little kids waiting for school to start in front of a building

Journey mapping in education

February 2, 2021

Education has the power to change people's lives and the world we live in. By developing an understanding of the experiences students go through, we are much better prepared when creating meaningful educational journeys and we can thus achieve better outcomes with our students. Journey mapping can help us understand and improve the education journey.

A well delivered education has the ability to bring the best out of people, a poorly delivered one can let their potential remain hidden for a lifetime.

Put your hands up if you received an education. For those with your hands up, what was your experience like?

Were you inspired, disheartened, overwhelmed or uplifted? Was your time spent on social activities, or on a dedicated mission to get top grades? Did you look up to teachers who unleashed your curiosity for the world around you, or did you feel as if you were drowning in useless information, bored out of your mind and counting down the minutes?

Education can change people’s lives and the world they live in. When it is done right, an educational journey can be filled with moments of delight, inspiration and unlock the hidden potential within students in a away they would not have thought possible. So, how can we ensure that we do this with intent, rather than leaving it to chance?

Having a clear understanding of the experience of students can take us a long way towards building educational experiences that help them reach their potential, and hopefully they will go on to become active citizens who play a positive role in society. Having a meaningful, lasting impact on those we educate means improving their short-term experience - while also ensuring that what we are teaching is relevant and memorable in the long run.

What does it look like when education meets service design and customer experience?

In this article we will address some of the key questions being asked in education, some of the challenges to implementing new approaches and explore how journey mapping can be of assistance for creating better outcomes for students.

The relevance of journey mapping in the context of education

Education is a relatively new area to customer experience and service design. However, we are quickly discovering that the application of tools such as journey mapping can improve the way in which we deliver educational services, and as a result, the outcomes we are wishing to achieve with students.

Journey mapping allows us to have an eagle's eye view of the different journeys that students experience as they receive an education. This includes the areas of their education that are exciting and engaging, the moments of confusion and feeling overwhelmed, the  areas where they face barriers and consequently have a greater need for support.

By mapping these experiences, we create powerful decision-making tools that enhance our ability to help students where and when they need support, to innovate our service delivery and provide students with the best education possible.

There are many different educational journeys that students may encounter. In this article we will focus mainly on high school education. However, some or all of the concepts will hopefully apply in a variety of educational settings.

Core questions that journey mapping can help to answer in education

Education providers are faced with a wide range of challenges. These can include the requirement to develop compelling and useful educational curriculums, the ability to adapt to new technologies and trends while also defining rules and processes for a range of different students with different abilities, social skills and backgrounds.

Service design tools such as journey mapping can help us take a look at these challenges from the perspective of student experience and draw our attention to opportunities where our service delivery can be enhanced or improved.

In this article we will address several key questions in education and how journey mapping  may be of help:

  • Who are our students?
  • How do we provide engaging and interesting educational experiences?
  • What are the barriers that prevent students from achieving positive educational outcomes?
  • How do we help students transition from childhood to adulthood and what constitutes relevant education at each step of the journey?

Who are our students?

It might seem strange to look at students as "customers” in the traditional sense. It might be more beneficial to understand our students as "receivers” of educational services. They are people who need help understanding the world around them, and their role within it.

Education providers are uniquely positioned to help students on this journey of self-discovery and learning.

Students come in all sorts of shapes and sizes - with different backgrounds, interests and learning styles. A school's ability to understand and address the diverse needs of its student population will allow it to adapt and provide education in ways that are more inclusive, understanding and effective when it comes to reaching positive educational outcomes.

Creating personas is a great approach that allows us to make snapshots of different student types that can help when formulating important questions about service delivery.

Student persona example visualizing a 14 year old boy and his hobbies.
Our student persona Charlie is 14 years old and interested in technology.

By developing personas, we are able to better understand the types of students we are working with and what support they may need at any given time in their education.

Link to basics of personas article: You will learn what personas are, why you need them, how to research, define and create them and some templates and a cheat sheet.
Check out our article about personas to learn more!

