The Online Academy

A collaborative online education platform for students to learn how to make iPhone games.

growth / product

OVERVIEW

Make School has mostly offered in-person educational expereriences. The idea of this project was to create an online version to run concurrently with the in-person term. This was a growth product and a fast build (4 weeks); we had the opportunity to do something experimental.

PROBLEM

Make School's in-person completion/success rates are very high (70%+), especially when compared to industry-reported computer science online education completion rates, which are between 15%-20%. How could these online numbers be improved? What's missing in Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs?

SOLUTION

We knew by talking to our in-person students that they thrived on the social, in-real-life aspects of the program. So, our idea was to focus on social features versus other avenues of product, e.g. video tutorials or gamification. A global chat room with direct message capability became the primary feature of the platform besides the learning material itself.

SPECIFICATIONS / BUILD NOTES

• Break up students into groups ("Pods")
• Pod members can see each other's progress on the Dashboard
• Enable students to ask their pod members for help (direct message)
• Chat app to include include global chat room

EXECUTION

First, I created a basic User Flow, mapping the different parts of the product. This was based on an internal meeting with the full product team: founder, marketing, development and design.
We're teaching iPhone games, so we wanted to make the branding game-y!
Top bar Navigation / Links
I knew from our in-person programs that students like to have the tutorials on one side and Xcode on the other, screen space is limited. So, all of the pages were built with this in mind: single column pages with small gutters (left/right margin). Navigation, for instance, is deliberatly a top bar to conserve horizantal space for page content.
Working with a developer, I wrote all of the mark-up (html/CSS), including the somewhat complicated chat window. If the user has the browser side-by-side Xcode as dicussed above, the Chat window is properly responsive and will overlay the page content.
We kept the features of the dashboard itself relatively simple: users can see their progress along with the progress of their "Pod" members. Students could chat with eachother in the Global chat, but we also ecouraged users to help and ask for help from those people in their own Pod.

RESULTS IN NUMBERS

• 300 students paid $100 for the Online Academy.
• 71 students (or ~24%) completed all of the tutorials.
• 18 (or 6%) pushed a game to the Game Showcase page.

These seem like modest numbers, but they're actually very good in comparison to most MOOCs (where the completion rate is on average between 15%-20%). We considered this a great start for a first version.

CONCLUSIONS AND FEEDBACK

I think the chat room achieved it's primary goal of making people feel like they were part of a community. Many student's questions were answered and conversations were had. Instructors were able to participate which gave Make School a good presence.

The chat room became a great place for user feedback. In a few days I was able to fix a number of UI/UX issues that students were having.

I think we were on the right track by splitting the students up into pods, but we fell short on mentorship/guidance. Students reported that they wanted more structure, like a weekly pod meeting with a Make School instructor.