Discovery Education Platform

In early 2018 Discovery Education went through some major organizational changes and a new experience and brand strategy was started. I was able to lead the user experience team from creation through launch.

Disclaimer: Due to personally identifiable information (PII) and various privacy concerns, much of the content has been adjusted, hidden, or removed completely.

The Challenge

Discovery Education needed a new brand and experience in order to compete within the changing Ed Tech sector. Discovery Education products are split into multiple including Techbook, Platform, and Supplemental. Techbooks include everything having to do with curriculum directed material and the actual Techbooks themselves.

Platform as a product is just that - a digital platform to serve as the Discovery Education product suite and supplemental content and services. Supplemental as a product is about all of the additional services Discovery Education offers such as classroom managers, quiz and assignment builder, and other "supplemental" resources. The main product suit consists of Homepage and Global Navigation, Resource Player (where you view resources), and Education Networks.

Some of our higher levels usability goals were:

We also had to align and support business and stakeholder goals such as:

My responsibilities

As the User Experience lead my domain in the product development cycle was everything from concept exploration to research planning and execution to design iteration and specifications. Understanding users, creating and validating concepts, and generating actionable solutions with the development team are generally the type of work I was responsible for.

Market and user research alignment

Early product development we needed a set of goals and philosophies that act as our guiding light when making decisions, gathering feedback, and assessing the performance of experiences. As that was being explored over the course of a few months I was conducting both internal and external research gathering as much feedback as I could while another team was conducting market research about the brand and product positioning. After some large scale surveys and reviews we realized that Discovery Education really is a digital first brand that has print that supplements the experience. As a result we used the design system Comet as the starting point for the new product launch.

Accessibility and Touch Compliance Lead

Partnering with an excellent developer, we made sure all production designs were AA compliant, appropriate for screen readers, and made sure we design around touch interfaces. We strive to allow every student the ability to have the same experience as the next, regardless of situation. We're legally obligated to be AA compliant, but that's a minimum and we believe our work should result in a higher quality of product.

User Research Planning and Facilitation

As we progressed through the product development process, I would meet with the team in order to plan research for the next few quarters. Different types of research depending on where in the proejct we were, but the important part was to always have something going on. We aimed to for 5%-25% of project resources to be allocated to research.

Developing and Practicing Common Goals

Step one was getting on the same page. From top to bottom of an organization's structure teams operate differently, have different goals, and speak to a different scope of people. It's important to get everyone to align on what is being built and why it's being built but in practice that's actually quite a difficult task that can come from many different sources.

The documentation and goals changed over the course of time up until launche, but the important part was that these changes were all done within the same environment. The single source of truth reduced the effort on the organization to find, reference, and keep track of these sem-tangible deliverables. At the end of the day, they're still just words in a document that we have to follow.

In order to communicate more effectively with the development team and make better decisions about user research, I had to make sure the entire organization was aligned. My job was the make sure this was facilitated. Goals came from every direction, so including the appropriate people and delgating a select few to be the sources of truth was step one. From there we went with Confluence since it was already in use with Development and everyone had access to it.

This allowed us to share goals with stakeholders, and then as we did research, it would always support the greater goals of the organization. I found this helped sell and validate the planning and facilitation of user research, which can often be a significant obstacle.

Path of Discovery

After conducting a significant amount of user and market research, we had identified which areas of Discovery Educaiton to improve, how to improve them, and what we needed to do in order to create the most engaging, easy to use, and time saving solution.

After conducting a significant amount of user and market research, we had identified which areas of Discovery Educaiton to improve, how to improve them, and what we needed to do in order to create the most engaging, easy to use, time saving solution.

Products in Scope

The overall product portfolio of Discovery Education was plagued with issues that all contributed to the case for a redesign. Aesthetically the experience was dated, inconsistent, and generally tested poorly with users when doing preference and satisfaction research. Functionally, while the site was accessible, it lagged significantly behind competing products, it didn't take advantage of any type of innovative or current technology, was an absolute Information Architecture nightmare, and had been optimized in regards to development, including back-end which resulted in an absurd amount of server requests.

