Civic Imagination: Learning Experience Literacy

How does the fear of failing impact a person’s willingness to try?

Mark Rober conducted an interesting experiment on his YouTube channel, where he asked his followers to play a simple game he made because he wanted to prove that anyone could learn to code.

Image Credit: Mark Rober, YouTube

What he was really after, however, is the data on how receiving penalties affects a player’s willingness to keep trying. What would happen if half of the players received a penalty for incorrect attempts (Group A), while the other half of the players received no penalty for incorrect attempts (Group B)? Let’s take a look at the results:

Image Credit: Mark Rober, YouTube

Group A made 5 attempts on average, and 52% of this group successfully completed the challenge. Group B made 12 attempts on average, and 68% of this group successfully completed the challenge — a statistically significant outcome. Not only does seeing failed attempts in a negative light (e.g. bad test grades) result in a lower success rate, but it also leads to making fewer attempts overall. 

Mark Rober’s experiment speaks to how important it is for colleges to not place such an emphasis on grades, to provide students with updated learning materials, and to address touchpoints that cause friction in the student journey.

Imagining an education system that centers the student learning experience.

Imagine an education system that requires professors to center the learning experience of students, that focuses on identifying and accommodating student goals, and that designs the learning experience with these goals in mind. Common college student goals include:

  • Graduating with a GPA that supports their post-graduation goals (e.g. entering into a masters program).
  • Staying on track with their degree map to graduate as quickly as possible. 
  • Knowing their career path options, & learning relevant skills throughout their degree that make them career-ready.
  • Receiving high-impact advice on how to optimize their resume & LinkedIn profile, such as quantifying your impact on your resume instead of simply listing job responsibilities. 
  • Supplemental skills workshops that teach relevant tech skills, job search skills, learning strategy skills, and anything that can help students overcome the obstacles of getting through college and transitioning to adulthood.

Education systems acknowledge these student goals, but there is room for systemic and technological improvement in the way that colleges help students achieve these goals. For example, most colleges have career centers, career fairs, and sometimes even partner with job search platforms like Handshake. Instead of help that barely scratches the surface, I want career help that moves the needle.

Image Credit: Carl Solano, Unsplash

Technological & Systemic Change

Colleges with million to billion dollar budgets certainly have the resources to develop modern technology such as online curriculum frameworks, online skills workshops, and professor training programs that work to center the student experience at all touchpoints of the student journey. 

Professors at research universities such as ASU tend to have their attention divided between teaching their classes on the side and doing their research through the school, with most of their attention (according to student comments) seemingly going to their research. 

Having frameworks designed by learning experience design professionals can address this shortcoming by making it so that professors can implement an existing framework for their class as opposed to having to create one from scratch (and then neglecting the process altogether). 

These frameworks would account for creating a more organized system to organize assignment types, grading systems, and learning materials. Development of these frameworks would involve identifying touchpoints in the curriculum that cause friction for students and their ability to understand the complex concepts & achieve their academic goals. 

An example is making sure learning materials have a good UX interface, UX content, and information architecture. I had a class in 2021 that used a teacher-made website from 1998 with a note about how to use the website with dial-up internet. I know students who are currently taking classes for their computer science degrees — in 2022 — that use learning materials from 2003 & 2011. Learning experience literacy is essential in preventing friction such as having learning materials that have been in use without updates for decades. 

Image Credit: Rut Miit, Unsplash

Same school, different learning experiences & outcomes. 

In attending ASU for a degree in Digital Audiences, almost all of my classes have learning materials that directly prepare me for the graded assignments. I’ve, for the most part, had a pleasant learning experience. The curriculum in my classes is relevant to my degree (even going so far as to have us earn Google certificates that make our resumes stronger), as well as the fields that I may enter for my career. My instructors for classes such as Search Engine Research & Strategy; Digital Audience Analysis; and Social Media Campaign, Engagement, & Research are all people who have years of experience recently or currently working in their field, and have tons of valuable experience and insight to offer. 

While I feel that my learning experience has prepared me to start my career, I’ve met a few students who are in other degree programs at the same school and have had an experience that’s the complete opposite of mine:

  • Their curriculum & learning materials are outdated.
  • Their teachers are difficult to get in touch with.
  • They regularly have to inquire about why they received such low grades on simple assignments (only to be told on multiple occasions that the assignment was graded wrong).
  • Missed tests cannot be made up (no exceptions), so students often show up to class sick for fear of ruining their grade with a 0 on a test. 
  • One teacher told their class of about 300 students who all did poorly on a test that they should spend more time studying and less time partying.
  • Another teacher said that they purposefully made the midterm so long that most students wouldn’t even be able to finish it in 5 days if they were given that much time.
  • Some teachers put a lot of material on tests that were not covered in class, and then have to explain the questions during the exam (wasting the time that students have to complete the exam). 

Plenty of education systems implement learning experience design, remove the pressure of grades, focus on student goals, and provide a learning experience that supports students in achieving their learning goals; however, within the very same school, students can have a completely different experience. Let’s imagine a world where education systems provide consistent learning experiences that support the goals of students of all kinds.