of different Users, which guides your design. How could we use this approach to help our different learners? I decided to create my own set of Learner Personas and apply these to my digital product to consider how and where improvements could be made.
As a full time IELTS trainer I was lucky enough to have a huge number of contact hours with my “audience”. Weekly testing, paired with continual reflection, highlighted areas of need in my students, who were also at a level of comfort with me where they felt they could lament their ‘failures’ and (less regularly) celebrate their successes.
The first step was to write down everything I knew about my learners, their backgrounds, and their motivations, needs and problems. I merged several similar students together and devised three broad categories of learners named ‘Ron’, ‘George’ and ‘Veronica’.
“Great questions are the lifeblood of great design. A well-placed question uncovers insights and provokes new ways of looking at the world.”
Although my contact hours were high, I still felt I needed more information. I asked group of my students to fill in a survey based on their learning experiences. As expected, the survey consisted of a series of questions. Not just any questions, but “Powerful Questions”. Questions structured to really get to know your audience, their position and what you can do to design a product suitable for their needs.
Owing to the excellent customer service in my previous school, students were regularly asked to complete a Student Feedback Survey with run-of-the-mill but essential questions about their everyday experience of the school, the course books and facilities.
So when my students received an unexpected survey of “Powerful Questions”, I received an array of unexpected (or possibly perspective dependent – expected) responses!
Q. “If you had an extra hour in the day, how would you use it?”
Q. “What makes you angry or frustrated about learning English?”
A. “Sometimes when we learn about a topic for a week, I don’t learn about that topic again for a long time and then I forget the topic”
Q.“Is there a part of studying IELTS that makes you feel happy?”
A. “Finishing the writing section in enough time”
A. “I like it when we play a game and Katy Teacher brings prizes”
I have combined my “findings” with my hours of classroom observation to flesh out Ron, George, and Veronica aka my ‘Learner Personas’:
Although compiling these Learner Personas was done in a rudimentary fashion, the entire exercise was worthwhile if only for the change in perspective it demanded of me. Keeping my Learner Personas at the forefront of my mind has really helped me to reconsider the needs of my learners.
Keeping one eye on what you are developing, while simultaneously thinking about your audience, has changed my problem solving approach, and hopefully ultimately altered my perspective on material development for the better – something which I am also reminded about every time I look in the mirror on the way to the 16th floor!
This post was originally published at Katy Asbury’s blog.
Katy has worked in ELT in Asia, South America, NZ and the UK. She is currently based in London working as an ELT Editor at Mary Glasgow Magazines and writing online materials at slownewsdayIELTS.com and tweets from @Ktaz