General Assembly

As a product design intern at General Assembly in Summer 2015, I collaborated with the team to find opportunities to increase student engagement on Circuits, a mentor-guided online course. While referencing user research report,  I defined user goals, created user journey maps, and proposed recommended solutions.

Increasing student engagement
in an online classroom

There are challenges related to student engagements in all types of learning environments, especially in online classrooms. Online learners are engaging in a different physical setting, where they don’t have the direct peer-to-peer interaction with their instructors and their classmates.

This experience can be isolating and prone to losing their motivation. Generally, student engagement is understood as the level of interest students show towards their interaction with the content, instructor, and peers, and their motivation to learn and progress through the course - but what does this mean for students on Circuits?

About Circuits

Circuits is a 10 week, mentor-guided online-learning platform that offers courses in Web Design, Data Analysis, and Digital Marketing at General Assembly. Course producers engage students throughout the course, and the students are encouraged to finish their units and submit their unit projects weekly. Students can have one-on-one conversations, and receive useful feedback on improving their work, once a week with one of the mentors.  There are series of different activities - from videos, quizzes, interactive activities, and projects throughout the platform - available to access at anytime.

The pitfalls of gamification

While examining how other competitors deal with the same challenge, I noticed that many of them tried to engage students using gamification features like badges. While these digital badges seem fun and provide positive reinforcement at a glance, they don't offer long-term rewards. What happens when a student unlocks a badge throughout the course? What do they mean for students?

Designing for a meaningful experience

How can Circuits engage their students in a meaningful way? By tapping into their motivations and celebrating their real accomplishments. I focused on designing from an experience level rather than a product level, as seen below.

Based on Sweating UX Details by Stephen Anderson

Understanding different types of students

It’s important to understand the general types of students by looking into the personas to communicate insights and user goals with the team.

Note: The personas are based on real research by the UX Researcher, Kathy

Circuits key metrics & user needs

Taking the key metrics that were measured by data, I aligned the user needs and the metrics together based on the personas.

1 — On-time project/unit submission

“ I want someone to hold me accountable, so I don’t go off-track (set goals, deadlines)”

2 — Mentor 1:1 sessions

“I want information on how to make the best use of my mentors. Example: how should I prepare for my meetings?”

3 — Live lecture attendance/recordings

"I want someone to remind me that I have a Live Lecture this week"

What we learned by talking with the
course producers

Some students are unaware of weekly projects & deadlines

> They're surprised when they find out that there's a project, 3 days before it’s due.
> They don’t know the deadlines for each projects, so one of the course producers made her own deadline date chart and sent it out to them.

Most students don’t like to open/read emails

> They don’t like receiving emails, and don’t watch the Welcome Video, where it explains everything about how Circuits works, especially about deadlines and mentor models.

Discovering students' needs, motivations, and points of actions.

To understand where the miscommunication is happening between students and course producers, I created emotional journey maps of Julie and Connor, the two main personas that meet all user and business needs. The journey map identified behavior, emotions, and interactions across touch points. Creating this not only helped visualize students' journey in Circuits but also helped to communicate a compelling story within the team.

Julie's experience on Circuits

Click here to see the details

Connor's experience on Circuits

Click here to see the details

Where do these problems all lead to?

Redesigning the welcome email

Students are most likely to be positive, and are ready to absorb new information, especially right when they sign up for the course and get the welcome email (as seen in Julie and Connor’s journey map). It's a simple way to approach the problem before embarking on a new feature.

Original Email

Redesigned Email‍

We can start testing by using an existing calendar platform - like Google Calendar. It's simple and doesn't require a lot of resources to build on a new feature, which can save the team lots of time. 

Course Producers set specific unit project deadlines or live lecture dates, for each cohorts or any individual students who are behind with the curriculum. Students can be notified of any important dates without even logging into the Circuits dashboard.


Test your idea first before embarking on a new feature

When designing products, it’s easy to become over invested in building an grandiose feature. When progressing from the research phase, I learned that coming up with practical solutions that don’t require much resources is a good way to start testing the idea before building a new feature.

Design for moments

When designing products, we tend to toward a frictionless flow where it removes impediments to immediate action and focuses on increasing conversion at all costs. This approach doesn’t consider the deeper story of how we can design and build experiences that are also enriching and fulfilling. Designing for moments by capturing and observing the emotional journey of Julie and Connor provided me with the space to interpret, understand and add meaning to their experiences.


Design advisors: George Bixby, Denny McFadden
PM: Kevin Shiiba
User research report: Kathy Geisel