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Digital learning with the d.school at Stanford

How might we create scalable learning experience for a global audience that are as engaging, interactive, and impactful as the ones we teach in-person?

DESIGN RESEARCH + EXPERIENCE DESIGN + PROGRAM MANAGEMENT

Bringing learning out into the world

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Challenge

 

The d.school had been growing in popularity, both on campus and beyond, and was running out of space to host classes and students. Our team was asked to develop a way for the d.school to help more students develop their creative confidence without relying on our physical building and in-person instruction. Essentially, give people a way to learn where they are, wherever that might be.

How might we create learning experiences that are as engaging and interactive as our classes, at scale, and without being tied to a specific physical place? 


The d.global team at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (d.school) and the Stanford Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP). I played the role of program manager and design researcher for this iniative.

Partners


Design research

 

To explore learning beyond the classroom we interviewed students, prototyped new learning experiences, and gathered feedback from participants all over the world over the course of 18 months. We wanted to understand: what does it take to create engaging and interactive learning experiences at scale?

Exploratory research: in-depth interviews

 Themes began to emerge as we synthesized our interviews.

Themes began to emerge as we synthesized our interviews.

We began by working with a student population geographically far away while organizationally close by: Stanford students studying abroad. Through a collaboration with the Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) at Stanford we conducted 10 in-depth interviews with students who had returned from studying abroad.

Key insights

  • Impactful moments of learning often take place in non-traditional learning environments (orchestra, bar, art gallery etc.) where students had to adapt to an unexpected situation.
  • Being forced to navigate ambiguity on your own is at first frustrating but ultimately rewarding for students.

Rapid prototyping: micro-video curriculum

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To rapidly test some of our early ideas around how to create self-guided, immersive learning experiences we developed and led 18 day long workshops in 9 cities across the world (ranging from Madrid to Kyoto) in which the participants would practice creative strategies out in the city to get a fresh perspective on a topic they cared about. Short prompts were delivered via videos on an iPod with a speaker to guide their journey. If you're curious, the videos are collected in this Youtube playlist.

Key insights

 Some of the design principles that guided our work.

Some of the design principles that guided our work.

Eperimenting with new modes of learning for this specific user group taught us important lessons that would later be utilized while designing learning experiences for a broader audience. 

  • Always give students a reason to interact with the environment they’re in.
  • Keep instructions to a minimum - students will fill in the blanks and invent methods to reach their goals.
  • Context is content. When you only have a short amount of time to communicate a message don't just use words. Let the location in which each video is shot and even the production value signal the message you're trying to convey.

Rapid prototyping: guided audio experiences

To continue to deepen our understanding of how people learn on their own, we developed a series of audio experiences that guide the listener through an interactive journey. In each experiment we varied the content, level of detail in the instructions, the length and pacing, and tone of voice to craft a user experience where the participant felt comfortable enough to take a creative risk. One of these experiments, the Inspiration Walk, was eventually produced as a high-resolution experience published by the d.school. To try it yourself, head over to the d.school website.

The Inspiration Walk is an attempt to provide an immersive, engaging, and hands-on experience at scale that builds the creative confidence of the listener by showing them that creativity is an act, a choice, not something that some people have and others don’t. We tested our first prototype with 300 students participating in a conference at Stanford. This large experiment allowed us to, through surveys, gather data on both the content (What did you take away from this experience?) and user experience (What tone should the narrators have? How much time does each activity need? How clear are the instructions?)


Impact

 
  • The d.school, inspired by the work of the d.global team, reframed their short-term offerings from pop-up classes to pop-out classes (requiring teaching teams to utilize environments beyond campus)
  • Following our early experiments, 10+ audio experiments have been launched at the d.school
  • The Inspiration Walk is the first interactive digital learning experience ever published by the d.school. It has been played more than 13,000 times and is regularly used in a variety of classes and programs at the d.school

The projects presented above required collaboration with amazing people at the d.school and in the d.global network. Thank you:
Tania Anaissie, George Kembel, Rico Andrade, Scott Doorley, Verena Hermelingmeier, Hannah Lippe, Victor Saad, Mariel Manzone, Daniel Stringer, Adam Royalty, Max Oliva, Andrew McCarthy, Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, Sushi Suzuki, Kevin Hsu, Juliet Zheng, Ivy Guo, Trudy Meehan, Rael Futerman, Keneilwe Munyai, Seamus Harte, and Hannah Joy Root.