• Smart.fm: Why Goals are the new Lists

    Part of the Smart.fm iPhone App Story

    While Dan is busy coding away at the iPhone App, I wanted take this time to share about our first project with smart.fm, a project to reimagine the smart.fm web experience!

    smart.fm Case Study Header

    What’s in a name? What we call something can have a profound impact on the way we think about it. And changing the way we think about something can have powerful implications on what we design and how we evaluate it. For smart.fm, the ah-ha moment came when we realized that it’s about Goals, not Lists.

    Smart.fm is a learning community founded on a powerful technology that equips users to memorize anything — from the Capitals of the World to Japanese Vocabulary to the names of various Heart Murmurs. Today, you learn using Lists. A List is a set of content about a topic that is typically managed by a single person or a content partner. While Lists are a straightforward organizing principle, they don’t form natural hubs of activity. It’s hard to rally around a list.

    Smart.fm partnered with Adaptive Path to transform the site into a “motivating, social world of learning.” Collaborating closely with smart.fm, our team (Me, Brian Cronin and Kate Rutter) sought out new ways to bring people together and engage them in collaboration and competition around learning. Through a series of exercises where we envisioned what the experience of using smart.fm could be like, the answer that emerged was Goals.

    Instead of organizing content around topics, which people may study for many different reasons, content will soon be organized around Goals that people can form communities around. But before I get into the exciting implications of this shift, I wanted to share some of the experience-minded tools that led us to it:

    1) We described the experience we wanted to aim for.

    Using our Elevator Pitch “mad-lib” template, we brainstormed ways to fill in the blanks: “For people who… the new smart.fm is… It’s different because…” Ideas that emerged included “Smart.fm is like a pickup basketball game — it’s easy to jump right in and participate.” We refined these ideas into guiding principles that described the ideal smart.fm experience: “a friendly social world of learning” that “invites play” and “reveals and celebrates progress.”

    2) We dissected the experience and brainstormed new metaphors for its parts.

    From the experience mapping and metaphor brainstorming exercises that I wrote about previously, we selected some of the most compelling metaphors.

    3) We imagined some possible experiences inspired by these metaphors.

    We then explored how they could be applied to the major activities of the smart.fm experience — discovering, learning, celebrating, collecting, making and collaborating — and communicated the resulting ideas through “Concept Posters.” These posters enabled us to describe what an experience should feel like without getting into interface details. Aspects of the poster showing how “Smart.fm is like a scavenger hunt for knowledge” particularly stood out to the team — especially the idea of challenging users to create content through collaborative scavenger hunts.

    4) We pictured the future.

    We then used sketches of “The Homepage of the Future” to explore the best concepts further. Since a well-designed homepage tells the story of what you’re all about, sketching potential homepages can be a great way to boil a concept down to its essence using a value proposition, some featured content, and a presentation of core features or “how it works.”

    5) It all came together in “Goal-Based Missions” — or simply, Goals

    These explorations culminated in the idea of “Missions,” which we articulated through sketchy diagrams illustrating an exciting, game-like smart.fm where social activity is embedded into everything.

    As the new activity hubs, Missions brought both learning material and social activity together in an elegant and cohesive way:

    • Missions are about shared goals. While people may learn English for many reasons, people who want to “Spend a Week in the US,” “Impress their friends” or “Pass the TOEFL” will have much more in common with each other than everyone learning “English Vocabulary I.”
    • Missions are social by nature. The shared goal is what brings people together. Instead of “signing up” or “enrolling,” you can “Join” or “Participate” in a Mission, competing or collaborating with other team members who share the same goal.
    • Missions can be about creating content, not just learning it. The scavenger hunts idea from the concept posters manifested itself in the “Fact-Finding” aspect of Missions: If you want to learn enough Japanese for a week in Japan, but don’t know enough to build a list of stuff to learn — you can challenge others to create content for you.

    While my high school sister loved the idea of “24-like” Missions, proposing there be “Objectives” and “Directors” and spy tools, the idea of collaborative Missions lives on under the more neutral name, “Goals.” Since the final wireframes were delivered, Smart.fm has already enabled collaborative list-building, and soon you’ll be able to do much more, including:

    • Collaborate with others who share a goal (say, “Become culturally literate”) to create and collect learning material that will help you achieve it.
    • Challenge other users to contribute content about a certain topic (such as “Hip Hop Artists” or “Internet Memes” — you can actually add content to these lists today!).
    • Ask questions about things you want to learn (“How do you say ‘Experience Design’ in Japanese?”) and get answers from others.
    • Earn badges for completing your goals and responding to challenges.
    • See how you’re doing compared to others who are pursuing the same goal, others in your hometown, and perhaps even others who share your first name!

