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5 Ways to Include Student Voice in Learning Design

5 Ways to Include Student Voice in Learning Design

Just like any other well-designed experience, great learning experiences have to start with a deep understanding of your learners. But kids today...amirite? In all seriousness, it can be hard to understand the motivations and needs of youth you’re trying to reach. Luckily, there are some easy-to-implement tactics you can use to start incorporating student voice into your learning design right away.

Involving youth in the design of learning experiences is not just a nice idea. It’s actually well supported in research and practice as a means of developing more impactful programs and interventions. In Design Thinking, the process of developing empathy for users is the first step in a designing great products, services and experiences.  There’s evidence that Design Thinking leads to improved results for business and industry. And in much of the educational research around youth engagement and participation, there is evidence that, “...listening closely to what students say about their school experiences can be beneficial to adults and educators for understanding topics or problems and for rethinking practices.”

Before you start, begin by thinking about how deeply you want to engage youth in your process. Are you looking for a few quick ideas to influence your next design iteration, or are you willing to dive deeper? Could youth play a role in designing learning with you?

The Hart's Ladder framework is a simple way to think about the different levels of engagement youth might have in your learning design process.

The Hart's Ladder framework is a simple way to think about the different levels of engagement youth might have in your learning design process.

Ask yourself:

  • What are your goals / intended outcomes for youth involvement in your learning design?
  • In reflecting on the work you do, how much voice do youth usually have? Are you happy with that, or are looking to make a change?
  • What are the benefits to you of involving youth in your learning design process? What might be some drawbacks of doing so?

Once you have a sense of where you are and where you’d like to go, it’s time to figure out how to engage youth in your process. Here are five ways to consider, ranging from the easiest (tokenism or informing) to the most difficult to launch.

1. Do some eavesdropping (in the name of science, of course)

Business all over the world are using Social Media Listening to learn about their customers and their needs. It can be a sophisticated, metrics-driven practice, or you can do it on the cheap. Essentially, you follow your users and their conversations on the social platforms on which they’re gathering. By observing interactions - not necessarily influencing them - you can learn a lot about what your users value. Find out what platforms the youth in your community use to connect with one another, and hang out there. You’ll learn a lot in a short amount of time, without having to become too social media savvy yourself.

2. Conduct a few interviews

User interviews are the hallmark of design thinking and the empathy phase. These are easy to conduct and can teach you a ton about your students. The Stanford d.school offers a number of methods for conducting useful and high-impact interviews. The most important thing to remember is that you’ll want to interview a good cross-section of your students. Resist the urge to interview just the high-achievers. You’ll want to understand as much of your audience as possible. Developing personas can help you identify who to interview.

3. Host a focus group

WestEd has developed a wonderful and easy-to-use protocol for focus groups called Student Listening Circles. I love this protocol, because it is designed in such a way that it truly respects and honors the youth participants. And to make it even better, they’re easy to implement with youth of all ages.

4. Build a youth advisory board

Perhaps you don’t just want youth to inform your design process. Maybe you want them to be a part of the process. A youth advisory board is a great way to empower youth and keep them involved throughout the entire design process. Consider your youth advisory board as your go-to gut check on your learning design, sharing iterations and your work as you build it out. These tips can help you get started quickly.

5. Invite youth to join your design team

Of course, the best way to include student voice in learning design is to recruit youth to co-design the experience with you. Tapping students to be a part of your design team elevates them beyond mere informers of the work to true owners. While this can be difficult, it can be incredibly rewarding. For example, students at Alpha Public Schools served as members of design teams that would rethink their high school experience. 

How do you engage youth in your design process?

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