We talked with Jess Stokes, WGU Labs (“Labs”) Director over product design and development, to learn more about her team’s design process, how they collaborate with the Labs Accelerator, and their current projects.
Q: What do the product design and development teams do?
A: Labs provides end-to-end product creation capabilities: we scan the market to identify needs and opportunities, design novel solutions, develop learning content, and engineer educational technology software. Our Learning Experience Designers, content creators, engineers, and product managers can meet accelerator clients where they are in the product lifecycle to enhance their products through feedback-informed iteration.
Q: What are your products trying to accomplish?
A: In line with the Labs mission, we create products to improve student outcomes: Labs products often facilitate and assess learning, build learning skills, or enable robust data collection and efficacy testing. Our team cares deeply about access and equity, and we very deliberately design products and measure outcomes through this lens. You can learn more about equity in design here.
Q: What does your team’s design process involve?
A: Our Learning Experience Designers (LXDs) combine learning science with user research traditionally employed in the User Experience (UX) field. This means we take a human-centered approach, incorporating student and faculty voices into our design process and conducting formative testing each step of the way. We work to understand where the users are coming from:
- What are their misconceptions?
- What do they already know?
- What are their motivations?
By considering both the learning objectives and the emotional aspects of our learners, we can iterate and make products that are more likely to result in the measurable change we want.
Q: How do you measure this change and ensure your products work?
A: In addition to traditional usability testing, we work with the Labs research team to conduct efficacy testing using methods like:
- Randomized controlled trials
- Validated scales to measure psychological constructs
- Assessment of knowledge, skills, and abilities
By conducting both usability and efficacy testing, and iterating on those constructs over time, we create products that are usable and effective. If we’ve only created something usable that doesn’t meet the project goals around student outcomes, we don’t consider that product a success. We test through randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of evidence collection, whenever possible.
Q: How does your team collaborate with the Labs Accelerator?
A: Our team is meeting the needs of the startup companies who are accelerator partners, by providing product management support to examine their project road map; offering user-informed design of new/existing features; and engineering support to develop and testing new/existing solutions.
In the Accelerator’s work with Edquity, our engineering team was deployed to rapidly respond to the client’s need for additional scale as the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased the user base. Our team built out much needed new functionality and provided testing and quality assurance to make the existing product more scalable.
Q: What projects is your team currently working on?
A: We have a project with Inscribe, an accelerator startup that creates virtual community-building via a platform. Students, faculty, and staff can make connections with peers and find resources for success at the institution and beyond. We are providing design, content and development services, while our Labs research colleagues will test the platform at WGU’s Business College.
On The Equity Initiative at WGU, Learning Experience Designers and researchers are conducting extensive user research with WGU students to understand how WGU can work toward equity in both access and outcomes for students of color, ethnic minorities, and low income students. To date we have heard perspectives from 2,342 current and former students, with 100 students scheduled to participate in co-design sessions.
The College Innovation Network (CIN) at Labs connects colleges and universities with technology solutions that address educational challenges at their institutions. Each team in the product design and development group will be involved in this initiative, whether through need and opportunity identification, designing and enhancing products, or providing engineering services. For example, Labs engineers developed a tool for use in collecting anonymized data from CIN and other partner institutions. This new product will dramatically decrease the time and effort needed to gather student data critical to efficacy studies.
In service of the Labs incubation client, Red Flag Mania, our product teams have conducted thorough user and customer research informing product enhancements. To date, we have created a product roadmap, reviewed the product for accessibility, audited and enhanced existing technology and implemented new data tracking tools, enhanced existing activities, designed new activities, and performed technical, content, and assessment enhancements supporting new distribution channels.
This is the third article in our Labs Q & A series where we sit down to talk with the directors of each team at WGU Labs to learn more about how the company works.