Ep. 9: How to design services with humans in mind – with Rachel Liu

Rachel Liu feature image

Working From Home: Episode 9 – How to design services with humans in mind – with Rachel Liu

Nelson is joined by Rachel Liu to discuss how to design services for clients that balance the complex needs of individuals and institutions.

Topics of conversation include: principles of service design, considering consequences both up and downstream from the specific feature you are crafting, cultural difference in work expectations around the globe, the challenges of engaging an audience in the age of distraction, strategies for retaining new skills, and other topics.

Resources Mentioned:







[1:53] – The principles of service design and the type of work Rachel does.

[5:44] – Types of problems people bring Rachel and how she employees service design principles to solve them.

[11:15] – Thinking in terms of first, second, and third-order consequences when designing systems for clients.

[15:47] – How COVID is impacting our education systems. Creating services that meet the needs of institutions, teachers, and students.

[22:10] – Cultural differences and expectations when collaborating with remote teams from around the world.

[27:10] – “It’s not about duplicating your experience at the office. It’s about rethinking what you are trying to accomplish and how digital work can support you in doing that.”

[32:31] – The danger of increased productivity leading to more hours worked, rather than an increased quality of life in the context of working from home.

[39:34] – Difficulties sustaining engagement in the age of social and digital media.

[46:35] – Learning how to learn. Educating students to become learners. What could an education system deliver that is of higher value than this?

[50:17] – Strategies for learning new skills. Spaced repetition, sensory engagement.



Nelson: Hello, and welcome to the ‘Working From Home’ podcast with your host me Nelson Jordan. Today I’m thrilled to be joined by Rachel Liu, who is the service design principal at Pearson. Hi, Rachel. 

Rachel: Hey, Nelson. How you doing?


Nelson: Not too bad. So thank you. Whereabouts are you today?


Rachel: I’m currently based in London. 

Nelson: Oh Okay. Which part?


Rachel: Oh, it depends on geography it to go back to. Southwest of London towards Wimbledon way. 

Nelson: Wow. Okay. Yeah, I like Wimbledon. I’ve been around Wimbledon and Kingston and stuff. I used to live in London – bit of an interesting story. I lived in Peckham for six months, and Elephant and Castle for six months. I moved out from Peckham when my next door neighbour, who lived in the flat below me, turns out she was a drug dealer and killed somebody on my doorstep. And after that, I decided to move out. Yeah. 

Rachel: I’m glad you did. 

Nelson: So I think that’s a pretty good way to start a podcast. With just really depressing news, here do we go from here sort of news. But why not? Yeah, I think that’s probably killed the conversation, we should probably just leave it there and speak again another time? No. Anyway, thanks so much for joining us, Rachel, really appreciate it. So what is it that you do as a service design principal, what does that actually mean?


Rachel: I guess at the heart of it is being really human-centered in problem solving, to try and improve people’s lives. And it’s kind of then designing services to try and help that as part of a solution. And I guess an example, these days, if you could say, it’s a very addictive one, I don’t work on that space, though, if you think of Netflix, for example. That is providing a service for you to consume content. And over the years, it’s become so convenient, it’s almost also become a service of that home cinema, as well. And it’s changed people’s behaviours on how they consume and watch things. So we do that within the education space; to look at how we can get people to learn and grow throughout different stages of their lives. So we design this young, this young learners, I think that actually at the moment, there’s demand from age of three, all the way to adulthood, and across different cultures. That’s something that kind of fascinates me because people have slightly different nuanced needs. And part of really being human-centered means you’re really trying to understand what do users really need? 


Nelson: Okay, I think that’s a fantastic introduction. So is that kind of private or public sector or a mix of both?


Rachel: So it could be either, and if you look at the government space, there’s a lot of kind of wave of service designers at the moment to try and make services much more accessible, much more inclusive. The NHS is quite a good example, where they’ve really changed to make things easier to understand because I think the average literacy is like, I’m not 100% sure, but it’s around under the 15 age, 15 year old age. So you know, a lot of the jargon that we use and things. So, that’s the example of the kind of more public but Pearson is private within the education sector.


Nelson: So within that NHS example, you’re saying that the reading age is that they have to cater for, with the literature, whatever that might be. Whether that’s brochures or leaflets or signs and things like that. Is that what you’re talking about?


Rachel: Yeah, exactly. So there’s different levels you can look at. So we look at different touchpoints across the service: what is the journey that they’re trying to go through to get something done? And for example, if you’re booking a GP appointment, it could be going online. You could be having a phone call, that’s two touch points. What’s the experience of that, that makes it easier? Are there certain translation issues? I don’t know, like, you know, certain thing where English is maybe your second language? How might you communicate that? Maybe someone doesn’t feel as intimidated if they do it online, as an example. But then the language that we use is super important because that’s how we guide the user to try and get whatever task they actually want to get done.