In education, when we apply a one-size-fits-all approach to our teaching methods, we take the risk of sidelining students with different learning styles and abilities. By taking a closer look at their journeys, engaging with their experiences and what areas of education they are struggling with, we are able to adapt our teaching style to help them in more appropriate ways. By creating personas, we get an idea of the different types of students we are helping to educate - understanding that Charlie (above) enjoys technical descriptions while Suzy (below) does not, may lead us to develop teaching tools that will engage both types of student.

Student persona example visualizing a 14 year old girl and his hobbies.
Our student persona Suzy is 14 years old and interested in arts and socializing.


Student learning abilities may also affect their capacity to take on and retain knowledge. Are our students visual or kinesthetic learners? Are attention deficit disorders affecting their ability to sit and focus for extended periods of time? Is stress during examination periods affecting their ability to perform under pressure? How could we prepare them better to deal with the effects of stress when it comes to expressing themselves?

Journey mapping helps us to collaborate with our students rather than making assumptions that can be detrimental to future educational outcomes. A student's voice in their own educational pathway creates the conditions for innovation in education and better results for everyone involved.

  • How is a learning journey different for a child that is blind compared to one who has perfect vision?
  • What is the experience of a student with attention deficit disorder and how might we provide them with the support they need to stay focused?
  • In what areas do students feel insecure and unsupported throughout their education journey?
  • How does exam stress impact a students’ performance and how might we design approaches that diminish its negative impact?

What are the different journeys that students will experience while they receive their education?

By the time we reach adulthood it can be difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who is ten, twenty or more years younger than us. Developing  an interest in understanding and empathizing with students can help us refine how we help them on their journeys.

If you take a traditional high school education, students will be at school from roughly the age of thirteen to eighteen. Throughout this time, they will be passing through a variety of different physiological and psychosocial changes which will impact their learning journey.

Being able to understand different life stages can give us great insight if we want to empathize with our students and provide them with appropriate support during their education.

Age may also affect the amount of help and support a person might need. When entering  high school, one might need high levels of teacher contact and encouragement. As time goes on and we gain higher levels of independence, the types of support and levels of guidance required may change.

By approaching education with a high-level journey, we are able to map out these five years and the types of changes that we might expect students to go through. By diving deeper into each age group  we are able to witness particular behaviors and experiences, that services can be designed to accommodate.

  • As  teachers, do we interact in the same manner with a thirteen-year-old and an eighteen-year-old?
  • What levels of responsibility should students have at each stage  of their education?
  • What changes in experience must we empathize with and help students to understand?
  • How do we progressively help students to develop independence of thought and decision making, thus preparing  them for life after they leave high school?

How do we provide engaging and interesting educational experiences?

When you ask people to recount what they remember about their years in the educational system, the answers and perspectives may vary widely from one individual to the next. There will be stories of great teachers who stimulated their students' curiosity for a specific subject. And there will also be stories of teachers with a negative influence who made their students lose interest in a particular area of study or vocation.

Journey map of a student getting distracted from science class.
Suzy struggles with the topic of her science class as well as her teachers teaching style and gets distracted.

Hopefully, at some point in our high school education, we were lucky enough to have  a teacher with a strong mastery of their craft. Someone who understood students and how to create lessons that are engaging and enjoyable.

Mapping a student's journey can include an understanding of what makes education interesting for them. By questioning traditional methods of service delivery, we can break free from rote learning or textbook approaches and take students on much more engaging journeys.

Journey map of a student engaging in science class.
Suzy struggles with the topic of her science class. However her teacher found a way to make her curious and engage in class.

In recent years there has been a rise in more innovative approaches to education. These include approaches that appeal to a wide variety of different learning styles, such as  EOTC (Education Outside The Classroom) and other  forms of experiential education. Emerging  technologies such as VR and gamification help build a diverse toolkit for educators that can amplify the learning experience.

Education can, and should be something enjoyable, rather than a burden or an obligation.

