Designing to help kids learn

Ehioze Godspower Ebiowei
7 min readMar 10, 2021

Learning how to enhance the cognitive skills of kids in elementary school and increase their engagement on the platform

Logo

As humans learning starts from birth, from birth to age 5 a child learns at a speed unmatched the rest of his or her life! It is during these years — when more than 85 percent of a child’s brain is formed — that crucial brain connections are created.

Product Overview

SmartKids is an Edtech company in Nigeria that focuses on enhancing the cognitive skills of kids in elementary school. Since its launch SmartKids has struggled to keep users engaged with their products.

My goal is to work with the Product Management team to re-design the mobile app for users that will solve this problem. The mobile product will be used by the learners, aged 6–11 to learn.

Understanding how children learn

From age 6–11 children in Nigeria are in elementary school learning Math, English, Home economics etc. at these stage they are in their middle childhood years. At this age they are more aware of their surroundings, fast growth in mental ability and interested in reading and learning more about their environment.

Children have short attention spans and when they get tired of a task they can drop it, to do something else. Though there are other factors in understanding how they learn and why they get tired. I tried to name some below:

  1. How many distractions are nearby?
  2. How hungry or tired is the child?
  3. How interested are they in the activity?

To solve these challenge of keeping users engaged with the app, I needed to understand how children that age learn and why they are not engaging with the product.

My design goals were:

  1. Keep children engaged on the platform long enough to get better at learning (for example, 12 to 18 minutes per week for kids aged 6). Adding fun and creativity to the tasks in the product.
  2. Creating a game like structure that makes children enjoy using the product and also learn using games. Children love playing games.
  3. Setting a reward for passing a task. This keeps users motivated to continue using the product and learning.

“So how will we get children to stay engaged in our product?”

Starting with the Basics

The first thing I did was to read a case study a fellow designer did for kindergarten children, this helped me understand how children before the age of 6 -11 learn anything. You can checkout the case study here — https://uxplanet.org/designing-to-introduce-kindergarteners-to-reading-and-writing-73a79516c06.

I read articles on how children in elementary school learn and how to keep them engaged in activities, watched videos and also talked to some children around that age range. Talking to them I found out that were eager to use a product that math could be fun.

These helped me to understand what children do at that age, what are their interests and what influences their decisions.

Also to understand how parents play a role in their children learning, and the relationship between parents and middle childhood children.

Competitive Analysis

I looked out for existing solutions to this problem, trying to understand how they approached the problem. I looked at things I could learn and areas I think could need improvement.

This helped me understand how I would approach re-designing Smart Kids to keep our users engaged on the app.

What does success look like for us?

Before starting out with visual design, I decided to write down what would success look like for us. How can we say, we have done a good job?

I followed the principles and guides for designing for kids, some which included:

  1. Investment - If kids are going to spend time on your site or your application, they expect to receive some type of reward.
  2. Action - If it’s not moving, kids won’t use it. When designing for kids, you want to draw them into the interface.
  3. Flow - Kids like to have freedom, but don’t want to feel out-of-control in an interface.

Excerpts gotten from — https://www.lireo.com/five-principles-kids-designs/

Key Ideas for Smart Kids

Affordances & Interactions

Dashboard of SmartKids mobile application
  • Elementary school children love playing games, knowing this I created 3d shapes to create an engaging experience for our users. I paid particular attention to providing affordances on the system, by designing interactive elements with clear characteristics to indicate they are clickable and interactive. Making the home screen game like was to give users the sense of having fun while learning.
  • Giving users the ability to choose their favorite subjects, makes them feel in charge of the product. I decided to create a reward/achievements plan to reward users progress, this I believe will cause students to continue using the product.

Feedback and Sounds

Math Screen
English Screen
  • With the aim of keeping students on the app, I added the sound feature. Students can hear the questions asked and also record their answers. Children love feedback both visual and audio whenever they take an action. I factored this in my design by implementing feedback in the form of allowing users to record their answers, option of hearing a question read to the user, and voiceover sounds being synchronized with the content on the screen in real-time.
  • I added a progress bar to keep users abreast of their progress while learning, this serves as a motivation to continue learning and engaging them on the app.
Success Screen
  • I added a success screen when users get the correct answer for a question and a button to keep them playing albeit learning.

Interesting Content and Resources

Resource catalog
  • When I talked to a child in elementary school, it was interesting to see how much he wanted to learn about the world. I factored this in my design by adding interesting contents in the resource like short stories users can read, videos section to watch educative contents e.t.c
  • I made use of 3d and 2d icons to make the interface visually appealing for children.

Parents’ Section

I considered what role parents would play in the app and different use cases came to mind. Some of them are:

  1. Parents should be able to see what their children are learning.
  2. Parents can see time spent by their children on the app.
  3. Parents should see which subject their child is improving in and the one than need more work to be done.
  4. Parents should be able to add more than one child and see their progress on the dashboard.

Having all these at the back of my mind, I designed the parent’s dashboard to allow parents do all the above mentioned features to help improve their experience on the app

Parents’ Dashboard

Parents can click on the dropdown icon to see results for different children

The live prototyped link of smart kids mobile app:

https://www.figma.com/proto/7OVFnGX6QzdKxKT6ZqzMHf/Smartkids?node-id=39%3A0&viewport=-973%2C403%2C0.5&scaling=scale-down

Usability Testing

Usability testing is the practice of testing how easy a design is to use with a group of representative users. I carried out usability testing to test my design decisions using the live prototype link. I took note of what I wanted to find out from my usability testing:

  1. To know if the interface was easy to use and navigate
  2. Are they learning from the app?
  3. See how much they are enjoying using the product
  4. Know if they are having using the product and how to solve them

I carried out usability testing to validate some of my design assumptions and from the tests. I found out the following:

  1. They found the interface visually pleasing and like the 3d icons on the product.
  2. Loved the games featured as it allowed them have fun while learning

Learnings and Key Takeaways

  • Children in their middle childhood are always eager to learn and for people to listen to them, but the traditional method of learning proves dull and less interesting to them. Designing a fun and educative product that allows them to play educational games got them excited.
  • Parents need to be in the know of what their kids are learning and in which subject they need help in
  • Children minds are imaginative and we should be able to design products that would allow them to express themselves and encourage creativity.

Conclusion

Working on this project was very interesting as I got to learn about how children learn and use digital products. Looking forward to this project being implemented and seeing what I could improve and learn when users use the product.

Thank you for reading, you can reach out to me on twitter or check out my portfolio to see other more of my work.

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