Thinkful is an online technology school whose goal is to prepare students for the workforce. It is poised for growth, especially since being purchased by education technology giant Chegg in Q3 2019. Also in 2019, a User Experience course was added to the curriculum that already included Engineering and Data Science. To advertise and tease this course, Thinkful holds a webinar program on a nightly basis to give prospective students and those just interested in learning a chance to watch Thinkful mentors demonstrate lessons and techniques they would learn. As someone with extensive curriculum writing from my time teaching at General Assembly, I was asked to create content for a User Experience webinar in the form of a Powerpoint presentation, then act as its host.
How can Thinkful properly use its webinar platform to market its User Experience course to people interested in UX-related careers? How can I use a 90-minute timeframe to address concerns of university students, career changers, and others regarding the roadblocks and challenges in pursuing a career related to UX?
However, the webinar program was something new in that the only interaction I would have would be through a chatroom. Students are able to see my screen and hear my voice, but I am unable to see them, due to the vast number of them (anywhere from 10 to 100 on any given night). This may seem negligible, but when it comes to approaching this from a User Experience point of view, the lack of seeing my students' reactions as topics are presented to them gives me a reduced sense of empathy, arguably the most important factor in UX strategy. Once again, let's visit the Design Thinking process:
Whereas empathy is harder to come by with a lack of human interaction, this put more of burden on the testing process, meaning the presentation I have initially come up with have gone through an evolution, based off of what questions I am repeatedly addressing.
For example, I had no idea upon first creating the first presentation that many questions would come in the form of "what is the difference between UX and UI - a subject I always considered pretty obvious at least to me.
This is what Chip Heath and Dan Heath call the Curse of Knowledge in their book Made to Stick - a bias suggests I assume what my students already know. My initial presentation didn't address this UX/UI difference due to a lack of empathy on my part.
What I did discover through plenty of testing (namely, asking students to introduce themselves in the chatroom and tell me a bit about their story) is what kinds of students end up coming to Thinkful webinars. They can be grouped into a few categories:
There are more of course, but these groups tend to come in most often.
More questions about what to measure for testing are below:
Factors that proved to be a good call into the presentation included statistics on the career outlook for UX-related jobs. Using visual storytelling like the graph below ended up giving students the best possible look inside an industry they were not yet a part of.
From reputable places like NNGroup, I was able to create a sense of authority when presenting User Experience to a group of strangers in a chatroom. Whereas the timeframe only allowed for 90 minutes, I created content as general enough that would imply all types of UX-related jobs have commonalities, while still mentioning specific details regarding popular job titles that are not alike at all, such as Visual Designers and User Researchers.
One more key way to keep a user's attention in a 90 minute presentation is to use real-world examples. For example, the well-known welcome screen below is used to demonstrate what Visual Hierarchy is.
Using brands to tell a familiar story is another method to keep a large crowd's attention.
Apple's rise and influence over other brands can be what Pauline Brown calls Aesthetic Intelligence, a modern roadmap for creating business value. Imagine how many seven year olds are able to easily navigate an iPhone due to its ease of functionality, its learnable finger prompts like swipes or clicks, and its universally easy to navigate interface. This wasn't always the case, as computers of the 1980's and 90's were operated by a much trimmer audience. This can be attributed to many things, but overall, UX is at the heart of it all.
With knowledge of a userbase, understanding what needs these people want, a journey map explains the structure of what information needed to go into the webinar. With a limited amount of time, having ample time for each of these sections is imperative.
With the interest in a UX-focused curriculum, the initial UX webinar presentation eventually branched out into three separate presentations, each with a more specific focus. As of early 2020, these webinars focused exclusively on User Experience are running multiple times a week, gaining in popularity, especially as compared with the more established Web Development and Data Science options. The virtual webinars as a whole, have been the highest performing outlet for gaining new student signups for Thinkful's program. UX continues this trend.Creating the content was an ongoing process, usually refactored based off on common questions received. As someone with classroom experience, it was especially challenging to present information that was engaging enough for an audience I couldn't see, while still not daunting enough to chase them away. Little bits of questioning to keep the audience interested and asking questions was especially helpful. Every webinar is different, but since they feed off the host's energy, it's important to keep my own energy high and hope it rubs off on them.