Nelson: Okay, so talk me through the average process, as simple as you can make.

Rachel: The average process?


Nelson: Yeah, for a layman like me. So say for example, company kind of approaches you with a particular problem. And, and maybe we’ll think of an example, maybe, maybe not. But they come to you with a problem. And they say, we need this solved, and what typically happens from then?


Rachel: So we go from a nice framework to think of it. Over the years there’s been, not just trending, but people talk a lot about is the more of the design thinking kind of process. And it’s in a design council, they have the Double Diamond. Now they’ve changed and evolved over the years to make sure that it is an iterative cycle first of all. It’s not just a linear process that you get through that process and tick box, but actually is something that is continuous and evolves over time. It needs change over time, as well, it evolves. In your example that you’ve just given, given that brief, a lot of the times that brief is we’ve made assumptions of what the solution. Usually, it’s a service, or it’s a digital website that does this, or platform that will do this. So we then try to understand, well, you know, how these are assumptions, have they been validated? Where’s the evidence in that? Is that actually a real problem? And if not, like, what are the unknown and unknown spaces in that? We do almost a bit of that diagnosis to really understand the problem space before we jump into solution. Because sometimes the framing of the problem isn’t what we really need to solve.


Nelson: Oh, yeah, totally get that. Just everything you said there reminds me of what I do, which is copywriting and digital marketing. In terms of, you’ll have somebody that will come with what they think is the problem. And then you actually look at it and either it’s a problem with framing, or that’s not the problem at all. So, that deep dive and diagnosis is so much like, it’s got so much importance to it, I don’t think people understand that the most important thing is that you’re actually asking the right question in the first place.


Rachel: Exactly. So we spend quite a bit of time – glad this is synergy of your process hearing that. 

Nelson: Yeah it’s very similar. 

Rachel: And that’s where we become more human-centered, like, well, what is the current state of the problems at the moment that are in this space as well? There’s obviously certain market research and things like that, and market trends. But what is it really that from a human level, that they’re struggling with, their frustrations, their pain points? And what is their journey? What is it that they’re trying to really do? And how are they currently doing it? Because if we don’t have a good picture of that, we can’t really even come up with great ideas, or the ideas will be very similar to competitors. So that kind of competitor analysis is quite limited. It doesn’t give you fresh perspectives and new ways of thinking. So that’s almost a way that we do that. We have those insights from real people. That could be for observation, shadowing, interviews, and so forth. It depends on what the problem is, and who we can reach to kind of really understand it. And usually, that helps them to frame the problem. It helps inform what that problem space is. And that’s where the kind of brainstorming of a divergence of ideas kind of come about. That’s what everyone excited about anyway, because they’re like, everyone wants to contribute to that ideation stage. Before then converging those ideas and prioritizing. Well, what is it that we might want to prototype and try out first? Can we create like a concept of that or what we believe was sold that pain point and then actually test and validate it? And that’s what I said that the cycle goes around because even though you’ve got something at high level, you want to get into the details. And hopefully each cycle, you get more learning some feedback that you get into that kind of granular part, and we’re like, ‘Ah, okay, that is one’. And this process doesn’t happen just within service design, it happens within that user experience, and other places, too. I guess for the differences with service design it thinks about the end to end, much bigger, holistic journey. And so an example is like, maybe you’re more focused on the user experience, you might think of one touch point, like what I said with the GP example, it will be just that app to book an appointment. But we haven’t thought about what happens before, what happens after that. Is there something that gets confused or either lost in that experience? And so, we’re trying to tie and connect those thoughts, and piece it into what would we want the ideal experience to look and feel like.


Nelson: So once you’ve got kind of an idea of a problem, do you ever have to think about what are the downstream effects of the solution that you’re implementing, or the upstream effects? The kind of example that I’m thinking about now, just because you use the NHS, which for American listeners, if they don’t know is our national health service. You used the example of the NHS. Now I’m thinking of the policy, I think that came in a few years ago about limiting GP time per patient to like 15 or 20 minutes and where that might be good in terms of the number of patients that are able to be seen, that means the doctor is able to spend less time with each patient; is more likely to miss things or miss diagnose things or prescribe something that’s wrong or not even understand the solution in the first place. That impacts A&E waiting times and the number of people who are admitted and stuff like that. I’m wondering if you ever kind of are asked to consider and the different parts of whatever cycle and problem that you’re addressing?


