Read Aloud Feature Helps Boost Audiobook Use by 60%

Pearson+ Audiobook Read Aloud Feature
Consumer App
iOS, Android, and Web
User Testing
New Feature
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, I set out 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

Spoken text was not synchronized with the on-screen text

Launching and using the audio player was clunky

Text-audio misalignment:

The written text on the screen did not align with the spoken narration, creating friction and disrupting the learning flow.
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 feature that spotlights the text as its spoken so students can easily follow along.

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

100%

increase in audio usage (6% to 12%)

50%+

customer awareness
gathering feedback

Unlocking early insights with ratings and reviews. Enforcing the hypothesis that students want to read along as they listen.

App store review
App store review
App store review
An initial research method was gathering and analyzing reviews from the App Store and Google Play.
1.
No cost
2.
Insight from early adopters and power users
3.
Feedback is ongoing
Challenges

Need a prototype that is both realistic and within scope

In an attempt to get insight into page placement and visual preferences, we showed 10 students a static concept and asked, "how do you prefer the text to be highlighted as it's read?"

Results were inconclusive because what we were asking was too abstract. We knew the typical Figma prototype couldn't convey the different speeds and cadences for more detailed testing, but it was unexpected to be left with no signal and needed to move quickly on a solution.

Concept testing: 30% for word and paragraph | 30% for sentence and word | 40% for word only

Distinguishing spotlighted text from highlighted text

Critical use case:

Spotlighted text is inherently similar to highlighted text and they need to exist on the same content.

To avoid disrupting learned behavior, highlighting will remain as is.

Existing hghlighted text styling example.

User testing objectives

Revisit value proposition
Uncover experience & visual preferences
Put technical feasibility to the test
Allocating resources and unblocking

Luckily, the initiative was a high priority and Pearson is well staffed but specialists are in high demand. In order not to monopolize their time, I needed to move quickly on the design.

prototype design process

Building a custom-coded solution

💻 Collaborating with a technical prototyper and small team of engineers

I investigated alternative no-code solutions but determined we should utilize in-house technical talent and build our own prototype conveying audio and visual tone, speed, and pacing. To reach the degree of confidence needed, students needed to actually interact with the interface and the no-code route was riskier.

Allocating resources and unblocking

Luckily, the initiative was a high priority and Pearson is well staffed but specialists are in high demand. In order not to monopolize their time, I needed to move quickly on the design.

visual design process

Leveraging visual and interface expertise to craft a creative design solution

📝 Collaborating with accessibility & learning specialists

Designing for text-to-speech was new for me. In addition to researching best-in-class examples, I learned best practices.

🧰 Adding to the design system

I worked with existing components as much as possible. Luckily, we were actively defining the system so it was a good time to create new styles to differentiate spotlighting text treatments.

Allocating resources and unblocking

Luckily, the initiative was a high priority and Pearson is well staffed but specialists are in high demand. In order not to monopolize their time, I needed to move quickly on the design.

I experimented with colors, symbols, and underlining patterns.
user testing

Determine how to synchronize text and audio by testing different visual treatments

I narrowed down a grey and a color spotlighting option for testing. I setup an unmoderated test with 20 participants (English speaking higher education students in the US) with the custom coded prototype

hypotheses

  • Students will prefer the sentence and word spotlight option ​
  • Students will strongly prefer the "fade" option of text spotlighting
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
design principles

Students can now follow along as their textbooks are read aloud

Balanced

  • Spotlighted text and highlighted text need to be visually distinct to avoid confusion.
  • UI must fit seamlessly into the established brand and growing design system.
  • Be mindful of color overload and visual clutter.
Spotlighting active, approaching a highlighted section
Spotlighted text interacting with the highlighted text

Accessible

Prioritize WCAG compliance and color contrast across modes and operating systems. A tenet of Pearson, but especially important for for a feature intended to help neurodiverse students comprehend their textbooks.
Scalable
Design and development decisions made with rapid enhancements, particularly customization options, in mind.
Over the past two years, the read aloud feature has undergone more tweaks than just its name. Iterative improvements have been made but there is always room for impovement.
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.
Results
Read aloud contributed to:

60% increase in audio usage

Significant increase in customer ratings

4.8 Apple App Store & 4.6 Google Play Store
gathering feedback

Unlocking early insights with ratings and reviews. Enforcing the hypothesis that students want to read along as they listen.

App store review
App store review
App store review
An initial research method was gathering and analyzing reviews from the App Store and Google Play.
1.
No cost
2.
Insight from early adopters and power users
3.
Feedback is ongoing
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