English Study App for Chinese Middle School Students

UX Research and Core Concept

Photo Cred Micheal Prewett, Unsplash.com


The first step that I needed to take was to more fully understand the people who will be involved in the use of the application and the current trends in educational technology.

The students.

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In short:

Teens may tend to overthink problems and get stuck in taking decision, so we should provide opportunities for decision making but not overload them with options

Teens like to curate and produce high quality artifacts, so we should provide them with a simple but good level of customization

Teens are becoming very self-conscious about themselves, we should celebrate their individuality, and focus on situations and context

The Parents

The parents of these learners will be mostly 35–40 years old Chinese mothers and fathers. They will be highly invested in their children's success, highly involved in their child’s learning, and highly motivated by graded performance.

In short:

Parents are highly involved, so they will need to know exactly when and how much their child should use the product.

Parents are performance focused, so they should be given a clear rubric on what constitutes successful use.

Parents are protective, so they need to know any risks of using the application before they use it.

Educational Technology

The landscape of educational technology has been changing rapidly as educators find new ways to apply powerful technology, but some core concepts have stayed the same.

In short:

All of these concepts should be utilized in the app, to maximize word recollection and overall subject mastery

The Concept

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Avoid over-gamification.

Peoples motivations for language proficiency are different ( some aim to make friends, others to reach professional competency), but by making the goal generic, like a trophy or points you are pointing learners away from seeing the real value of the skill they are learning.

Create engaging exercises.

There is some value in repetition (spaced repetition is known to be an effective tool for memorization, and there are plenty of great existing applications that demonstrate this) but humans fundamentally like to be challenged, and presented with problems that are at the edge of their current ability rather than squarely in the middle of it.

Breaking these patterns:

One of my favorite learning applications that I have ever used was an app called Codewars. This app is for learning how to solve word problems with code.

The Core Concepts

Freedom and Control.

Students at this age do not want to be told what to do. They get told what to do enough during their daily lives with tests, school, and parental expectations. They want to feel independent and empowered to explore within the applications that they use.

Quality vs quantity.

Students at this age want to be challenged, not hand-held, and at this age they know how to accept failure and learn from it, rather than being discouraged. Activities should be difficult enough that users can succeed, but may spend 5–10 minutes at each one.

Mobile-first design.

Because teenagers in this age group are so proficient with smart phones and use them so frequently, this application should be designed mobile-first to accommodate their preferences. This could be double checked by looking at the current research and asking students in classrooms survey questions about their mobile vs desktop computer use.

Contemporary Ed-Tech.

The application should utilize the best currently know techniques for E-learning. Spaced repetition, active learning, story-based learning, and game-based learning.

Parents should be involved.

The group that we are building for is clearly a secondary decision maker in many cases. This means that we are really designing for two users, the student and the parent, and we should take steps to make sure that the parent is also able to be involved in the use of the application.

Initial Prototypes

Initial balsamiq mockups

Product Manager + Software Developer. Interested in Travel, Culture, and the Internet.