Listening and Learning

Pearson+ Audio: From Misaligned to Synchronized
Consumer App
User Testing
Feature Improvement
Audiobook and "read aloud" feature in its current state (2024).
overview
Undeer the guidance of a eudiobooks unlocked a world of learning and helped spark my interest in inclusive design and alternative learning formats.
The app
My team at Pearson (160M global customers) launched a direct-to-learner app, Pearson+ (5M users), in July 2021. Beyond accessing textbooks on any device, P+ empowered students with a suite of features to enhance their learning experience.
The team
Under the guidance of a director who championed neurodiversity and spent 3 years at Audible, my UX colleague and I embarked on an iterative development process to deliver a stellar audio experience.

About Pearson+

Pearson (160M global customers) launched their direct-to-learner app, Pearson+ (5M users), in July 2021. Beyond accessing their textbooks on any device, students are empowered with a suite of features to enhance their learning experience.

Team

Design Lead, Technical Prototyper/UX Engineer

problem

The audiobook feature was underutilized—it did not deliver a seamless learning experience for students.

Spoken text was not synchronized with the on-screen text

Launching and using the audio player was clunky

Solution
To increase usage and provide an experience that meets (and eventually exceeds) expectations we will:

Add a read along (RA) feature that spotlights the text as its spoken

Establish patterns to access and launch features across the app

Add a read along (RA) feature that spotlights the text as its spoken.

Establish logical patterns to access features.

Goals

Measuring success by number of sessions, length of sessions, and recurring usage.

100%

increase in audio usage (6% to 12%)

50%+

customer awareness
Challenges

Limited time, big launch

One feature, diverse needs

Accessibility: Touch vs. mouse, screen sizes, color modes

Context: Mobile for on-the-go listening, desktop for deep dives.

Feature harmony: Spotlighting text has to interact with other core features (highlighting text and notes).

Customer demographic: Digitally native and fluent, the expect the best

Limited time, big launch

To deliver before the fall semester, Pearson+ initially introduced a basic audiobook experience. We anticipated pain points and actively prepared resources to address them. We leveraged valuable feedback gathered throughout the first semester to inform the roadmap.

One feature: diverse needs and a high bar

Device Differences: Touch vs. mouse interaction, screen sizes.
Learner Context: Mobile for on-the-go listening, desktop for deep dives.
Gen Z Customers: Digitally native and fluent, the expect the best
Accessibility: Working across color modes and screen readers.

gathering feedback

App store reviews

App store review
App store review
App store review

what

An initial research method was gathering and analyzing reviews from the App Store and Google Play.

Why

1.
No cost
2.
Insight from early adopters and power users
3.
Feedback is ongoing
Wireframes

Accessing and controlling read along

Content selector (location A): opportunity to seamlessly connect text and audio.
Audio drawer (location B): simply add a line item to access, and control, to the existing audio settings
Pearson wireframes
Analysis: wireframes of viable locations to access the feature
user testing

Discoverability

I completed this first round of testing with my design lead.

who

Unmoderated testing with 10 English speaking higher ed students in the US.

how

Tested prototypes on usertesting.com, recorded the sessions, and assessed pain points.
Prototype V1, which included a customizable dropdown, tested so well that we did not continue to test Prototype V2 (w/out dropdown).

hypotheses

🟢 RA will be easily discovered in the Audiobook drawer
🟡 Content selector discovery and usage may be confusing
🔴 Probably not easily in Display settings
Key results
✅ Audiobook drawer settings (Location B)
10/10 students easily found how to turn the read along feature on and off.
⚠️ Content selector dropdown (Location A)
Only 3 participants interacted instinctively.
Once prompted, 9/10 students said it made sense.
User testing key results
user testing

Read along details

teamwork

📝 Accessibility & learning specialists

I consulted accessibility and learning design specialists to learn best practices.

💻 Technical prototyper

The first text spotlighting tests were inconclusive.

Prototype needed to convey tone, speed, and pacing, both audibly and visually.

hypotheses

Students will:
🟢 prefer the sentence and word spotlight option ​
🟢 strongly prefer the "fade" option of text spotlighting
🟡 want to adjust the playback
🟡 want to customize their experience
Key results
✅ Sentence and word spotlighting style
13/20 students. Many found word only spotlighting too abrupt.
❌ The fade effect was not well received
9/20 strongly preferred "no fade" and 9/20 had no preference
Distracting in its current state, but saw potential if we can more closely match the fade to the cadence of the speaker.
User testing key results
approach
Proactively anticipating challenges
The initial audiobook feature introduced an alternative learning format for students. However, it was deliberately launched with a limited scope. We recognized the potential for shortcomings in user experience and functionality related to text-audio integration and access to the audio player.
Gathering feedback for improvement
The initial audiobook feature introduced an alternative learning format for students. However, it was deliberately launched with a limited scope. We recognized the potential for shortcomings in user experience and functionality related to text-audio integration and access to the audio player.
Testing key elements
Text Highlighting: Evaluating various highlighting styles and functionalities to identify the most effective approach for aiding users in following the spoken narration visually.
Accessibility: Testing different access points for the audio player within the app to ensure easy and intuitive access from any screen.
ui & visual design

Final Designs

I was responsible for delivering the final UI. All screens were designed in different color modes for desktop web and native app (iOS & Android). Examples below.
Audio settings
Content selector in dark mode
I ensured highlighting and spotlighting was accessible on all devices and color modes.