Visualizing Progress at Bloc

How do you keep a student on track? If you've ever pulled an all-nighter to turn in an assignment, you know that it's easy to procrastinate, lose focus, and fail.

Our students are learning entirely online, and it's up to them to set their schedule and complete the work on their own time. This takes a lot of self-discipline, and it's not easy. So how do we keep students on track, and help them complete work in a timely, responsible manner?

Early in 2013, we had cohorts: students would start in batches every month, and progress through the curriculum independently, but visible of each others actions. This reinforced accountability from someone beside your mentor. However, we had a few problems: we had quite a few mentors, but a low amount of students, so sometimes our cohorts would consist of 2 or 3 students, feeling very empty. And, student discussion rarely fostered, since the student-mentor relationship was so 1:1. But we saw our greatest gains there. We retired cohorts and moved to a 1:1 model, which had interesting implications for progress.

Our next iteration focused highly on the mentor-student relationship. The mentor-student relationship became stronger, and as a result, mentors took more care in each individual student's needs. This led to some interesting product implications: mentors began tweaking the curriculum to fit student goals, so we added more custom products to support our mentors' and students' successes. However, this had interesting implications for visualizing progress: if each student was so individual in their pursuits, we could only give the roughest guidelines for what we thought a student should contribute and when. However, for many students, this was too open ended, and we received feedback of students feeling lost, confused, and frustrated.

We made the choice to move farther away from a fully customizable curriculum and focus on a highly-structured, outcomes-drived product. And so, we altered the interface to reflect this. We gave students clear expectations and actionable goals for what to accomplish on a weekly basis. This most recent iteration has been met with successful feedback from students and mentors.

Next steps: there's always more calibration to be done for progress. And with a focus on job prep, our interface should emphasize this more.