How can we encourage self-learning in a world tired of online education?

When Interhackt announced that its theme was "Making and understanding together", education was what first came to mind; exhausting Zoom classes, tedious learning modules, and unfinished online courses show that it's in dire need of an overhaul. As students and autodidacts, Nikki and I were motivated to work on this problem.

We were struck by inspiration when we came across these two blog posts:

  • Dan Romero's Strava for Cooking: Proposes the idea of a Strava-like app for other niche hobbies like culinary arts. These vertical social networks would provide both single-player and multiplayer features would reinforce improving the user's skills.
  • Julian Lehr's Proof of X: Building on Dan's post, this states that all social networks amplify "proof-of-something" (e.g. Instagram amplifies proof of creativity/wealth/status, while Strava amplifies physical fitness).

Reading through these made us wonder: what would a Strava for learning look like?

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We designed a prototype that incentivizes learning in public.

Scenius is an all-in-one tracker and community for learning. Users can design their own learning plans, work towards them in public, and connect with fellow learners.

"Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius." β€” Brian Eno

First, we expanded our ideas through research.

In our first meeting, we delved into market research, analyzing features from social networking sites and educational tech platforms.

Some products we took inspiration from (via Nikki)

Then, we conducted user research our networks, targeting those who consider themselves self-learners. Our research objectives were learning:

  • why they try to develop skills outside traditional curricula
  • what tactics they use in working towards their goals (and how effective they are)
  • how they measure their progress

Once we were done with surveys and interviews, we did affinity mapping, discovering common motivations and factors surrounding learning.

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People are motivated by...

  1. Professional Growth πŸ’Ό
  2. Pure Passion/Interest πŸ’–
  3. Prerequisites for School 🏫

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Learning is affected by...

  1. Community: Where can I discuss what I've learned and get feedback? Am I being held accountable by teachers and fellow learners? 🀝
  2. Structure: Do I follow a step-by-step outline, or make my own structure? How much flexibility do I have? Can I select only what interests me? Am I able to go outside of the curriculum? πŸ“
  3. Application: Do I have opportunities to apply my insights (e.g. hands-on learning)? πŸ–οΈ

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Key Insights:

  1. MOOCs, which utilize passive teaching and impersonal avenues for interaction, make it difficult for learners due to a lack of feedback and opportunities to put knowledge into practice.
  2. The abundance of free online materials can lead to information overload, making learners experience analysis paralysis. "How do you know which [resources] are worth your time/actually beneficial for you?" one of our interviewees said.
  3. There are two types of learners: those who are fine on their own and those who are highly motivated by a community. How can we cater to both types?

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PERSONAS

Making use of our third insight, we developed personas to empathize with our target audiences better. We assumed that solitary learners would seek guidance and self-awareness, while those who need a community would seek connection and accountability.

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Single-Player Sarah πŸ‘€

"I'm so used to learning on my own. College just feels like homeschooling again because everything's online."
  • Needs to accomplish: create structure for learning, track progress on projects, apply their learnings
  • Needs to feel: secure; on top of their learning goals
  • Considerations: How else can we motivate them outside of community features?

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Multiplayer Mike πŸ‘₯

"Even if discussion platforms exist on MOOCs, they’re not utilized enough. There’s barely any social factor to them, no kwentuhan (chit-chat)."
  • Needs to accomplish: signal their learning activities, make meaningful connections, learn from creators in similar fields
  • Needs to feel: supported; held accountable in working towards his goals
  • Considerations: What kind of interaction points can engage them?

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Thus, our goal for this project was to provide these self-learners a space for mindful learning.

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I led interaction design from wireframe to prototype.

While conducting research, we came across Anne-Laure Le Cunff's mindframing: a neuroscience-backed framework for personal growth. We liked this because it was structured yet flexible enough for self-learners; she describes in a literature review: "Individuals can assess their own progress through the reflective practice of creating and publishing content throughout their self-growth process." Thus, mindframing became the foundation of our entire app

An overview of the mindframing process (via Nikki)

Nikki came up with the user flows, which I then fleshed out into screens. Here's the thought process behind designing the app:

Onboarding

When a user first opens the app, they are given a rundown of what the app offers. Then, they are directed to create their first pact. This was inspired by the creation process of popular habit tracking apps.

PACTS AND TASKS

Once a pact is created, a user can log related tasks with descriptions and statuses (e.g. "In Progress). These tasks are also posted in public, where they can be replied to (perfect for feedback and discussion). I took inspiration from social media platforms centered around short posts like Twitter and Makerlog.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Aside from public posts, users can also connect with others through the Explore tab. They can search up other pacts, join clubs centered around similar interests and locations, and engage in challenges: time-bound pacts hosted by clubs. This tab was modelled after Strava's interface.

SKILL VISUALIZATIONS

Finally, the user's profile gives an overall picture of how they are as a learner. You can see their activity, pacts, club, and statistics: data on what they've been learning and how long they've been working on it. This last part was a tricky design challenge: how can we visualize learning?

Most products we looked at (i.e. Headspace, Duolingo) utilized streaks to track continuous usage. Nikki took inspiration from Github in create an activity heatmap, which represented how many tasks a user posted each day in Scenius.

However, we knew this wasn't sufficient for communicating depth/breadth across different skills, so we started exploring other visualizations like skill trees and roadmaps.

I eventually settled on bubble graphs; these were inspired by the skill maps of interactive CVs. Compared to the complex graphs were looking at, this was the most flexible option; it could accommodate a diverse set of skills instead of being limited to just one This visualization is based on the days; the more you commit to a certain skill, the darker and bigger the bubble will get. A table below this graph gets more into the details.

While Nikki came up with the app's brand identity, I built an atomic design system so that we could prototype everything on time.

Some atoms and molecules from the design system

Final Walkthrough

ONBOARDING TO CREATING PACTS

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posting and managing tasks

PROFILE tab OVERVIEW

EXPLORE tab OVERVIEW

Reflection

Interhackt was all about exploring the future of interface design. Working on this project made me realize that innovative ideas don't come from scratch; they can come from remixing what's existing. This perspective has exposed me to a new range of possibilities; thinking about how the proof-of-work model (e.g. Strava) can be applied to so many fields excites me.

Next Steps

  • Scenius can be misused for toxic productivity (i.e. setting unrealistic expectations). How can we mitigate creative burnout and discourage unhealthy competition?
  • One Interhackt participant also suggested designing β€œtrails for learning”. This was inspired by Strava, you can download routes of other users so that you can try traversing them. How would this look like for learning?

Thank You!

Nikki, my partner, who co-designed this project with me. The stress of the designathon wouldn't have been enjoyable without our all-nighters together. I also had fun teaching her research and design practices on the fly!

The entire Interhackt community! The entire designathon experience was amazing thanks to them (e.g. interesting talks, support during demo day).

Some of the lovely comments we got from the community!