I was hired as a founding member of the McGraw-Hill New Technologies UX team during a time of transition for the organization. Historically known as a textbook company, McGraw-Hill was now looking to establish a presence in a modern digital classroom with more interactive learning materials.
The company had decided upon the creation of a new Learning Management System (LMS) product dubbed the Open Learning Platform (OLP). This digital learning platform was intended to be a holistic solution that empowers teachers and improves student outcomes.
My role was to ensure the interactive learning materials would be successful. I established the design system which dozens of visual designers would follow in the creation of content for this platform going forward. After the precepts were established, I was promoted to manage a team of designers who were creating those interactive experiences for the platform.
McGraw-Hill adopted the educational CMS Inkling Habitat to serve as its authoring system for the Open Learning Platform. The tool had originally been created for an enterprise/higher educational purpose and had some default interactive tools (internally known as widgets) that could be utilized immediately. Through research with business partners and educational professionals we identified new opportunities, enhancements and modifications to better support a K-12 educational environment.
- Evaluate tools
- Product enhancement
- Learning experience
- Authoring guidelines
I set about researching the capabilities and limitations of the interactive widgets. I began by identifying value across subjects (math, science, reading, etc) and defined the risks and opportunities that needed to be addressed by the engineering team.
Due to the volume of widgets available on the platform, many sprints had to be dedicated to their evaluation and iterative enhancements. Directing a team of designers, I lead discovery efforts to understand their technical elements, hypothesize improvements, test assumptions, share recommendations with stakeholders and track progress with the engineering team as development progressed. I was keen to keep in mind how our subject-matter authors and visual designers would have different requirements for each tool in order to successfully complete their work.
How the platform functioned during teacher instruction was a massive undertaking by the entire School UX team. Playing a supporting role with my designer colleagues, I was consulted on strategic consistency recommendations across all product teams. Collectively we looked for ways to solve opportunities for key user stories.
User stories explored:
- As an instructor how could I view teacher prompts, answers and notes along with my associated content?
- As an author how can I ensure my content will inherit visual-styling if it is used in different OLP subjects, or in a remedial environment?
- As an instructor how can I present my content in a manner that will accommodate different instruction methods while improving student retention.
It's not our place to change an instructor's teaching methods, and we wanted the platform to work with the teaching community to reduce friction in their current process. As I personally saw during on-site visits, if the product doesn't add value or in any way hinders the learning process, it will be promptly abandoned.
I facilitated numerous research studies alongside the design team (interviews, card sorting, ethnographic observation, etc) with K-12 teachers of differing subjects. This armed us with a foundational understanding of the instructors distinct needs, and how we might go about solving for their challenges.
I guided a team of designers to create a design system and authoring protocols. Each subject on the platform would be responsible for their own visual design and content strategy. But maintaining a semblance of consistency across subjects would be critical for users operating within our product’s ecosystem.
- Visual hierarchy to differentiate interactive and static components.
- Colors can not be used exclusively to identify interactivity.
- Provide interaction design guidelines appropriate for K-5 and 6-12 grade levels.
- Utilize tools like CSS animations to convey the element’s tactile nature.
To ensure content was executed in a manner consistent with authoring guidelines, a new department was created to direct digital product development across all academic disciplines within McGraw-Hill. I accepted a promotion to supervise this team of designers creating interactive experiences. More information about my leadership role and notable contributions to that team are covered in detail on my résumé.
The product itself has since launched and is being utilized by all of the K-12 academic disciplines.
This was a massive initiative within McGraw-Hill that had dozens of touchpoints and even more stakeholders depending on its success. This project required me to take chances leading in new ways, mentoring designers and collaborating with executive level leadership — directly resulting in my growth as both a designer and leader. Speaking to my colleagues years later I was proud to hear that many of the authoring guidelines that I was responsible for are still being updated and utilized.
Marketing demonstrations of the learning platform have been uploaded to McGraw-Hill's website and can be found here