Atlas Learning
Thy Mind, Thy Brain and Time
OVERVIEW

Atlas is a learning platform built for digital natives and meant to become one’s very own digital brain. It provides an individual learning environment, implementing a variety of groundbreaking tools for problem solving, reasoning and future thinking.

Initially I was asked to facelift an existing prototype. It soon turned out that the entire UX and navigation concept was highly confusing. I took a research and concept phase and started building a design system. Gradually we could bring screens into production and add new features to provide students with a motivating learning environment.

Responsibilities

UX Design Lead, user research, design system creation and maintenance, high fidelity screen design and flow testing through click-dummies, production design, hand off for development via zeplin.io

Mid 2017 – Mar 2018

Challange

Create a scalable design for a learning platform, while making UX the USP of the product.

To invent and deliver the future of learning

There are a lot of products out there trying to break into the digital education market. However, approach and scope are often similar, and products tailored for study and education usually remain quite bland. Learners get presented with courses, quizzes, multiple-choice tests, mildly interesting video lectures, sometimes interactive games for younger students. All in all, there’s not much to create real excitement. I mean REAL excitement and fascination.

Yet, it’s actually easy to identify what keeps people involved and engaged, we just have to look over to the video game industry that has been thriving for years! Why can’t educational products use the same mechanisms as games to impart useful knowledge, maybe even convert entire curricula into adventurous paths, that students can follow along without ever getting bored?

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Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that hiring a team of game designers is a workable solution.

Games are games, and they’re so much fun because they’re designed for fast progression. Education will unavoidably fail to deliver speedy rewards because it challenges your mind to grow and stretch at times. Similar to sports, there will be phases when more effort is required to reach the next level. And to overcome this strenuous phase, each learner needs an individual inner goal-setting to succeed. We do not learn just for the sake of learning like we play for the sake of playing. Instead, we learn when we want an outcome that we won’t have if we don’t change what we know. Often there is a lack of immediate benefit.

In my opinion, every educational product should cater to the individual needs of its users. So with Atlas, we didn’t just want to develop a solution for a broad audience and focus on quality content. We also took a lot of time and effort to think about how content should be presented to reach our user’s minds. One of our leading scientists, who’s also a professor of philosophy, often told me:

I think you, the designer, are responsible for bridging the last mile to the brain.

So when talking about presentation, I don’t just mean aesthetics, but interactions, contextuality, timing, visualizations and mental models. The interface was not to be set in stone; its parts and modules would rather fall into place, forming custom learning paths for each of our students.

When studying on-screen, there is also a lack of social interaction, an aspect you better do not underestimate. A school where kids are around peers is an exciting place just by itself. There are ways to mimic „teaming up“ with friends also on a digital platform. However, it’s not only done by implementing a forum and chat functionality.

We, product designers, should give students real opportunities to work in groups and achieve meaningful goals together

Peer groups became indispensable parts of our learning architecture. New topics were often presented as open-ended problems to be solved. Students had to come up with their own strategies and were told to share these with their class-peers, to encourage group problem-solving. Our platform also attempted to enhance self-perception and -management by providing models that showed students what they are required to learn. Models included peers, teachers, and characters in videos or stories. Students could identify with these models because they felt they were similar in particular ways. Models allowed them to see precisely what steps lied ahead of themselves. 

On Atlas, we tried to establish metrics like the learner’s current situation, general preferences and typology as fundamental parts of our UX concept. A vital element of the platform onboarding was a personality test, in which essential character traits, relevant to the acquisition of knowledge, were identified for each student. Was the student a bottom-up or a top-down learner, did he memorize things better visually or through hearing and what intrinsic motivations could he muster or channel for learning? All of these aspects required close collaboration between UX and cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists. This approach struck me as quite unique and truly valuable.