    These are just a few of the exciting possibilities that reframing Lists as Goals has afforded, and we look forward to seeing both the name change and mindset change taking shape on smart.fm!

    There are 12 thoughts on this idea

    1. Paul May

      This is really interesting Alexa. During the project, did you work with SmartFM users (or other members of the public) to validate the concepts you came up with during workshops? Sometimes I/we fall into the habit of constructing metaphors and ideas around our idealised picture of people using a service we’re building – I was wondering what you did to balance this out with how people *actually* behave. Thanks for the great post.

      Paul

    2. Brbob

      This is interesting stuff! Isn’t there concern about giving away all this great design information (this and the other posts) to smart.fm’s competitors though??

    3. OsandiSAYs

      Greetings,

      Often we list goals but rarely are they turned into metaphors which makes them contextually a subject vs. and object | subjective vs. objective | meaningful vs. tasks.

      I’m really get into this like big TIME! Thank you for sharing.

      :}(o|O){:

    4. hoshigo

      wow, this is really exciting!

      I did think at first that smart.fm limited the social aspect a bit, which I justified by saying that it has different goals (oh there’s the word) with facebook and is totally focused on what the site brings to the learning experience. Can’t wait for this next development! God bless your efforts! (^_^)

    5. John

      Really interesting stuff! I used Smart.fm a while ago and was only mildly impressed, but largely for the issues you guys worked hard to overcome. I will definitely give Smart.fm another try after reading your account.

    6. Jon

      This is interesting and all, but what is the timeframe for this app being released? The reason I ask is that there already an unofficial app out there http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=317036413&mt=8

      I’m not interested in waiting a year if that is what it’ll take, but I’ll happily wait a couple months to see how the official app stacks up against the unofficial one.

    7. netten.ro

      Super Tareeeeeee!!!!!!! :))))

    8. The Relaunch of Smart.fm – Smart.fm Blog

      […] a deep dive into the history of our thinking on this topic, please read the in-depth post by Alexa from Adaptive Path more about […]

    9. licitatii

      Have you ever considered adding more videos to your blog posts to keep the readers more entertained? I mean I just read through the entire article of yours and it was quite good but since I’m more of a visual learner,I found that to be more helpful.

    10. Classic SFM rules

      OK, I bet this message is not even going to make it to the board, but that’s ok, I’ll keep it as a record and send it to another relevant board. I think it’s worth it.

      First, I’m not going to compliment your work with Smart.fm like everyone commenting here has done. I’m here to blast you, if you are indeed the reason for the strange direction smart.fm has gone off on.

      Before you get defensive, you ought to study the emerging patterns of smart.fm’s user voice. It looks like two of the top three feature requests is to REVERT back to the old style. Regular users are being put off with the revamp of Smart.fm!

      Now, I have to slam you because looking at how you write and you and your team think, I gotta say that you really are at the extreme end of geekiness, and in a bad way.

      By that, I mean that you are totally disconnected with who the real market Smart.fm is for! You and your team are probably well-funded snobs without a need for learning anything worthwhile or required in a course.

      How dare you dictate that Smart.fm must now learn to be more idealistic, social constructivist learners, that we should abandon “topic” or “list” based learning for “goals”.

      You really have no clue, and I’m afraid that the scrotum-less decision makers at Smart.fm/Cerego either had to yield to your deluded crap for political/ economical reasons or they are just plain fools.

      Here’s what your “improvements” have achieved from my perspective. As an instructor of over 1200 students every year, up to last year, I had been an evangelist of Smart.fm (old style): Easy to use/ navigate; intuitive; friendly.

      Because it’s now an esoteric maze to navigate through, along with make-me-want-to-puke invented terms like “goals” and “shouts”, I have decided to advise my learners NOT to use Smart.fm anymore! Those who had been using Smart.fm are now migrating to an alternative solution that is more familiar in functions/ features with the “classic Smart.fm” style.

      Because of your idealism, you’ve lost touch with the “REAL” market. I advise you to go to business school and actually get some kind of certification that tests you in measured knowledge.

      Then you’ll finally understand what practical learners really want and need.

      You really have no clue … So do smart.fm and all the good learners out there a big favor:

      1. Apologize for the crap and confusion you’ve caused.

      2. Hire some good people to come up with a plan to revert back to the classic system, abandoning your lofty goals. don’t worry — I know you can afford it.

      3. Go start an NPO, but stay away from trying to implement your ideas via your bankbook.

      I’m so happy I found the culprit of the smart.fm fiasco. I needed to express badly how much you’ve messed up the place.

      But looking at how you describe the “transition” to the new style, I’m just dumbstruck by your air of self-importance. Again, you are so blind!

