Suggested Improvements to the HBX Learning Platform

HBX CORe (Credential of Readiness) is a 120–150 hour certificate program on the fundamentals of business from Harvard Business School. CORe is comprised of three courses — Business Analytics, Economics for Managers, and Financial Accounting — developed by leading Harvard Business School faculty and delivered in an active learning environment based on the HBS signature case-based learning model.

That’s the official description of the course on the HBX website. If you asked me, my answer to what CORe is would be “the best damn online learning experience you can buy today”. For someone who has signed up for more than a gazillion different online courses this was the FIRST one that I completed end to end. It was a completely engaging experience for me and I would recommend this wholeheartedly to anyone with an interest to improve on their business knowledge.

Here’s an excerpt of a letter I wrote to the faculty with some suggestions for the platform:

My name is Joshua and I was part of the CORe July 2015 Cohort. I’ve been meaning to send these suggestions in for a while now but I never really made myself sit down and document this. I have a huge interest in product development and I documented these few suggestions to help improve the overall experience on the HBX Learning Platform.

Before I begin, I have to say that my overall experience within the program was great. I never felt the same level of engagement for any online course that I enrolled in to and CORe was the first one that I actually completed. I did however note a few areas for improvement in terms of platform usage.

My biggest gripe was the inability to highlight text effectively. While there was a highlighter feature within the platform, the way it was implemented was better suited for a touch screen device where we could use a finger or a stylus to highlight areas we liked. However, the CORe platform is primarily used on the desktop and highlighting with a mouse or a touchpad with a free form highlighter, was not such a good idea.

Suggestion 1 — Better click to Highlight

My suggestion is to implement a click to highlight feature where in the midst of taking a module, I find a few lines of text that I believe would help me with my understanding and memory, I would just click/select the text and the option to highlight the text would appear.

This was implemented perfectly on the Medium site (www.medium.com). I was trying to find a short video/gif to illustrate it without you even leaving this email but I couldn’t find one. If you want to better understand what I mean, click this link: https://medium.com/the-story/introducing-highlights-a4df69e8ed43#.f97ivh3c9 — The Medium team explained the reason behind the method to highlight text.

Suggestion 2 — Storing and presenting highlighted text in a Newsfeed

The second suggestion is to allow for the storing of the highlighted text in a kind of newsfeed. This is an illustration of how it was implemented in the Bible App:

IMG_5218.PNGBy showing me in a newsfeed manner the areas which I’ve highlighted, this could be used as a simple way for me to quickly jog my memory during idle time. i.e. On the train/bus, I could just whip open the newsfeed and scroll through the highlights that I’ve found interesting, and reinforce the learning by thinking about it during idle time.

Suggestion 3 — Feeding highlights into a Flashcard app like Quizlet

Another possible way to help with recall of course content without major development done on the HBX platform is to send the highlights into a flashcard app (i.e. Quizlet). This means HBX doesn’t need to immediately mobile optimise the HBX platform, and students can easily use Quizlet to study (This was something I noticed which was very commonly used within my cohort). Depending on privacy or IP issues, we could set the created cards to be private only to the user who highlighted it. Quizlet has an existing API which allows for the creation of cards through an external application (https://quizlet.com/api/2.0/docs). This would make it easier for the HBX development team to implement it. This also builds into the community element for studying. By sharing flashcards which students have created, we can measure engagement and the effectiveness in which a particular concept was explained. For example, we can identify which was the most highlighted sentence, paragraph and replicate the style of explanation to ensure the most number of students identify with it.

Suggestion 4 — Contextual Annotations/Comments

The next area of improvement was on the commenting function. My biggest issue was that comments were not contextual. When reading other people’s comments, sometimes, I would wonder, where were they referring to? Or where were they facing this problem? This makes it slightly more difficult for people to help their peers. If we want to encourage peer learning, let’s remove as much friction as possible, and hopefully, with that, we would see an improved level of engagement as users would be able to immediately understand the context of a question/problem, and be immediately able to address that.

Here’s an example of a good implementation of annotations/comments within a news site. Quartz has done this pretty well:

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When you make a text selection, a + button pops up and if you click the +, you’ll be prompted with a right sidebar that asks you what would you like to annotate the text selection with. Here’s a short video that illustrates this without me writing a whole paragraph –https://youtu.be/GAtlnh34tbY

While implementing a feature like this with may seem like quite a bit of work, I believe the outcome would be an improvement in the current engagement with course content. There are other ways to possibly execute this. There is an available tool called Fundamine which allows you to implement these kinds of annotations on the site with just a small snippet of code. (http://www.fundamine.com/publishers.html?ref=producthunt) This could be done on a simple test site with a small group of users who are running a beta version of the HBX platform and feedback could be obtained from them to see if this is something worth implementing.

These suggestions may very well have been implemented in the newer versions of the HBX Learning Platform and if they are, I would love to know how it’s going!