In China today, it's estimated that there are more than 300 million English learners of all ages. And that number is growing. Soon there will be more people learning English in China than there are Americans. With this enormous market opportunity, Wall Street English, which offers English language learning classes in 400 centers around the world, hired IDEO Shanghai to rethink its learning environments. Design Director Greg Perez, who led the project, gives us the highlights.
IDEO: What have we learned about why people choose to learn English?
Greg Perez: We learned that for people in China, English unlocks more than just job opportunities. Many of the learners we spoke with are willing to pay a lot of money for English education–even if they don't make much money to begin with–because it can enhance their experience with Western entertainment and news, traveling around the world and meeting new people outside of China. The younger generation in China is interested in more that just higher pay; they want a better quality of life through quality experiences. English is an essential key to unlock culture, relationships and connections.
How is learning English changing in China?
With technology, Chinese are beginning to not only be exposed to more English content than ever before, but also to new methods of learning. The traditional school memorization methods are slowly moving online, where young people can now interact and learn with English speakers around the world.
How does learning online correlate to learning in a physical space?
Learning English (or any language) is an extremely social activity. And there are needs for public, active spaces for people to practice and talk, and also needs for smaller, more private study areas. At the time, Wall Street English maintained designated classroom areas and social spaces, but needed to find a way to accommodate more intimate spaces as well. How could we make areas more multipurpose? How could we make social areas more casual, and feel less like an office or cafeteria space? How could teaching areas become more open for interaction between teachers and learners?
How does our design work reflect these needs?
We captured time-lapse footage of existing Wall Street English spaces to understand how both teachers and learners interacted with each other. We designed new areas that brought them together more casually and more interactively. We got rid of tables and chairs in favor of standing stools and open spaces. We optimized classroom areas to double as isolated learning pods for people who wanted to spend time on their own. And we designed ways for digital tools to interact with the physical space using Bluetooth beacons and app prototypes, to compliment Wall Street English's blended learning method.