Crafting Engaging Learning Experiences Through App Design Making the app easy to navigate adds to the overall user experience

By Sushant Rampuria

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Yaroslav Zubko

Yaroslav Zubko is a Ukraine-born visual arts expert and the ex-Design Director at Riiid Labs, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) company in the space of eLearning and educational apps development. Previously, he held the position of Lead Designer at Tinder.

Throughout his tenure at Riiid Labs, he established and managed a design team while being a lead designer of certain projects. He worked on an application aiding American students in their SAT test readiness - the SAT is a standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States. He also developed the mobile app DE Saber for Colombian students preparing for the Saber 11, high school exit examination exam for college admission.

Yaroslav shares his insights on the evolution of eLearning and educational apps, through the lens of gamification and user experience.

Elevating Learning Experiences: The Impact of eLearning Combined with Gamification

To create a new synapse in the brain, you typically need to repeat an action 400 times, unless the process is engaged in play, in which case it only takes 10 to 20 repetitions. That is why nowadays, it's nearly impossible to find an educational app without gamified elements. With its increasingly recognized benefits, gamification is projected to grow by 28 percent an average annually from the present until 2030

Gamification involves integrating game elements, such as levels, rewards, and badges, into non-game scenarios to infuse them with enjoyment and motivation. The primary objective of gamification is to heighten engagement and motivation, foster increased participation.

And it works. In a study from 2014 to 2017 covering three student generations in two computer science courses, it was found that the group with gamification had an 86.25% attendance rate, exceeding the 61% of the control group. Additionally, the gamified cohort achieved a 56.25% completion rate for homework, while the control group had a lower rate at 18.5%.

Another survey among 124 students at Woodbury School of Business, Utah Valley University, found that 67.7% of students felt that the gamified course was more motivating than the one with a more traditional approach to teaching.

A Playful Pursuit of Rewards

In our daily routines, gamification surrounds us, subtly influencing our behavior through enticing incentives. Whether it's collecting nine stamps at the coffee shop to earn the tenth cup for free or striving to achieve the 10,000-step goal set by our fitness tracker, these are all games played with our consciousness. Their purpose: to motivate, trigger happiness-inducing hormones, and capture our interest through active participation. In these moments, the ordinary transforms into a captivating experience.

Motivation-boosting elements such as high scores, progress bars, badges, work similarly in benefiting in-app education by inspiring users to progress more swiftly. Moreover, gamification features such as leaderboards and countdowns create a competitive environment, motivating users to continue learning.

My initial encounter with educational app design was enriched by my entrepreneurial experience founding Fluently, a mobile application dedicated to making language exchange an immersive and enjoyable experience.

The gamification elements implemented involved interactive quizzes, progress tracking through badges or rewards, and visually engaging elements like animations that made the learning process enjoyable and rewarding.

Likewise, these principles extend to other educational apps I was working on, placing a focus on integrating gamified elements and concepts into mobile applications and web interfaces.

How Essential is the UX/UI Elements in Educational Apps

Numerous factors influence app retention in educational applications, ranging from the level of entertainment, the information it encompasses, to the relevance of the content it imparts to its target audience.

Yet, among these important considerations, a pivotal factor influencing an app's effectiveness emerges: its design and the interactions it fosters within this gamified environment. This is backed by Research by the Federation of American Scientists. They highlighted that students could recall 20 percent of information from verbal instructions alone. When visuals were incorporated alongside an oral lecture, the retention rate increased to 30 percent.

Many individuals, particularly younger millennials and Gen Z, are already immersed in gaming culture, making them familiar with these engaging elements. To maximize the use of an app, you must aim toward the needs and expectations of students. And students are hard to impress. So the visual experience and interactive content engagement are paramount. The visuals, including graphics and animations, enhance user engagement and convey information effectively.

Striking the Balance: User-Friendly Design vs. Functionality

Designing an educational app goes beyond its beauty. The designer must focus on students' needs, their age, and their current educational progress and knowledge. It must also take into account the functionality, as well as how much users will enjoy using the app.

At Riiid Labs, we developed educational applications including DE Saber, which I've already mentioned, among other applications and educational platforms. Additionally, during my tenure at Riiid Labs, I served as the Creative Director for ConnecME Education, an international education company providing tailored solutions for schools, universities, and government departments.

Our goal was to encompass all target groups utilizing our applications, considering factors such as their educational background, and previous experience with e-learning tools. I take pride in contributing to the development of systems that cater to individual learning styles, ensuring a more effective and personalized learning experience for users.

Crafting an Intuitive Interface for DE Saber

For DE Saber, we learnt how individuals prepare for exams and catering to their needs. The app stands out due to its innovative approach, incorporating motion design and AI technology to personalize study plans and offer real exam questions.

We did it through extensive user research, held numerous brainstorming sessions, leveraging our collective expertise to innovate and create a truly standout application. My team and I conducted user interviews, delving into how individuals currently prepared for exams. The invaluable insights gathered during user exploration for DE Saber encompassed understanding users' diverse study habits, identifying their pain points in exam preparation, and discerning their preferences in learning methodologies and content presentation.

Understanding how individuals categorize questions into cognitive sections and link these question types with specific answering approaches proved invaluable. This insight empowered us to train our Al in identifying these logical clusters, allowing us to prioritize the most challenging ones. This, in turn, streamlined our preparation process, ensuring greater efficiency for users. This is how the concept of "the lowest hanging fruit" was born within the application. The lowest hanging fruit is the most challenging question pattern for a particular user. It's prioritized to the user first, so they can use their prep time in the most efficient way.

Infusing motion and interaction design elements became our hallmark, distinguishing DE Saber amidst competitors. The UI was crafted not just for functionality but to engage users seamlessly, making the learning process intuitive, interactive, and enjoyable. Incorporating cutting-edge AI technology, we enabled users to customize study plans, access real exam questions, and receive personalized guidance from an AI tutor, all contributing to a dynamic and adaptive learning experience.

Navigating Diverse Audiences

When it comes to educational platforms with teachers involved, it's essential to consider that we now have another audience which has a fundamentally different perspective on digital tools compared to students. In DE Saber, we had the benefit of a pretty accurately identified user demographics even before we started user research. Specific elements were tailored for the specific age group of people that were going through the exam prep.

For those younger users, vibrant colors, playful animations, and gamified learning experiences were added to stimulate engagement. Contrastingly, if the product had older (presumably little less tech savvy) learners, emphasis would be placed on existing conventions, more conservative navigation patterns, and comprehensible visuals to ensure ease of use and understanding.

Making the app easy to navigate adds to the overall user experience. Additionally, providing continuous feedback is essential to keeping users engaged and encouraged throughout their interaction with the application.

These principles underscore the importance of intuitive interfaces, the incorporation of AI for personalized experiences, responsive design for various devices, and inclusivity for a diverse audience, all aimed at optimizing the overall user satisfaction and learning outcomes.

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