Developing Educational Workshops with a Design-Driven Approach

This winter we will be offering a workshop series focusing on user experience design. We craft our educational offerings using similar practices to how we design products: using a goal oriented and design driven methodology. In this post, I’ll be sharing the process for how we went about developing this new workshop offering.

Choose a time to user test, then run a two week curriculum writing sprint

We dedicated two weeks to work on writing the curriculum framework and first set of learning modules. We tend to work on developing product features in two week hyper-focused chunks of time. This works well because you need to figure out what is humanly possible to produce given that small period of time.

One way that we “beta test” our workshops (so to speak – but we never ACTUALLY say that out loud) is by running the workshop internally for our whole team. This works particularly well because our workshop audience has a similar skill-set and background to the team at the coop. If we had a strikingly different audience, I would seek out a more diverse set of testers. We scheduled the workshop to take place on the last day of the curriculum sprint. This provided us space to declare the concrete deliverable for the sprint: A user-tested curriculum framework and workshop lesson plan.

Finally, we had a team kickoff for the project. I worked closely with my colleagues Sue Lockwood and Mat Marquis. Right away we identified the opportunity space:

Opportunity: there’s a ton of interest in design at Bocoup from engineers, but not necessarily skill or practical experience.

Figuring out who our workshop participants might be

Prior to starting any kind of writing, I sent out a questionnaire to prospective workshop participants at Bocoup. This allowed me to gauge their interest and general knowledge of design. The questionnaire was pretty basic:

Having used google forms to create the questionnaire, I received the results in a Google Sheet and then took some time to analyze them.

Analyzing the data that came out of the questionnaire

Of the people who wanted to join the workshop, people fell into three general categories (with a bit of overlap):

  • want to learn about design strategy or framework (just under 1/2 of respondents)
  • want to learn everything because they don’t know what they don’t know (1/4 of respondents)
  • want to learn a specific skill (1/2 of respondents)

Of those who wanted to learn a skill, here are the skills that respondents identified:

Interviewing prospective workshop participants

As awesome as questionnaires and surveys might be, I find that there is no substitution for real conversations with humans. For this exercise I interviewed a random assortment of colleagues as well as non-Bocoup employed engineers and web makers. These conversations are time-boxed to about thirty minutes and are generally conversational in manner. The main goal here is to identify the intangibles – things that you can’t get from an asynchronous Q & A, such as How confident do they feel about design? Are they enthusiastic about the subject? Are they currently struggling with a specific pain point? How comfortable are they with learning new skills? The answers to these kinds of questions will help to craft the workshop with a certain level of attention to the participants interests.

Creating Personas

At this point, you have a ton of concrete and anecdotal data about potential workshop participants – almost too much! At this point in the design process, I create personas to help me synthesize that information into a handful of archetypal identities to refer back to throughout the rest of my workshop curriculum development. While I could write a whole other post on how to make personas, on a high level, I try to make the persona feel like a person who I know so that when I am designing, I am designing for Brenda Walsh, the tinkerer who works remotely, vs. “ anonymous workshop participant.”

Putting the personas to work with journey maps

With the personas in hand, we mapped out what the workshop experience would look like for the different participants. This can be done quite simply as a list or with sticky notes. One of the major takeaways for us here was that we needed to have team mentors for whatever location a class was being taught at. In our case, we had three mentors: one in Boston, one in New York and one to act as the remote participant liason. Reviewing the individual experience helped us to figure out the specific nature of the project that we would be designing in the workshops.

Writing the frameworkJourney mapping allowed us to think through the order to introduce different parts of the process for project creation to participants. This led to creating an outcome-based curriculum framework. To do this, we pulled the touch-points from the user journey and broke them out into individual workshops. For each workshop, we defined clear learning objectives while simultaneously identifying what the deliverable might be for each workshop. For example, in our User Research workshop, the deliverables were user personas and journey maps, and the learning objectives were to develop a design vocabulary and advance interaction design techniques.

I will be writing a separate post about lesson plans, user testing, and asking for feedback. In the meantime, we’d love to hear if you have used a design driven approach to your curriculum development. How has it impacted your practice? If you’d like to receive an email update when we announce the public offering, make sure to sign up for the Bocoup newsletter.

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