Unacademy Educator App – an online content creation tool for part-time educators

Objective

How might we empower educators with tools to create and publish content online?

Company

Unacademy

 

Year 

2017

 

Role

UX/UI Designer—I worked directly with the company's founders to define product vision and strategy

 

Skills

Product Thinking, Concept Development, Interaction Design, Visual Design, Prototyping, UX Copy

Unacademy is an online learning platform which makes education accessible to over 1 million registered users across lower and middle-class India who cannot afford education. It is an open platform, which means that anyone can apply to become an educator and start creating and publishing online content.

Background

Becoming an open platform

One in six teaching positions in government schools are vacant across India while in some states the teacher shortage is as high as 70%. Due to the remote geography and poor infrastructure in rural areas, thousands of young children have to walk over 10 miles each day just to attend school.

Unacademy's aim was to provide online access to quality education. It did this by individually reaching out to industry leaders, scholars and professional educators and giving them a platform to share content. In a step towards becoming the world's largest repository of information, we decided to take Unacademy's existing invite-only model and turn it into an open platform. By making the teaching platform accessible to everyone we were targeting three main objectives​:

Growth and Expansion

Regular people would be able to share their knowledge and expertise with everyone; and in turn, discover their own passion for teaching

​​

Growth in the number of educators teaching on the platform would lead to the introduction of new topics and more diverse content

Diversification of Content
Automation

An easy sign-up flow and onboarding process would reduce the amount of time spent on selecting and training new educators

The Challenge

Maintaining quality, creating, and publishing content

With an open platform for education, the biggest challenge was maintaining the quality, authenticity, and veracity of the content that was posted online.

 

I conceptualized and designed an application and screening process for aspiring educators. In order to start teaching on the platform, applicants would be required to submit a 3-minute demo lesson using the Unacademy educator app. The content team would then evaluate their credentials, teaching methods, and presentation skills.

Decision to go mobile

Through research, I found that India leads mobile internet usage with people accessing the internet through their mobiles nearly 80% of the time (February 2017). In addition, desktop ownership in India was under 20%.  In order to truly open up the education market, it was clear that I had to focus on the mobile experience first.

Educator application process

Version 1.0

Taking content online

I designed the end-to-end experience for Unacademy educators which focused on empowering educators with tools to create online content. In version one of the production app, educators could use their mobile phone to record their voice over existing Powerpoint presentations or create a presentation by putting together handwritten notes.


Before jumping into the design, I reached out to our content team to understand their pain points and the difficulties they faced while onboarding new educators. Their main problem was that the existing app wasn't intuitive and educators were unable to use it without guidance. I decided to focus the redesign around simplicity and ease of use.

To aid tagging and discovery of courses on the learner side, educators pick a category or create a new one while making a new course.

In creation mode, educators can add images of handwritten notes or upload existing presentations. I wanted educators to be able to build a rapport with their subscribers so I created the option of adding video intros at the beginning of each presentation.

I added digital markers to improve learner engagement and make it easier for viewers to follow the context as the educator speaks. In present mode, educators can take advantage of their phone's touch capabilities and use the brush tool or the pointer to highlight content.

In review mode, educators can reorder, edit and organize their lessons in each course and publish them when they're ready. I made prototypes to externalize and test these interactions with users.

I wanted learners to feel supported and heard by educators and so I designed two features to foster the learner–educator relationship. Through comments, learners could reach out to educators on the learning platform and express gratitude, provide feedback, pose questions or clear doubts. I gave educators access to comments made on their videos and the ability to respond directly from the app which improved the time they normally took to respond. Comments were public in nature which meant that learners could help each other and build a sense of community.

 

While the messaging feature that I tested with educators received positive feedback, I ultimately decided not to go ahead with it due to safety concerns and potential for abuse. 

Impact

10x growth

The educator base on the platform grew from 200 to 2000 in the span of 4 months.

While the new production app was successful in automating the process of onboarding new educators, it was still limited in content creation features and educators had to rely on third-party desktop softwares such as Powerpoint or Keynote to design their presentations.

 

However, another concern was the creation of videos in landscape, while most learners were consuming vertical content on their mobile phones.

Version 2.none

Vertical content for mobile

 

According to Jon Steinberg, the CEO of The Daily Mail North America, the engagement and completion rate on vertical videos is much higher. Vertical video ads are watched all the way through 9 times more than horizontal video ads on Snapchat. Smartphone users hold their phones vertically about 94% of the time which makes vertical content more mobile friendly (Source: Mobile Overview Report, December 2014). In addition, about 70% of Unacademy's learner traffic comes from mobile.

This information piqued my interest in exploring vertical content creation.

Content creation in portrait mode

Design Approach

Consistency and organization

 

I noticed that poorly designed presentations ranked lower—they saw lesser engagement and a higher number of drop offs. Cover images were inconsistent and fighting for attention which meant that new educators were not getting enough views. Common issues included different aspect ratios, low contrast, too much clutter and readability issues. I wanted educators to be able to focus on the core content of their lectures and not have to worry about the design. I explored vertical template designs to support my hypothesis and to make the most effective use of the real estate provided by mobile screens. I created wireflows to discuss and communicate page-level layout ideas and user flows with the founding team. 

Explorations of vertical templates for content

Usability Testing

Typing on mobile is hard

 

While the founding team was mostly optimistic, there were some concerns regarding the consumption of vertical content on other devices such as laptops. In order to save design and engineering effort, I decided to validate the feasibility of the content-creation ideas I was working on before tackling the problem of consumption. 

 

I asked three educators to create short presentations on different topics using Wacom Inkspace App on their phone. The shape and pen tools were very useful in explaining calculations and mathematical formulas but it was difficult to type large chunks of text on the phone keypad. Test participants also found it cumbersome to switch between apps while sourcing images for the presentation.

The Pivot

Real-time content creation on web

 

Without enough evidence to ​justify time and effort towards the development of these ideas, I decided to shift focus to desktop-based tools for content creation. I conceptualized and executed the design for Live Classes which would be made available to paid Unacademy subscribers.

Live Classes were broadly based on the traditional blackboard model of teaching—the educator is given a blank canvas and can address questions from learners in real-time.  

Live Class: Bridging the gap between online and offline learning

Reflection

Real-time content creation on web

Seeing the transformative effect of education technology, on learners as well as educators, made me recognize my passion for products that are people-focused and can impact social change. I also realized that while ed-tech has made a push towards online learning, little innovation has been done in the way people teach. Seeing an opportunity, I decided to go back to school and learn how to design interactive experiences outside the confines of a screen.

I left the company after I wrapped up the design for Live Classes and I don't know how it performed or has evolved since.