Home

Everyone owns the home page an no one owns the home page. The home page always has, and always will be the most contentious experience for a product, and it was no different with DE. One of our main challenges was creating alignment and shared expectations across a wide enough scope of people taking into account enough feedback from stakeholders and users. While slightly more modernized and attractive, functionally the current home page was not a successful nor engaging experience.

Previous version of DE Home.

The new version of Home.

It was a poorly implemented social feed just like so many other social feeds made by teams that don't specialize in that type of work. Irrelevant content sorted by a poorly done ranking algorithm resulted in a social feed with minimal engagement from users. Through a series of redesigns, we were able to regain and increase usage with the hero, the body of the page remains a struggle. The right side of the page offers what was some useful information but where the link took you was unpredictable. Even when the homepage functioned well, where you went after was often unpredictable in regards to the experience.

Player

This is the page that is designated to hold a single resource. It could be anything from a video, and image, to an interactive to a virtual field trip where you're taken through a virtual tour of an event or place.

One of the main goals of the Player page was to allow users to quickly assess whether a piece of content was valuable enough to use. The content was most important, but we also had to make sure certain features like closed captioning, language options, and curriculum standards were included and easy to identify. It was common to hear about teachers not using a resource solely because it couldn't be experienced equally by every student in the classroom. Inclusive design is a guiding principle of ours and we can identify direct impact of it.

Previous version of DE Home.

The new version of Home.

Networks Channels

Discovery Education provides a wide variety of media and content ranging from first-party sources like MythBusters, to popular publishers, and even user-generated content in addition to all formal and curriculum required content. This content is also unrestricted and included when districts are provisioned products providing additional content for students and teachers to learn and use.

It was discovered though, over the course of many studies, that a large portion of teachers weren't aware of all of the content available and at the same time (not surprisingly) expressed a strong desire to have access to additional trusted content. This lead to the inception of the idea of Networks and Channels which resulted in completely reworking,repositioning, and consolidating all of that extra material and content into a system that made sense, was discoverable and explorable. Channels and networks are experiences setup to help students and teachers explore and sort through groups of content. Prior to this, users much of the supplemental material Discovery Education offered

Home is where the... products are

A common theme is that generally all of the products were outdated, but Home was the slight exception to the rule. Seeing as the homepage traditionally has the most visibility, and it was no different at DE, many of the internal exercises and projects that are expected to provide results start on the home page. It was for this reason that Home was slightly updated to adhere to the preliminary design specifications of the soon to be Comet Design System.

High Quality Content

You can have the nicest looking most well made solution, but if the content isn't good, no one is going to want to use it. Experiences are there to facilitate something for the user. Fortunately at no point in any of our research was content ever an issue. Most of the time in fact, teachers spoke very highly of the availability and quality of the content offered by Discovery Education. Having high quality content that users desired made everything we did extra validating. We knew that if we managed to provide a good experience, users It's a huge luxury to be supported by a tested and successful content library. This makes our research more valuable, testing is more conclusive, and generally users are excited and enthusiastic to speak about it because they really value it. THe content helps make sure we understand we're working towards a good purpose.

Leveraging Core Competencies

A trusted all-in-one experience

One of the truly unique experiences that Discovery Education offers that is rarely seen anywhere else is that you can find cited and scholarly materials, save and organize it, edit and create with it, and then share it out. It's common to find sites that allow collecting, sorting tagging, organizing and sharing, but they don't provide content. Or maybe a site provides content, but it's not trusted, or it has advertisements and unfit material for the classroom.

New content from trusted publishers

Having the relationship with Discovery Communications allows teachers to explore an always changing and improving library of digital content to supplement their curriculum and standards based content. Some of the most common feedback by education leaders and district representatives has been that the issue isn't with the content. That content is consistently high quality and a leading reason for account retention.

