Co-op Learning Library
The REI Co-op Expert Advice education library is the most comprehensive outdoor learning library in the world. In an effort to support current and potential customers who desire to get started or progress in their outdoor skills, the Expert Advice (EA) team developed a new curriculum-based approach. In my role as designer on the team, I contributed collaboratively and independently on the design, development, deployment, and maintenance of the catalogue of online Learning materials. Balancing business objectives with technology and resource constraints, I advocated for and executed new creative approaches to build innovative, learner-centric design solutions.
my role — instructional design, content strategy, visual and web design
the team — subject matter experts, writers, editors, content producers, devs
Historically a library of one-off articles, the EA learning library recently underwent a redesign and migration to a new CMS. This opened up the opportunity to stitch our articles together into a series.
Early series were built from existing content, pulling together articles of a common topic, identifying and filling gaps, and publishing them as a series. But those early “series” really served the function of a collection. In an early content strategy team huddle, I presented the hypothesis that our earliest iterations of a learning series resulted in some redundancies and shifts in tone, delivery, and layout from one piece to another.
When the team set out to build our first series entirely from scratch, I presented a different approach than what was previously done. We dove deeper into our reader’s behaviors and desired outcomes and drafted an expansive master outline. Next, we verified our outline with SMEs and a few target users and then divided it into digestible pieces that could be of value if consumed on their own or in its intended series progression.
In the end, we published a progression-based series that sought to serve both the novice and experienced-but-still-learning outdoor photographer.
Much of the work was a close collaboration between writers, editors, designers, subject matter experts, and program managers. Outside of my participation in joint strategy conversations, my primary role as designer was to drive the visual design and experience from early-stage concepts all the way through final delivery and publication.
With two designers on staff, we established style and interaction standards for the body of work; developed the layout, photography, and graphics (which often conveyed complex ideas); applied front-end dev skills to further our technological publishing tool; and published and maintained the learning experiences.
We first sought to create a first-rate online learning experience, but later built out additional collateral and formed new partnerships to reach into broader learning audiences and platforms. I personally worked with the program manager for in-person class offerings at REI, to share our Intro to Outdoor Photography content and assets. Now, our online experience has scaled to include the many outdoor photography instruction offerings in REI stores and in scenic areas nationwide. That same body of work has also expanded into new collateral for Pinterest and Instagram, and the team is exploring applications suited for in-store educational signage.
With a desire to elevate our learning experience even further, I served as Innovation Ambassador during two multi-day Innovation Days events. Alongside a team of developers, a motion designer, and visual designer, we explored new technological opportunities for approaching learning content.
The Innovation Days team identified the desire and need for motion in many of our educational articles, but our publishing platform remained a limiting factor. Our Innovation Days devs built new functionality that enabled the use of lazy load videos and our motion designer consulted on best use practices for an educational use. With this we launched a new creative approach to an existing training article. The new experience showcased a series of explainer videos and resulted in a 75% improvement in page load performance over the original experience.
As a result of that work, the EA team launched into a large collection of new training material and lazy load videos soon became the new norm when an explainer motion asset was needed to convey a complex concept. For example, when we later developed the highly technical series on mountaineering skills, the lazy load videos were once again used, to illustrate step-by-step techniques for some very technical mountaineering skills.
The EA team faced two large challenges in creating online learning experiences. While the migration to a new CMS opened up the opportunity for new series based functionality, it is generally not a tool built for educational and editorial use. This resulted in a number of publishing limitations and operational bugs, which inhibited innovation and adaptation for learner needs.
Secondly, the team lacked the resources to collect and leverage data to enhance and validate the learning experience (and any needed, but not yet identified, improvements). The content itself is well researched and vetted with our SME partners, but the experience could benefit from a thorough user experience analysis and investigation. However, quantitative data that we do have access to, in the form of user submitted ratings for individual articles, is extremely positive, with an average rating of 4.85 out of 5 stars.