Rachel: Yeah, I think that’s where the journey becomes a key role. Because it’s sometimes we have to zoom in, and this bit is where we want to make most impact. And maybe based on insights, this is the moment of truth, that is super critical. If we don’t solve this, it has a knock-on effect on other areas, too. And this is why having a holistic picture really helps. Because sometimes we get into the detail, too often and focus on that one app that just does this. Whereas we don’t think about the context where it’s people’s lives, you know when they’re in that A&E situation type thing, it’s an emergency, there’s the emotional need, that’s super important. And so, we always think about the functional part of what needs to be done but sometimes the missed opportunity is really to try and cater for that emotional side.


Nelson: I guess that’s how you take something from like, a bog standard, okay, mediocre interaction into like a world class interaction.


Rachel: Exactly. Yeah.


Nelson: The other thing that you mentioned that I thought was really interesting is identifying that point of highest leverage. So, the point where whatever solution that comes in can have the biggest effect. And that sounds like you’re presumably you’re familiar with systems thinking? 

Rachel: Mm hmm. Yeah. 

Nelson: And were you able to kind of give a give a brief description of what systems thinking is, and it’s kind of relevance to what you do?


Rachel: I’m not sure how to best describe it. And see, I came from a computer science background. So, I think in terms of components and break things down almost, deconstruct things. And my, I guess childhood example I can relate to is Lego.


Nelson: Sure, yeah. We can all relate to Lego. 


That’s because, you know, there’s lots and lots of building blocks and things like that, and you put it together and I think those are things that are modular and could be used. But also looking at a systematic problem is looking at, well, who does it really impact? And sometimes we think of a particular user, like the learner, let’s focus on the education space. And but with COVID, for example, what’s happened is like, well actually there’s a massive knock on effect with teachers in the schools, but the parents as well, and then if you look at the parents of like juggling everything at the moment, and that’s actually looking at it, again, that broader perspective. So, there’s that level of like looking at it from within their state education system and challenging it from that perspective. But there’s also kind of how we approach their business. Now, when we’re thinking about delivering a certain thing, we want to break it down, deconstruct it into things that we can make things kind of modular and building blocks, or almost like patterns that could be reused and because of best practices, and it has been researched, and it has been validated.


Nelson: Okay, and that’s super interesting.

Rachel: Don’t know if that helps. 

Nelson: Yeah, no, no, definitely, definitely. I was just thinking, because my wife is a primary school teacher. 

Rachel: Right. Okay.

Nelson: And so that’s had kind of a big impact on us. We were in in Spain, and Valencia for the first half of this year. And because obviously the Spanish lockdown was quite severe, she was teaching online, doing kind of a mixture of video calls and pre-recorded lessons, still on video as well. And so yeah, I can definitely see how it’s really, really complex. You have to approach things from like a multiple stakeholder perspective. You have to look at how it affects the teachers, what the problem is for the children, and how our solution will affect them. What will happen to the parents? What will happen to this whole, like infrastructure, I guess, in different stakeholders? Super interesting.


Rachel: But I think COVID has definitely accelerated the whole what does that even look like? Now with education? Right? There’s the whole big question. And everyone’s trying to…I think, at first, it felt like, everyone just needs to make like, you know, survival mode. It just needs to work, whatever works, works, because it was really unexpected. And we just have to do what we can.


Nelson: In many cases, it was it wasn’t even, like what works, works, it was, let’s get something in place. 

Rachel: Try whatever, yeah, just anything, right? 


Nelson: Just having that understanding that you’re going to have to change. The first thing is never going to be perfect. You’re getting into like this iterative cycle that you mentioned earlier, where you’re just put something out there, get some feedback, improve that, put the next thing out there, get some feedback and improve that. And I think it’s so similar to how good businesses are run. 

Rachel: Oh interesting. 

Nelson: Obviously, you’re just looking for a particular solution. But yeah, like, good marketers, good product people, good CEOs, are constantly getting that feedback from people. They’re hearing what the customers have to say, and you do this in lots of different ways. You do it through surveys, you do it through feedback, and you do it through kind of scouring social media, and what customer reviews are saying and what your customer service people are hearing. I think there’s just so many similarities with what you’re doing. And I guess there should be right? because at the end of the day, you’re trying to create a solution and that’s literally all businesses do. They create solutions, in the form of kind of products or services or whatever that will take. So, I think that’s really, really interesting. You said kind of COVID was this accelerant. And this is something I’ve talked about with, like previous guests, whether COVID is the catalyst for greater change. I’ve talked about it in the context of ecommerce, which companies like Shopify, and Amazon as well, obviously, kings of commerce, they seem like absolutely massive growth over COVID. And you’ll have seen a dip in the brick and mortar retail sector to weigh that out. And then you’ve got it from the other side in terms of like working from home, and obviously the teaching online and stuff is a part of that as well. It’s a type of working from home. And that seems to have been again, something that was in the making and something that’s been in the pipeline for a while. And then COVID has been this like rocket fuel that’s just been like dumped all over it and somebody’s thrown like a match at it. And, and you’ve seen like, years or even decades of forward motion, I suppose been crammed into this six-month period. It’s really interesting. And I think sometimes it’s proof that it’s that things can work, and that you there are ways of doing this remotely. And other times it’s kind of highlighted that those solutions aren’t in place yet. Do you have any thoughts about that?