Classroom management

Every year a new roster of students is added and changed for schools and teachers. As regular and as often as that experience is. In as many places (everywhere) that it happens, by now you would think there would be some sort of universal solution. There isn't. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't It can vary by school, and district and there isn't any real standardization that would validate work on developing integration templates. We provided a way for teachers to manage individual students and run large batch actions for manual control of rosters that didn't always integrate. Saving time is important to teachers and roster management is seen as an unnecessary time sink for teachers and this is a feature that comes up often in feedback sessions.

Single Sign-On and Product integration

It's common for a classroom to leverage multiple tools as a part of their product suite. This often requires multiple logins for however many students are within a district. This also means additional support and points for potential problems. As a huge compliment to the developments teams, DE is known as having one of the better experiences in regards to single sign-on systems.

Personas and User insights

The goals and red tasks on a certain page varied from persona to persona a little more explicitly than projects I've been involved in the past. Since You could, explore, save, and share content all within the same experience, what the users were looking to get done depended on the mode they were in. The goal of a user who was on a resource page because they're planning their next lesson is going to have a different goal then the user who is looking for something quickly to share with the class who will have a different goal than the student who had the resource shared with them. Some unique persona splits were age bands, grade bands, roles, modes, and saving styles

Grade Bands

Sections of grades that are generally accepted. Some overlap between districts naturally occur. Significant cognitive, and developmental differences occur early resulting in specialized design choices.

Age Bands

Age bands were for wider scoping research and teachers most of the time. Generally the student and teacher experiences were separate/

Roles

Roles include, student, teacher, admin, and certain time other specialized positions. Each role comes with a different set of goals and tasks that dictate the experiences differences.

Modes

Modes are what we have identified as the core reason people user the service. The modes we developed are the explorer, the user who is just browsing on their own free will "going down the rabbit hole" and seeking further knowledge about topics. The planner and collector is someone who has an objective about what they're looking for and want to save and organize material for later.

Saving Style

Users usually collecting and saved in one of two different ways. The planner would organize as they saved resources making sure to tag and label as they events resulting in a lower quantity, but higher ration of usage. The collector would save a high volume of content, but would go back at a later time and sift through to organize or use it all. One style is front loaded while the other is heavy in effort later on in the process.

Unique Challenges

Target Demographic

Given that the audience Discovery Education serves ranges from students in kindergarten to admins who are unfamiliar with modern technology trends. The technical literacy of our users ranges from developmental abilities at a young age to general lack of experience with computers in old age. We can provide the students and teachers with separate experiences, but there still needs to be enough alignment that the teacher can share and align with students at the same time as having their "enhanced" teacher version. This results in many elements of the experiences overlapping.

My Key Contributions

Developed Centralized Research Data Repository

Part of the value and beauty of user research is that it's valuable for a long time. Each research study is an investment if stored in a way to make it easily accessible over long periods of time. By centralizing and codifying studies we could easily search and recall any material about any study which was something we commonly did when starting on new features and exploring solutions.

Reduced User Research costs

Working with another researcher we figured out new and creative ways to facilitate remote user research. We cycle systems for interviews because we like to continue to leverage different tools and services for their different strengths. If we needed a card sort, and the current active services didn't include that we needed to plan accordingly and reallocate funds. Working with a budget, even if it was fair, and having restrictions forced us to generate creative solutions if we wanted to stick to such an am bitious and active plan.

Positive Development Relationship and Integration

By working with the development team closely we were able to directly handle many issues that would normally have taken significant time in formal iterations due to the system. Early on when working with the developers we would establish to what degree they wanted to be included in on User Experience and design tasks. The result was so much better than we could have expected. Developers were able to supplement their work with any user experience work at any point in the process with the simple obligation to attend the regular meetings. And I was able to engage and learn by osmosis and by getting hands on with production level code.

Retrospective

What we did well

Developed a Unique System for Discovery Education

It might sound obvious, but it's common to try to implement another company's strategy, process or plan, without changing it at all, and then wonder why it didn't work. Utilizing team workshops and break-out sessions, we were able to make sure everyone had their voices heard systematically. Leveraging smaller groups with leaders that could then communicate, group dynamics were improved and group engagement was improved with attitudes becoming more positive after seeing actual progress.

Interface samples and explorations