      Seriously, read the users’ thoughts on how everything’s changed. Get a good feel for the situation.

      Think of all of this as a necessary experience for personal growth.

      Then start growing.

      [ps: try this: the next time you have an idea, make sure no one knows how deep your pockets are or who your connections are … in fact, give them the impression that you are poor. now, do you think they’d buy into your stupid ideas?]

    11. APWazzup (Classic SFM rules)

      Unlike the Leitner’s algorithm, which has published research to support Cerego’s application, your theory of instructional design is a lark.

      Explain to us with hard evidence the rationale for some of your lofty ideals:

      1. “a friendly social world of learning” that “invites play” and “reveals and celebrates progress.” – Ask the market researchers for Smart.fm if that is indeed what the typical Smart.fm user wants. Compare what you think the learner wants with exactly what kind of people use Smart.fm.

      2. “Instead of organizing content around topics, which people may study for many different reasons, content will soon be organized around Goals that people can form communities around.” – 1. What makes you say that that is what the average user wants? 2. What is your premise for reinventing the wheel? Do that with some other website as an idiot’s experiment, but don’t mess with what ain’t broke.

      3. “We dissected the experience and brainstormed new metaphors for its parts.” – Look, your mindmaps are great for brainstorming, but that is just one part of synthesizing a complex project like this. From the mindmaps, you rate/rank/prioritize the features/experience in alignment with the objectives and mission of Smart.fm (not whatever romantic ideals you’re high on). What’s left from that process is further distilled and reorganized, and then drafted for various teams from varying backgrounds to investigate and comment on.

      You guys are a mom-and-pop operation working out of a fancy little shop which your parents bought for you to get you out of their site.

      4. “Missions are about shared goals. While people may learn English for many reasons, people who want to “Spend a Week in the US,” “Impress their friends” or “Pass the TOEFL” will have much more in common with each other than everyone learning “English Vocabulary I.” — Shut the F. up, you condescending know it all.

      5. “Missions are social by nature. The shared goal is what brings people together. Instead of “signing up” or “enrolling,” you can “Join” or “Participate” in a Mission, competing or collaborating with other team members who share the same goal.” — Someone should slap your head. Again, who gives you the right to tell me that I need to make my learning social. You haven’t even the decency to make social learning an option for me. You are force-feeding it to me.

      6. “Missions can be about creating content, not just learning it. The scavenger hunts idea from the concept posters manifested itself in the “Fact-Finding” aspect of Missions: If you want to learn enough Japanese for a week in Japan, but don’t know enough to build a list of stuff to learn — you can challenge others to create content for you.” Get that childish crap out of my study den! I’m here to learn. I look for reputable content creators who I TRUST will create good lists. That’s good enough for me. I had my fill of scavenger hunts in elementary school. Sounds like you guys had a deprived childhood. Some of us want to have some seriously learning going on. You are on the wrong platform so get out!

    12. Not the guy above

      Wow.

      You’re really angry, Classic SFM Rules.

      It makes it hard to take anything you say seriously because of the way you speak about the topic. Advocating violence against the author, using verbal assaults and personal slights against people you don’t know is deplorable behaviour – especially for someone who considers themselves an educator. I don’t know you, so I cannot make assumptions about how you interact with your students, but I sincerely hope it is on a level of more respect than you’ve shown Adaptive Path or the rest of us readers.

      Your first post above offers nothing of interest to the conversation happening on this blog. It’s pure hate and dribble that obviously did not make you feel better, for you kept going in a second comment.

      However, your second post at least offers some interesting rebuttal. Despite the fact that you knee capped your points by continuing with a ridiculous air of violence and indignation, I appreciated you asking for more information as to their process. I, too, would like to know more about how these concepts compared with market research. Or, how Smart.fm’s existing research was augmented by Adaptive Path’s.

      You’ve clearly given this issue a lot of thought and you seem to have experience in this kind of learning application. Personally, I do not, so I cannot comment on the effectiveness of Adaptive Path’s work. I do, though, know a little about consulting to undertand that Adaptive Path probably did not act without Smart.fm’s direction or approval. Smart.fm would not sit back and allow Adaptive Path to cause you so much pain without good reason. By the time a company has hired a consultancy to help with an issue, a considerable amount of business discussion has taken place. I have no idea how long this project took, but I’m sure Smart.fm had considerable say into the concepts and execution of the changes to their application. So, I believe that is something that you could consider while you’re experiencing your redesign reorientation.

      Regardless, Smart.fm is fortunate to have such a passionate customer in you. I’m glad that you’ve identified that you want to continue your serious learning. I wonder if there are applications out there that might better suit your needs as you may have outgrown this.

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