Optimize both for Learning (Brain) and UX (Heart)

Optimizing for the user experience is really important.  A new curriculum designer focuses too much on trying to make the course comprehensive without thinking how introducing new topics or new assignments will impact the user experience.

A good exercise is to plot how the users would feel from the beginning of the course to the end of the course and where you would track their learning happiness on a scale of 0-10.  How would this graph look based on the current course?  How would it look when you introduce new concepts, remove concepts, rearrange concepts, add certain assignments, remove certain assignment, update an existing assignment to include more instructions or less instructions?

There needs to be a balance between learning objectives and optimizing student's happiness.  You could for example create a tutorial based training or a LV 1 concept based training (but where you outline everything the student must know to complete the assignments).  These type of courses would get high ratings from the users, in a way deceiving the users that they are learning a lot when in fact, they are really just learning how to follow directions.  In my experience, whenever I design a curriculum or review an existing curriculum, I imagine two graphs.

For example, whenever I review a course, most of the courses fall into either of these three buckets:

Type A: Low learning score but High UX score

Leading causes:  The course is most likely too tutorial based.  The instructors connects too many dots for the students where the students have to just follow directions to do all the assignments. The assignments are quite good though and gives perceptions to the students that they are learning, when in fact, students become more reliant on tutorials to build anything.  Students cannot connect more than a few dots themselves.  We have failed as instructors even if students give high curriculum NPS.

Type B: High learning score but Low UX score

Leading causes: The course is really good, in terms of helping students become self sufficient and helping students connect large number of dots themselves to create almost anything with that technology but students don't feel good along this journey.  Most often, the reason students feel this way is because:

1. Instructors have failed to explain WHY the course is taught this way or WHY certain concepts are important.  They focused too much on the HOWs.  The solution is simple.  Have the instructor create an overview video where they explains the WHYs (why that topic is important, why the instructor designed to teach the course this way, what is intentionally not going to be taught, etc). If the students complain and say the course is not teaching X, Y, and Z, proactively address either why you are intentionally not teaching X, Y, and Z in the overview video OR decide whether concepts X, Y, and Z are must to know concepts or nice to know concepts or no need to know concepts.  If it's a must to know concept, add those into the curriculum and design assignments around it also.  If they are a nice to know concepts, add those at the end, once students have learned the fundamentals.  If it is a no need to know concepts, no need to add them.

2. The assignment landscape is probably really off.  The course typically that has these graphs are similar to asking students to climb Mount Everest after giving them a 5 hour lecture on what they need to know.  Yes, students have gained a lot of strength by climbing the mountain, but a lot of students have given up because of the course.  Instead, set it up so that it's more like 20 minute lecture, followed by really well designed exercises, another 20 minute lecture, followed by really well designed exercises, etc, where you're helping them go from LV 1 -> LV 2 -> LV 3 -> LV 4-> LV 5 and so forth.  Remember if you never went for any hiking, asking you to climb Mt Everest starting on your first day would be really hard.  Guide them through the journey by giving important information throughout their journey.  Gauge the difficulty of each assignment and do NOT give them a LV 10 assignment when they are only LV 2 yet.  Build them up where they build confidence through doing the assignments.  Too difficult assignments destroy confidence.  Too easy assignments doesn't build confidence at all and mostly is a waste of time.  Design really effective assignments and students will appreciate you and gain confidence as they level up.

Type C: Low learning score and Low UX score

Unfortunately a course that looks like this is the worst possible course.  Mostly likely, the following are why the course is structured like this:

1.  The instructor is trying to teach way too much.  The instructor is most likely teaching too many concepts or build a comprehensive course that covers must to knows, nice to knows, and no need to knows.  In fact, the instructor probably have failed to communicate to the students which concepts that are taught in the course are must to knows, nice to knows, or no need to knows.  The instructor may not even know which concept fall into each of the three buckets as they may not have seriously pondered that question.  First, the instructor must really evaluate each concepts and put each concepts into each of the three buckets.  Once that is done, rearrange the course and really simplify the course, only first teaching the must to knows, and designing an effective assignment landscape that can really help students level up quickly.

2. The instructor probably went straight into the HOWs instead of focusing on the WHYs or addressing emotional needs of the students.  It's critical to address emotional needs of the students including explains the WHYs.

Type S: High learning score and High UX score

Ideally all your courses look like this.  It is indeed possible to create a course with high learning score and high UX score.  Once the course achieve this status, keep an eye as both students and other instructors would say your course is great but your course is not teaching concept A, B, C, ... Z, and it would be great if you could only add those.

Note that these temptations although strong, you got to remember which concepts are must to knows, nice to knows, and no need to knows.  For concepts that are nice to knows, again, once the must to knows are addressed and people have leveled up, create a separation section on the nice to knows, and let students know up front that they are nice to knows and why you didn't include those in the fundamental must to know sections.  Students will appreciate that you added these concepts into the nice to know buckets (as long as you've explained to them why they are nice to knows and not must to knows).

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