Several members of industry and academia have asked me recently how I go about teaching UX. One way I’ve successfully done so is through service-learning.
What Is Service-Learning?
Service-learning puts students in the position to learn about a topic while at the same time asking them to serve their local community in a way that makes sense, given the topic of the course. It typically is learning that encourages:
- Reflexivity: Students reflect on their service to the community in order to fuel their learning by critically interrogating their experiences.
- Reciprocity: Both students and community members receive mutual benefit.
- Place-based approaches: Service-learning courses typically focus on a local group, organization, or individual in need of service.
How Can You Teach UX Through Service-Learning?
Let’s face it: UX is hard to learn and hard to teach out-of-context. Unless you have students join design teams to help build a digital product or service, it can be difficult to help them understand concepts like prototyping, user research, usability, information architecture, and content strategy.
Teaching UX through a service-learning approach allows teachers to simulate just such an experience, however, by:
- Asking students to perform UX research on the website of a local organization in exchange for sharing any findings with members of that organization.
- Partnering as a course with a particular organization that is in high need of UX research and whose problem is complex enough that it can be scaffolded throughout the entire course.
Like on-the-job training, service-learning encourages students to think on their feet and to focus on solving actual problems through their learning. More importantly, it provides a contextualized, complex environment in which students are encouraged to try out the concepts they are learning on a real world problem.
Service-learning can be of use to any professional who is interested in students or trainees learning through doing and reflecting, rather than just passively digesting new concepts and practices.
To learn more about service-learning, check out my chapter in the book Service-Learning to Advance Social Justice in a Time of Radical Inequality: