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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

Designing a School Website that Listens and Learns

This is a story of backward design that began in our admissions office.

For the past three years, we have been on a quest to re-imagine admissions as a learning experience for families. We have redefined roles, redesigned spaces, and created opportunities for families to play, interact, and learn in innovative and engaging ways.

Almost as soon as we opened our Experience Room, however, back in January 2018, it was obvious that our school website was somehow out of sync and needed to be brought into line with this new approach.

So we started to imagine possibilities. We dreamed and sketched. We described the possible and the impossible. We looked around at the inspiring work being done by colleagues in other schools and in other fields.

And the more time passed, the more we found ourselves returning to three powerful, constantly challenging, questions:

  • How do we listen more, rather than overwhelm families with information?

  • How do we create a site that literally learns and adapts over time?

  • How do we create different pathways to knowledge, respecting the fact that different people learn in different ways?

Design thinking that's driven by these kinds of questions, we've discovered, isn't always a fast track to the finish line. It's just as likely to take us down a blind alley or via some circuitous route. What it does do, however, is allow us to wrestle with complexity until new patterns and configurations begin to emerge.

A photograph of a laptop in the ISB experience room displaying the new ISB website
The new ISB website mirrors the philosophy and thinking behind the ISB Experience Room.

Yesterday, after months of thinking and re-thinking, we launched our new school website.

With a powerful search tool front and centre, we believe that this re-designed web experience listens and learns, before assuming we already know the information people are looking for. It's a tool that will get better in time at predicting what prospective families want to see.

Complementing the traditional navigation, a grid - a hint at the game they will play in our Experience Room - frames understanding and allows families to think about what's important to them when choosing a school. It also provides suggested links based upon what we know about different learning styles.

We've also learned along the way that the best stories are sometimes short. And if we had had more time we probably would have made it simpler still.

So take a look.

Who knows, it may just surprise you.


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