The Open University

Agency: RedEye

UX Research Informs Direction of The Open University’s Digital Transformation Project

The Challenge

As part of a move to further understand and develop the online study experience, The Open University’s (OU) Online Student Experience Team recognised a need to develop a new set of core student personas that would remain relevant for a period of at least five years.

The personas needed to present a comprehensive picture of people who are currently studying with the OU, people who are thinking about studying with the OU, and people who are currently studying with other online learning providers. This would include their expectations of the learning experience, their study behaviour, and how those translate into their key study drivers and needs.

The OU selected RedEye Optimisation (REO) to help them deliver this project, because their proposed approach was designed to not only deliver the personas, but also to provide a detailed report and rich set of insights into the student experience.

The Strategy

1. Current data and insights were reviewed

The OU had accumulated plenty of student data through various research studies conducted over the years. To ensure its activities would deliver maximum value, the REO team undertook a comprehensive review of this, identifying information that could be used in the development of the personas and confirming information gaps that needed to be filled by new research.

2. Meetings with the OU team were held to dig deeper

To support the data review, a series of meetings were held with key people within the OU. This process enhanced REO’s understanding of the existing data, the overall goals of the digital redesign and the usage and requirements of the new set of personas.

3. Group research with students was carried out

A total of three focus group sessions were undertaken, each comprising of eight students, recruited professionally to match the brief provided by REO. The sessions focused on the critical areas of understanding the current and future needs of the students, along with the expectations of distance learning students.

The research also covered how the students might be influenced by wider digital experience and the changing landscape of online learning. Two of the groups involved students already studying with competitor providers and the third featured OU students exclusively. A discussion guide was developed and agreed in advance, along with a post-session questionnaire designed to capture key profiling information.

4. A comprehensive findings report was created

The focus groups delivered rich and far-reaching findings that not only informed the set of personas, but also the wider OU digital transformation programme. All research was collated into a detailed report, including findings in areas such as, reasons for study, student lifestyle and importance of tutor interaction.

5. The OU personas were finalised

Following the group sessions, the REO and OU teams met to explore the feedback received and to agree the key emerging student types.

REO then produced and delivered a set of eight new student personas that reflected distinct lifestyle situations, behaviours and study needs.

The Results

The breadth and richness of the insights delivered by REO generated interest across the OU, enabling the Online Student Experience Team to roll-out an engagement programme that included:

  • A series of briefing workshops across the OU to senior and interested staff
  • Formal launch of both the findings and insights report and the set of personas.

The team at the OU reported that as the programme was rolled out, they received briefing and workshop requests from an increasingly broad range of OU units who clearly acknowledged the value of this research.

Finally, the results achieved helped further fuel the OU’s drive towards a stronger and more embedded culture of user-centred development.

From The Client

“RedEye have demonstrated the power of their approach to deliver valuable insights into the experience and need of our own students, and across the wider online learning marketplace. Their findings will help to future-proof our ongoing development.

They delivered findings and insights that went beyond our original plans, contributing not only to the development of the online student experience, but also to the standing of this department within the university.” Senior Product Development Manager

See the full case study here.