MindTap Builder

eLearning, UX

Curating Content for Online Courses

Problem to Solve

MindTap is a next generation digital learning platform, designed and built from the ground up by Cengage Learning. Beyond the visual design, apps, and learning path experience, the workflow design for building MindTap courses and ebooks was business critical. With hundreds of ebooks and online courses to build and get to market, Cengage needed an efficient and collaborative way to deliver on their digital strategy.

The needs of several personas were targeted for this project: Course Producers, internal admins responsible for the production of ebooks and course masters; Course Care Admins, internal folks who supported academic departments in their adoption of the textbooks and online courses; and last but certainly not least, the college Instructors who taught the courses. This administration tool would need to support the creation of new titles, editing, copying and creating snapshots, in addition to role-based permissions for course customization and distribution.


Outside vendors, typically located offshore, were responsible for the semantic mark-up of textbook content based on a universal schema. Transforming the marked-up documents into browser-readable code was both time-consuming and prone to errors. We needed a clear way to surface problems and communicate status to all personas involved. Instructional designers were a scarce resource, and their collaboration with Editorial was necessary to locate available content and curate learning paths.


The scope of MindTap Builder was huge, and we tackled small increments every sprint, beginning with the creation and management of ebooks and courses by Producers. Most frequently, they needed to create a new master by first selecting the textbook content to render. Once the marked-up content was transformed without errors, the Course Producer could begin assembling a learning path to structure the course and add assignments. When finished, the course or stand-alone ebook was published and adopting institutions could use snapshots based on the published masters to customize for their specific courses.


I designed a series of wireframes to flesh out interface ideas for the Admin Dashboard starting with the Managing Masters view. Type-ahead search, quick filtering by type and status, as well as sorting by modified date, were deemed essential to wading through the sheer volume of courses that would be created. List and card views were explored, and ultimately the card view drew more visual attention to the status of the masters, while providing a modern interface for accessing secondary actions like viewing info, change history, or making a working copy.

Building a learning path involves grouping and sequencing activities into learning units. A repeatable method was designed for creating, editing, specifying options and assigning due dates for all activity types including app-based content from YouTube, Google Docs, Kaltura, SlideShare, Flickr, blogs, and many more.


I also designed a way for both Instructors and Course Producers to annotate the assigned reading material with their own notes or social media, while displaying the appropriate creative commons attributions. Entering “Edit” mode while viewing a reading activity provided context-specific controls for added and deleting inline content.


The development of MindTap Builder moved at an accelerated pace, and the Admin Dashboard resembled interactive wireframes for a long time. New functionality was added to this admin view on a regular basis to serve the needs of a variety of personas. A true dashboard, featuring highly visual, summary information and notifications personalized to the user, would have made MindTap Builder a more delightful, and highly collaborative experience.


Wendy Constantine, senior ux designer (lead)

Many thanks to the collaborative design efforts of:
— Michael Hairston, ux architect
— Scott Whitmore, ux manager
— Rob Dumas, executive director of ux
— Tim Brown, ux designer