Imagine you work at a language school and are faced with the following problem by your Director of Studies:

“Despite graduating from ABC Academy with a B2 level of English, students are still having difficulty being employed by local English speaking companies.”


Colin, DOS, ABC Academy

If you were presented with the above situation, what would be your way of tackling it? One of the main challenges facing ELT professionals today is how to deeply understand our learners and their problems in order to help them better.

At ELTjam we’ve developed a practical, learner-centred approach to product design that we call Learner Experience Design. We work with organisations to apply this process to learner and teacher problems and come up with solutions; whether that’s an app, a full online course, or a lesson plan or syllabus. To show this approach in action , Katy and Berta ran an IATEFL workshop to showcase a process we use, the ‘Learner Experience Design Sprint’.

Deriving originally from Google Ventures for product development, Wikipedia defines a design sprint as:

“A time-constrained, five-step process that uses design thinking, with the aim of reducing risk when bringing a new product, service or feature to the market.”

Although traditionally a design sprint is spread out over one working week, working through one of the five steps each day, when ELTjam run design sprints, we add in an additional focus on pedagogy, content and interaction, also taking into account the core elements of a good user experience.  

We also sometimes make the sprint a bit shorter to fit in with our clients availability. And for the IATEFL workshop, we decided to try and run the quickest design sprint in history (only 45min!) with teams of teachers, publishers and trainers to find a solution for students at ABC Academy.

Below we run you through the stages of a sprint and how we applied that in the workshop.

The five stages of a design sprint

Every Monday of a design sprint starts off with mapping the problem. So, attendees began their 45 minute workshop sprint with a student interview, hearing the problem from the learner’s perspective, and worked together to dive deeper into the learner’s behaviours, motivations and challenges to write a ‘problem statement’ thinking about what the students at ABC academy really need, and why.

Fast forward to Tuesday day two, where the focus is on generating as many ideas for possible solutions. Attendees got creative and explored different options with a timeboxed session of Crazy 8’s sketching. Working alone they sketched  ‘crazy’ solutions in answer to Monday’s problem statement on colourful postit notes thinking laterally to create multiple unique ideas.

Problem statement and solution ideas from one of the workshop groups

On day three, it’s time to make the big decision about which of the many ideas to take forward for the rest of the sprint. To simplify the decision making process, we employed a democratic voting system. Attendees first had a chance to explain their ideas, then voted silently using a set number of sticky dots to show their preferences – we call this a ‘dot-mocracy’!

Due to time constraints, we didn’t work through days four and five, but were impressed by the amount and range of ideas generated in this short session. To finish off the week, day four focuses on turning the winning ideas into working prototypes, which are ready for testing with real learners on the final day. For this challenge, this might have meant writing a sample of learning content, building wireframes, or designing an in-person scenario to practise the language in.

This workshop showed that by using processes from product design, you can quickly move from problems to creative solutions. These ultimately end in learner centred products that really cater to a learner’s needs, and as demonstrated at IATEFL this year, this can be done by anyone in an education or ELT context.

We encourage you to try it out! Check out the slides of the session here, join us at InnovateELT on 17-18th May in Barcelona for another design sprint session, or drop us a line if you’d like us to come and run a design sprint with your team!

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