If you're looking for a great example of an approach that really connects with students, check out Science with Tom - a talented educator who is making entertaining science rap videos with his students. This allows them to learn in a relatable way that is interesting and engaging.

Depending on the journey we want to take our students on and the outcomes we are trying to achieve, we must weave together our most effective teaching tools in ways that will engage our students in the learning process.

  • What innovative approaches can we develop that help engage students in the learning process?
  • How can learning materials be presented in ways that are relevant and connected to a student’s experience?
  • Can non-formal approaches be included to enhance learning of a particular subject?
  • How can technology be utilized for good - in ways that amplify skills and using tools that students are already  familiar with?

What are the barriers that prevent students from achieving positive educational outcomes?

One of the main reasons for using journey maps lies in the way in which they help us  identify people’s pain points and barriers and how they negatively impact their ability to benefit from a service.

Within education, these are the things that cause students to fail in terms of reaching objectives and educational standards that are defined by the education system.

Journey mapping gives us a structured approach that builds an organization-wide approach to understanding student experience and how they interact with our services. Rather than individual teachers having a siloed understanding about how to manage and overcome learning barriers - a journey map can become a collaborative point of reference that can benefit everyone.

The learning environment

A learning environment includes both the social and physical elements of a student’s experience. When we look at student journeys, where they are educated can have a great impact on how they are able to learn and absorb knowledge. Perhaps the environment is too cold, too noisy or the desks are arranged in ways that don't allow for students to focus properly.

Journey mapping can help us uncover these pain points within a student's journey. We are simply required to engage with the student in order to find out. Ask them questions, collaborate and co-design with them what kind of environment they would like to learn in. By listening to their voice, we have a much better understanding of their experience, and from this knowledge we can innovate and improve the environment where learning happens.

If you would like to read more on this subject, here is a nice overview of engaging with students to create more effective learning environments.

Stress, anxiety and social interactions

Getting to know our student means understanding their emotional experience and what effect this has on their ability to focus and learn.

Rising rates of anxiety within teenagers underline  the importance of understanding what triggers exist within the classroom that can amplify negative emotional states, such as cognitive overload, social shame or claustrophobic environments. By exploring these experiences with students, what causes them and what the experience is like, we can gain a lot of valuable insight into how we are able to assist them on their learning journey.

Journey map of a student getting nervous before an exam.
Charlie is nervous about his performance in the upcoming exam.

From a strong understanding of student experience, teachers are able to provide heightened levels of support in stressful situations so that students may feel more at ease, comfortable, and focused when they most need to be.

Student engagement through different channels

As many education providers will have experienced in 2020 - the pandemic has had a dramatic impact on teaching methods and service delivery. With almost immediate constraints on our ability to teach face-to-face, many education providers have had to shift their courses to digital platforms.

This shift has also had an impact on many students’ learning environment,as well as the channels through which  teachers are required to work with their students.

So, what does this new student journey look like in a post-pandemic world and how are we able to ensure that we will meet our educational outcomes with students when we are not face-to-face?

New constraints provide conditions where we must innovate and adapt. Understanding our student journey allows our attempts at innovation to be focused and relevant to their experience.

How do we create a journey map in education?

Hopefully we have developed a sense of why journey mapping can be relevant within education, but how do we put our knowledge into action and actually create a journey map?

Creating a well-researched journey map requires a systematic approach to researching our students and how they interact with our services.

A good journey map will include the elements of our students’ emotional journey as they navigate through their education pathway. In the next section we will explore some more important categories of data that can add detail to our journey maps.

Channels

A channel is a medium that we use in order to interact with our students.

Identifying the different channels available to us in education can be a great start if we are looking to innovate.

How are we reaching our students and what channels will allow us to best connect with them? Are students receiving information face-to-face, through books and written materials or through other digital channels?

Knowing which channel to use at what moment can have a great impact on the educational outcomes we are trying to achieve.

By successfully leveraging digital technologies we are able to increase student engagement, help them utilize skills they are developing at home and adapt quickly to future trends as they unfold.

