Encouraging a culture of ongoing learning that is curated, connected and measured
Learning has changed. It’s no longer enough to finish your studies when you leave school or University. Changing industries and employment landscapes mean that learning now has to be continuous throughout your career. Good employers know this and want to motivate their staff to make learning a part of their life.
FutureLearn is an online learning site working with top Universities and partners across the world to transform access to education. This case study is how I collaboratively led my product team through uncovering the need for a new product to allow employers to manage their team’s learning using FutureLearn, to delivering a B2B product iteratively built on insight.
FutureLearn had been working with employers for a number of years, and had been pulling together projects to deliver team learning for these clients on an ad-hoc, bespoke basis. No-one had stepped back to consider what the needs of these clients truly were and how we could service them well. So, as a new product team set up to service these needs, we did the stepping back and started at the beginning...
The first step was to interview stakeholders, working to uncover what they knew, what their assumptions were and where they thought we could help their clients. This allowed us to get the full back story of what had been before, where frustrations had hit and to develop empathy with our business team who were on the frontline of delivering to clients. It also meant we got a deep dive into a new area for us as a product team - what do we mean by workplace learning? Why is it important to FutureLearn and the wider economy? How does it help employees?
I then led the team through interviewing Learning and Development managers in organisations that deliver learning to their employees. I wrote discussion guides, conducted the majority of interviews and encouraged the team to carry out others to ensure a full understanding of our users. Working with a lead user researcher, I then took the insights, synthesised results and created personas around the different types of user that emerged.
These showed two core types of potential user, the manager who is forward thinking and who truly wants to encourage a culture of learning in their organisation. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the manager who has targets to hit and has to ensure their staff are showing their progress.
Using these personas as a visual tool to showcase to our stakeholders what we’d uncovered was crucial for us a team and allowed us to get buy in for the next stage of our journey, the exploration sprint.
THE EXPLORATION SPRINT
Once we had our research, we felt like the quickest and most impactful way to uncover what we should be building, was to run an intense two week long exploration sprint with a key problem statement informed by our personas at its heart:
How might we encourage a culture of ongoing learning within organisations that is curated, connected and measured?
I planned the full sprint through workshops and exercises that would get us to the point of building a functioning prototype. Together with my product manager, we ensured that stakeholders were on board with us taking two weeks out of meetings and delivery requests. We were going to focus…
Throughout the sprint we looked at competitor research, delved deeper into our personas, conducted how might we exercises, drew journey maps, sketched ideas and ultimately got to the point of having a scrappy, but working prototype that could demonstrate to stakeholders what we thought we could build and why it would help them.
This sprint wasn’t just about building a product though. My product manager and I encouraged the team to spend the end of each day reflecting. What was going well? What wasn’t? How could we be better? This experience meant that we became a high performing team quickly, one who felt ownership over the good work they were creating.
With our exploration sprint, we had uncovered that we needed to focus on two core client needs in the first instance:
Allowing them to curate learning for individuals and groups
Enabling them to track and assess that learning
These features formed the core of our prototype, which we were by now calling Learning Manager, built using the Heroku app by the engineers on the team and developed collaboratively through sketches and pairing.
We deliberately built this prototype to use for us as a team to gain clarity over what we could build, and to act as a discussion point with our stakeholders.
With their feedback we quickly moved onto a more defined prototype which I created with Sketch and Marvel, which we could use for user testing.
With our user testing, we engaged five participants who have responsibility for managing employee learning in their organisation. Our testing was largely based on usability of the core features we had built, as well as what they would expect from such a product in the future. This would allow us to know what to build for an initial launch, and to give us some clarity over what future features we could incorporate.
I led and managed the testing from beginning to end, engaging the team with note taking and output analysis. We discovered that:
We had separated out the functionality of inviting a learner to use FutureLearn, and then recommending courses to them, largely for technical reasons. Our testing showed that this caused more confusion and frustration, as it meant going through two workflows.
The emails that we had created to send to learners inviting them to FutureLearn were seen as too generic. Managers wanted to ensure their employees felt like it was a personal recommendation for learning so they would action it.
We had included functionality to allow a user to archive a learner. Users had questions and concerns over what this would do to the data, and simply wanted to remove learners.
Some labels we had used in tables of information caused confusion with the wording.
This testing meant we had some clear actionable changes to make for the product we would go on to launch for MVP. We would:
Allow a user to both invite a learner to FutureLearn and recommend a course at the same time
Update the email design to be more engaging and to include the manager’s information
Remove the archive learner functionality for the meantime, until we could investigate the functionality more fully
Make some copy updates to aid comprehension
With our user research at hand, we worked to create a fully functioning MVP. I created designs using existing modules from our design system where they existed, and adding new ones where necessary. With our MVP, we launched with an alpha trial, engaging 6 organisations to test our product in the real world. This trial was conducted using a diary study, each time our users interacted with Learning Manager, we asked them to complete a survey telling us about their experience, which I created. From this trial, I was able to create a full experience map, documenting the good parts and pain points of using Learning Manager.
This experience map was used by the team as a continuous, living tool that we added to over time with more feedback, and took from in terms of deciding what to work on next.
Further projects to develop our MVP from an alpha version to full beta allowed me to address more user needs which we uncovered through ongoing feedback and testing. I designed a way for users to keep track of what they were spending within Learning Manager. Each time a learner takes up a course a manager has recommended, FutureLearn charges them for that learning. However, there was no way for a manager to know exactly what they had spent until it came time for us to invoice them. I delved into how people were managing this process at the time, spoke to the finance department and stakeholders to understand frustrations around this, and worked to create flows and visuals that made this process easier for everyone involved.
Learning Manager is now a fully functioning product used by managers and Universities across the world to share learning with people they manage and support. It’s a core part of FutureLearn’s business offering and continues to be developed by other teams.