We are living in challenging times, but it’s important to note that there are also unique opportunities available right now to learn and grow as a designer, even while we are all staying home and social distancing. Schools are closed down across the country in an effort to keep everyone safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which means students have extra time to take advantage of leveling up their skills outside of their normal school routine. And let me tell you, many students are doing this – I have seen the proof first hand. Here’s how many students are taking advantage of the time to develop UX design skills, and how you can do the same.

Challenging students to learn UX design 

Caleb Kingston of Brainspin.

Each year, our agency Brainspin attends a local high school career fair in Salt Lake City to showcase what we do. Our hope is to inspire young students and to expose them to UX/UI design and software development. Our team showcases the exciting projects we’re working on and the companies we get to work with. We also offer 400 students the chance to win a $300 cash prize and the chance to intern at Brainspin. To win, they need to be the first to complete a series of online UI/UX courses or software development courses.

Last year, as students visited our booth, a lot of them seemed intrigued by the opportunity, but with their regular school schedule to think about, we had only three students actually participate and commit to learning during their extra time.

This year was much different. The career fair was hosted just before the pandemic hit and schools started shutting down. We offered the same opportunity; this time, instead of just three students participating, we had 22 students sign up for these courses. It was a massive growth in participation! Without their regular school and homework routine, they had the extra time to really commit to learning something new.

Opening young students’ eyes to the possibilities of UX design

As students had more time to complete these courses, their motivation increased too; they were able to spend this time getting hands-on design practice with included exercise files. Those that completed the course dedicated a few hours a day, while at home, to learning and practicing. They came away with actual designs and prototypes they built while following along in the courses. 

A mobile prototype created by one of Brainspin's course students.
A student’s completed prototype after taking the course.

Rather than spending this extra time on social media or playing video games, these young students found more meaning and purpose with their time spent indoors. When I met with these students following their completion, over video call, they had excitement in their eyes as they showed off their projects. They never imagined what they could accomplish in these few short weeks.

Many of these students had never considered a design or software career path and never really had exposure to these disciplines before. They were proud of what they accomplished  and exclaimed ways they could apply the UX skills they learned to different career paths, even those outside of design. They had developed new skills that would help them design solutions to problems, not just for software and devices, but in everyday home and work situations.

What new topics are you inspired to learn?

With the world wide web available to us, there has never been more online resources available to use to learn just about anything. This is a chance to follow the footsteps of the students above and use any extra time available to us. Learning online in a more dynamic way to round out our knowledge in areas not covered by our traditional schooling can be incredibly empowering, regardless of your age.

A student following along in an online course by Brainspin.
Student following along in an online course.

There are many sites like Pluralsight, Lynda, Udemy, and Masterclass that have thousands of topics to choose from. The great benefits of online learning through platforms like these is you can go at your own pace. Block off the time you need to drive your learning forward without the worry of being rushed. Online learning can be very dynamic, as well. You don’t have to take a linear path in these courses, but can instead jump around to lessons and topics that intrigue you most.

A few tips on how to learn effectively online, at home

Whether you’re already a student or looking to become one (even if that means learning on the side), there’s no better time to take advantage of online learning, and give yourself greater opportunities in the future for growth. Regardless of your situation, here are a few tips to get started:

1) List a few topics that are of interest to you

This list doesn’t have to align with your schooling subjects or your current career. Think of topics you’re passionate about or that intrigue you. It could be baking, UX design, photography, or gardening, just to give you a few ideas.

2) Sort this list based on what you think will bring you the most value

Value can be measured differently for each person so just use your best judgement. When you sort the list, if there is a topic that really sparks excitement, that you can’t stop thinking about, that is what you should probably go with.

3) Search online for the best course

Courses can vary greatly from simple free YouTube videos to more premium and curated  lessons that take you further down the path. When you’re researching the best course for you, you can often get an idea from the course landing page of what you’ll come away from the course with. There will usually be an introduction video and a few free sample lessons to help you gauge whether it’s going to deliver on the goals you want to meet.

4) Practice along with the course instead of just watching

There is no better teacher than guided hands-on experience. If you’re going to spend the time to learn a subject, you will retain a lot more value by applying yourself, either by using included exercise files or having your own project to apply each lesson towards. For example, if you’re learning about gardening, you may want to have a spot plotted out for your yard and pause after a few lessons to plan your garden and accomplish the phases that have been taught already.

5) Don’t be afraid to skip lessons or jump back to previous lessons

Like I mentioned previously, online courses don’t have to be linear. Just because a course is 40 hours doesn’t mean you have to spend that time going through each lesson. By reading each lesson title, you can click through to what you’re interested in the most and, if you begin watching a lesson that describes things you’re already familiar with, you can skip through the video to find the challenge you’re currently trying to solve.

Time to start learning!

School might be out, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop learning. If you feel inspired to do so, I encourage you to view these current challenges as an opportunity and use the above tips to level up your skills and learn something new, whether it’s UX design, photography, cooking, better time management, or anything else your heart desires.