Stakeholders

An educational journey is one that involves a wide range of different stakeholders. Most schools can be seen as part of an intricate web of different connections. Whether this is with parents, government departments, different staff within the schools, and private organizations within the community.

For large schools, an amazing amount of coordination is required between these different stakeholders if they are to provide a seamless and functional education experience.

Adding a stakeholder lane allows us to track and manage these interactions - we might also create a stakeholder map that will give us further insight into how these interactions can be aligned and improved.

Pain points and needs

Adding a lane that shows us clearly the pain points and needs that our students have at different moments along their journey can be beneficial for our service delivery. If we are aware of when a student is likely to be struggling, we are in a better position to provide the relevant support that they need.

Whether they are having difficulty focusing for exams, are distracted by other classmates or whether they are lacking in comfortable places to study - these can all be issues that we can address and areas where we can innovate, if we are aware of them.

Backstage lanes

Teachers who work hands-on with students might be well positioned and truly at the forefront of service delivery. However, when we look at the end-to-end journey of a student there is a whole network of backstage activities that support a seamless journey along an educational pathway.

When we pay attention to everything that goes on behind the scenes,  we can observe activities such as enrollment, administration and how different educational frameworks are implemented. By journey mapping these backstage lanes, we get a clear understanding of where our backstage processes interact with frontstage service delivery as well as the touchpoints we have with students.

Documents

If we are mapping out our curriculum for  an entire subject, or even for a simple lesson, it can be helpful to centralize and manage the different documents and files that will be required.

A document lane is a great place to store and access different files such as lesson plans, observations and exam templates. If you were just starting a teaching role at a school, how great would it be to inherit a well-organized curriculum full of structured notes and relevant documents? In this manner, we can build on what we have learnt and build great repositories, a change from teachers’ wasted efforts when working in isolation.

Journey map example

We have developed an example journey map to show you how this could look like. For example you will find lanes with descriptions and the channels that the persona is using.

A journey map from a student's perspective
View an example of a student journey map

Typical challenges of introducing journey mapping to an education environment

Education being relatively new to service design

As service design is still relatively new to the field of education, we may need confidence for adopting and using new approaches. This confidence may come from observing the success of journey mapping being applied in other industries.

There are also some good examples of service design tools being used in an educational setting.
for example this presentation on what Arizona State University has achieved with their service design and journey mapping efforts or our own case study that analyzes how a US university improved retention rates through journey mapping.

If you are interested in an example of journey mapping being used to improve retention rates in a university environment, check out our case study!

Rigid and resilient teaching values

Introducing new perspectives and approaches can sometimes be difficult, especially in an environment where there are rigid perspectives on how education should be delivered.

Being able to articulate, present and discuss the value of service design approaches is important for buy-in across a whole team of educators, especially for those who have had long education careers and established ways of doing things.

For many teachers this is a barrier, that might be overcome through pitching journey mapping to their team.

Rapidly shifting context and constraints

Because technology is rapidly changing what is possible within the field of education, student journeys may also experience rapid shifts and changes. It was difficult to anticipate the rapid shift to digital learning that became necessary in 2020. This is not in itself a barrier, however, to keep our services relevant, our maps may need more attention and updating as conditions around us are altered. As journey maps are supposed to be living documents, building their usage into our daily workflow can make this process easier.

Summary

Journey mapping offers a lot of benefits within the world of education. As we embrace a service-minded and customer-centric viewpoint with our students, we are offered all kinds of insights that allow us to provide better support and reach desired educational outcomes.

There is great diversity within the student population, and the types of journeys they undertake as they move through their education may vary significantly. Being able to understand  these students,to view them as personas, and to visually map out their journeys gives us more opportunities to keep the education we provide relevant and innovative as society evolves and changes.

Whether we are trying to improve our educational outcomes, support diverse groups of students with their needs or develop more engaging curriculums, journey mapping can become an invaluable tool in our quest to unlock our students’ potential.

“Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.“
– Marian Wright Edelman


Interesting links for further reading

Create your own journey map now!