Back to Gale

Opportunities for K-12 Teachers' Professional Development

  • Employer: Gale (Cengage Learning)
  • | Team of 2
  • | 3 months (06/2017 – 08/2017)

This project explored opportunities to make K-12 teachers engage in an active and continuous learning with applicable and effective professional development (PD). Finally, our team communicated the key findings and suggestion on both user needs and internal business process.

To be respectful to the employer, further details will not be elaborated.

User Experience Researcher
  • Planned the research and project
  • Recruited participants
  • Assisted in conducting in-person and remote interviews
  • Analyzed and visualized the results
  • Communicated the results to stakeholders
  • Drafted future survey

Problem: Inapplicable and unengaging

Gale partners with professional development (PD) content providers and provides those content to K-12 teachers. The senior product manager pointed out that K-12 is the growing profitable area, but many teachers or administrators expressed their dissatisfaction with their current PD:

  • PD is not aligned with their curriculum/grade levels
  • Schools pay a lot on PD, but instructors are not engaged
  • Various needs: multiple levels of stakeholders across a school organization
  • Move from short-term events, to continuous
We are unsure what to do with the partner's product and take our PD to the next level.

— Product manager for K-12 PD

•  •  •

Business Decision Problems

How to develop a differentiated business strategy for company’s K-12 products that can better support with user and buyer’s needs?


  • Recruitment: recruiting in school during summer vacation was difficult.
  • Users are not buyers: teachers, instructional coaches, administrators, directors, librarians all have different needs and considerations.
  • New licenses may be needed with partners: this will potentially influence the feasibility of solutions and business decisions.


  • Short-term: get business plan approval.
  • Long-term: drive revenue and redefine our future partnership strategies with the content providers.
  • Advocate the value of UX: it has been a long time since Gale has developed a new idea from the ground up, so it was an important chance to show the benefits of having UX involved earlier and how we can assist PM (intern) who has no experience in UX in identifying the problems, designing study and analyzing data.

•  •  •


What we did in the 3 months
Process: research


How we got the insights

Research Questions

  • How to make K-12 teachers engage in an active and continuous learning with applicable and effective professional development?
  • How do instructors collaborate with colleagues & experts?
  • How do admins develop the PD? Challenges & key decision influencer?
  • How different roles evaluate the PD?


I led the research planning and study design. We conducted 12 interviews, including teachers, administrators, directors, librarians and 2 internal customer-facing employees.We also drafted two surveys for the role of teachers and administrators.


Challenge #1: Hard to narrow the research direction

Product manager was open-minded to all potential opportunities. When designing the survey, at the very beginning, PM intern and I brainstormed a list of questions based on previous interviews and tried to review it with the product manager. However, I then realized that it was not an efficient way to ask PM “What you’d wish you know” at this moment to reduce the number of questions (even this question worked well in the initial kick-off meeting) because she was interested in EVERYTHING.

💪 What did I do?

I probed “what should be true to successfully achieve your goals, like a business pitch?", "What will you do with the research results?”. The UX team and I successfully got her goals and priorities, which were validating the problem (pervasiveness), priority (urgency) and willingness to pay.

Challenge #2: Sometimes hard to get business responses

PM was super busy with the annual sales meeting, so it’s hard to get her response or commitment. One time, I wished to talk to internal employees and have the PM intern reached out product manager for recommendations. However, we could receive responses quickly.

💪 What did I do?

After a few day and following-up messages to another intern. I realized it was time to move forward. I found out that her seat was on another floor via company websites and confirmed that there was no appointment on her calendar. I visited her place with a stack of sticky notes and pen. "Hey, excuse me! could you talk a few minutes about...?" Got a few people's name that I could reach out and move on in 3 minutes.

Challenge #3: PM intern has no experience in UX

Since PM intern has no experience in UX research so the way he interviewed was like selling or promoting ideas because he liked to confirm the business ideas.

💪 What did I do?
  • Live assistance: while he was interviewing remotely, I wrote down follow-up questions on paper and passed it to him so that he was less likely to miss the important questions.
  • Debrief together: discussed the pros and cons of our interviews process together and shared references and best practices with him.
  • Ask for mentorship and instant feedbacks: since we were both interns, it's relatively difficult to point out some issues. I set up informal meetings with mentors and PM intern to raise some concerns WE had so that it's more persuasive to learn from discussion and mentors.

After 4-5 sessions, he found that he can catch the interviewing flow.

Surprise: Potential redundant work across teams

UX consulting team was part of the resources that PM can use. However, sometimes it was hard for UX team to know the progress of a bigger team. For example, one PM intern was making concept mockups for sales meetings, and another marketing intern was working on the competitive analysis.

💪 What did I do?

Constantly talk to the team formally and informally so that I knew what other people were doing, how could we collaborate. This helped us to reduce the duplicated work and make the best of use of what we all had. It was also critical for me to know the team's progress and bug decision points, so I can better align my work with the team's needs.

Key Decision: Reached out customer-facing employees

I proud of myself that deciding to reach out sales and customer success managers who gave us insights from different perspectives.

Final Deliverables

We identified 6 high-level themes and elaborated the key influence factors under each theme. To presented how multiple levels of stakeholders across a school organization interact, a value map was used for describing their interaction and relationship.

Besides the external overview, internal business flow was also evaluated so as to better align company’s strategy to users and markets’ needs.

We also drafted a survey to assist the product manager in winning a business pitch with more quantitative evidence. Due to the inaccessibility of teachers in the summer vacation, the team decided to distribute the survey in the later semester period to get more responses.


Our findings helped PM to confirm her high-level understanding of users and direction to move on. The next step was to distribute the surveys in order to validate the pervasiveness and urgency of problems and customers' willingness to pay.


What I've Learned

Lessons learned

  • Plan the study BACKWARDS: to ensure research has an impact, turn my research skills focus on that person. The first step is to focus on the need of “decider” by learning their ultimate wants (goals) and then helping them articulate what might they need in order to succeed?
  • Internal customer-facing groups are closest to our buyers: learn the problems from different perspectives and missing areas. Learn why some possible solutions were not implemented at that moment help learn about their contains and unknown considerations.
  • Facilitate juniors and non-UX team members to improve UX skills: I appreciated the chance to work with a PM intern who has no experience in UX. I could see with my assistance, how his understanding of UX and interview skills enhanced as the time passing.

What I would do differently

  • If I could have more time, I want to do personas and journey map with stakeholders to form a consensus.
Contact Gale Like what you see? Gale is currently looking for UX research opportunities. 😍

•  •  •