Peer Learning in Circles of Accountability
Fostering goals for continual learning, especially after graduating from college and entering the workforce, can be daunting to do on your own. The mentors that seemed so readily available in college are harder to find in professional life. Why not join a circle of peers to help encourage you towards your professional development goals?
Problem to Solve
In the very early stages of Circles, the founder proposed that personal commitment and accountability are essential if you want to reach your goals for professional development. This peer learning application was designed to do just that: bring circles of people together online through a guided, synchronous video chat platform to encourage learners on their paths towards growth.
The concept was in the early stages of prototyping when I became involved. Team members were scattered from coast to coast, and across several continents. An entirely remote band of collaborators brought unique challenges and freedoms. Communication across so many time zones was thrilling and entirely possible, yet often asynchronous and required planning. To validate the market need and potential for the app, a relatively low investment was initially made before additional funding would become reality. As native mobile apps were not in the budget, the web app would need to be responsively designed for use on mobile and desktop devices.
There were three components to this project: designing the “sorting app” for matching new learners into circles; the design of interface for the group video chat, and finally documenting the initial branding style guide. I began with visualizing the user flow for the sorting app, which was continually refined with team feedback. This diagram modeled the components needed from end to end, which aided in development planning and content creation.
Next, each step of the intake process was outlined in wireframes. After receiving an email invitation, the learner would login with LinkedIn credentials and learn about how Circles works, what’s in it for them, and the commitment required. Then the learner created their profile, defined their goals and ranked them by priority.
Then the fun began. Learners watched a short video from the founder about what he wants to be when he grows up. Learners were then prompted to record a short video to introduce themselves and share their learning goals. Other learners were able to watch the videos and decide in a Tinder-like fashion how well they match with other learners before joining a circle. The time commitment was also important to reiterate, and learners selected times they are available for Circle meetings online.
The interface for the group video chat provided more interesting challenges. The guide is responsible for facilitating the discussions and keeping the group on topic. To encourage participation from everyone, when a learner speaks, their image enlarges and a timer starts. As happens with synchronous video chat, the interface also needed to plan for poor connections and audio-only participants. Text chat was also needed to enable sideline conversations while not interrupting the current speaker.
As with any new concept, pivots and modifications proved necessary. The Tinder-like concept was not ultimately the best choice for building circles, as the pool of participants was not yet large enough to be effective. Google hangouts provided a great model and starting point for the interaction design, while the learning aspects of facilitating the group chat were simple but helpful additions to provide more value than hangouts for peer learning and professional development.
Many thanks to the collaborative design efforts of:
Seth Syberg, Product Owner
Susan Kaup, Marketing
Lucy Richards, Circles Guide