Summary Research Defining the Problem Framing the Solution Developing the Solution Design Decisions Reflection

Design mobile learning solutions for non-traditional community college students


8 months


Team lead (product planning, end-to-end design process, & client communication)


Collaborated with 1 researcher, 1 product manager, and 2 designers


Hi-fi prototypes




Over 20 years, Mindedge Learning has provided desktop-based online learning materials for community college students. But, not every learner has access to a laptop. The company wants to develop a mobile learning product that will attract institutional clients with a lot of non-traditional students who don't have access to a laptop.

Users and stakeholders

Althouth the end-users of the product are non-traditional community college students, instructors, edtech administrators, community college as a whole are all stakholders in the ecosystem.


After a three-month discovery phase, we realized that there are three key problems facing non-traditional students -

  1. Non-traditional students want "hand-holding" but online instructors are too busy to support every student.
  2. They tend to have time pressure in learning, they need to find time to learn between family and a full-time job (or 2 part-time jobs).
  3. The current desktop product is facing the problem of lowered student-content engagement in the latter half of the course.



The product received a good evaluation in terms of usability, ease-of-use and usefulness.


Gathering insights

To really understand our target users and to design the product that helps them achieve their own academic goals, we needed to talk to them.

I and two teammates conducted a total of 15 interviews with community college instructors, students, and administrators. The main goal is to understand the motivations, goals, and challenges people are facing, and their expectations of a mobile product.

The research data was represented in an affinity diagram and later synthesized to higher-level insights and models. The most useful models are the personas, they unveil the (sometimes conflicting) pain points of multiple stakeholders and point us to a few design directions.

Who are "non-traditional" learners?

Non-traditional learners (a.k.a. adult learners) are our main target group. From initial secondary research, stakeholder and user research, we came to understand that two distinguishing characteristics make a learner "non-traditional" - (1) they are returning to school and are 30+, and (2) they have conflicting responsibilities to take care of.

What are the pain points?

Through the research, we discovered a few conflicting pain points that we want to tackle.

Defining the problem

Understand business requirements and constraints

Career support, social presence, self-regulated learning ... The fruitful research results got the team excited about all the potential directions and design goals.

But to make sure that we are building a viable and "right" product, we needed to consider the business requirements and constraints of our client.

One main constrain is that Mindedge is nested in learning management systems. In a nutshell, if we decided to pursue a direction that would result in Mindedge having similar features with those learning management systems, we are confusing our users and imposing unwanted competitions between Mindedge and big LMS players.

Another business requirement (which is also aligned with user requirement) is to not introduce an added burden to the instructors. Otherwise, we will be facing a lack of willingness to adopt our products.

Design goals

Aligning user and business requirements, we decided on the three design goals:

1. Provide students with immediate academic support when instructors are not around

2. Allow students to learn under time constraints

3. Motivate students to engagement with the content and completion the course

Framing the solution

As we concentrated on these design goals, we brainstormed potential solutions to address these goals. After rounds of internal discussion and "idea speed-dating" with our clients, we finally narrowed to 9 ideas.

Then we used the "viability-feasibility-desirability" matrix to down-select to ideas to be included in our MVP.

Developing the solution

Design and validation

Our aim is to validate ideas and reach consensus as fast as possible. I created an "agile research guideline". It helped us produce research protocol, synthesize findings and come up with actionable iteration ideas in a faster and more collaborative manner.

Although we did not have access to our client's database, we utilized personal connections to conduct "quick and dirty testings" and resorted to User Interviews to help us find target audience for formal iterative and evaluative testings.

Design Decisions

Goal 1: Provide academic support when instructors are not around

Our solution

It is both our students and instructors' goals to help the students learn better by providing enough support. But this is easier said than done, considering that the instructors have a very busy schedule.

That's why we included the "hint" feature to offer students support when instructors are not round. This way, they won't be stuck at a problem for long.

Goal 2: Learning under time constraints

Our solution

"Chunking" is a key concept we explored during the design phase. By chunking a 20-min content into smaller pieces, we are able to help our students learn a few pieces of instructions when they simply do not have time to go in depth in one module.

Another featured we included is the "bite-sized challenge mode". Students can give a rough estimation of how much time they have, and our app can recommmend appropriate numbers of practices for students.

Goal 3: Facilitate engagement with the app and content

Our solution

Engagement with content is very important for users, institutional client and mindedge learning. We designed app-level trophies to encourage retention and learner motivation and course-level trophies to encourage content engagement.

Based on the learning science theory, we added nudge in our system to help learners improve their self-regulation skills.


Bringing value of research into a company that knows its end-users well

Since the very beginning of the project, our client seems to have a good grasp of its users. This challenged us to think deeper into the problem space and think more about what additional value we can bring to our client. Soon, we realized understanding the users does not mean understanding users in ecosystem. This is where we focused our attention on - the intersection between different stakeholders and prioritizing conflicting pain points. We also put out attention on understanding users in context - analyzing the behaviors of users and user-content interaction.

On first-time team lead ...

It is my first time being a team lead for a complex and ambiguous project. There are many stories I can tell, but I want to focus on self-awareness for now. I trained myself to be more careful and sensitive about communication and team vibe. I also reflect constantly on the ways we communicate our results with the client, both before and after weekly meetings to learn more effective strategies.