Rachel: Oooh….Where do I start?


Nelson: Pick a place and we’ll go. 


Rachel: Well, I guess if I was to take my own journey, like, it’s interesting, because I guess part of the process involves a lot of collaboration. And suddenly with COVID, it’s like, how do we collaborate and build trust online? But collaborate in a way that we’re so used to that kind of face to face humaneness. We had a lab in London, the office where we’ve got the writable, like whiteboard space, and we’ve got Lego around if we wanted to prototype stuff, and things like that. And we loved having learners with their parents over in the lab, because we would do research. And suddenly, all of that just went. And for me, being a very people person, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s uncomfortable’. Even for me, for someone who’s building experiences that are digital. And I think that’s what’s interesting; that I kind of struggled through that. So, I had to find ways to… because screen-time is actually an energy draining thing itself, it’s not quite the same kind of face to face interaction. And to gauge and get that feedback that you mentioned, you’re trying to build that rapport and not everyone enjoys video calls, you know? Maybe they’re really shy of the cameras, and then needs to be a certain way to kind of overcome that. And culturally, maybe they just don’t turn on their cameras. 

Nelson: Just to jump in there, because I think that’s really interesting. I haven’t experienced this too much myself. So I’m just going to put it out there and say, it’s, like, a thing that I’ve heard from different cultures. I think it might have been like James Schramko, or somebody like that, who I think his wife might be from the Philippines, or if not, then she runs a company that pairs Philippine VAs with Western companies. And I think he was giving advice a while ago, and just said, ‘Just FYI, just so you know, lots of them won’t want to turn on their cameras, they’re not doing anything fishy, or anything like that. They just have kind of this, they just prefer not to, basically’. And that’s like as a cultural thing. Whereas, like, in particular, my American clients, they will always expect video to be on, if we’re having like a call, every time. The past one I’ve had my camera not working, they’ve still asked me to turn on. And I’ve had to explain. But yeah, cultural expectations are really important. And then what you were saying about duplicating your in-person experiences and the inspiration that you’re able to get, like, how have you been able to get around it? Or have you been able to get around it and duplicate that kind of…I don’t know that….sometimes when you get people in a room, there’s just a bit of a spark. And you can’t quite describe what it is but you kind of bounce off each other. In this like in the ideation process, like you said before, there’s this like, co-creative atmosphere that you can just kind of feel. I haven’t felt any tool so far, that’s like digital, that’s put me in the same space. I don’t know about you.


Rachel: I think first of all, just swapping one to digital doesn’t work. And the example of this knee education, common thing, you take a book and you make it digital, that’s not going to give you the same reading experience. Right? It needs to be designed differently because the interaction has changed, because the medium and the form has changed. So, we need to almost leverage like what is it that digital brings? And what is it that helps people unite to kind of spark curiosity or inspiration in a different way? And in some ways it’s invited us to be more experimental and playful like now’s the time to experiment if you’ve never had the either know the courage or you feel risk averse to experiment, it’s always you don’t have a choice. Yeah, in some ways, and I mean, that mindset is a good thing. You know, if you reframe it as that. And I’ve been kind of observing different ways that people have facilitated that kind of space, and actually it’s possible, but it requires more planning, I think, than before. And it requires more tuning and really figuring out what is it that makes it human across that and how we can replicate that part. So, in the example that we’ve been using, because we don’t have those whiteboard spaces, and we’re quite visual. We’ve been using Miro and exploring that has our collaborative tool, because it invites people in. 

Nelson: What is that?

Rachel: So, Miro is an interactive whiteboard spaces, but it gives you different whiteboards almost virtually to work on that space. So instead of like a Google Doc, is a whiteboard space equivalent. But you can see everyone collaborating, and it’s quite easy to access, it’s very easy to use, which is super important. Because we also had to build that trust with stakeholders, and they might not be using design tools like what we use, so we had to make sure it was accessible for them. They are comfortable with that. And if they’re not, we have to provide different options going, ‘Oh, well, we can either create some slides for you have the output of that workshop’, for example, and something of format that they’re familiar with, and they can still contribute to. And that’s why certain collaborative tools, it’s how you use the tools, I think, you have to be a bit more imaginative about


Nelson: The bit that I just don’t want to lose sight of at the moment, because I think you’re going to go away from this a little bit. And I think it was brilliant, what you said. I just want to highlight it right now. It’s not necessarily about duplicating an experience taking something from offline to online, it’s just about rethinking what it is you’re trying to do in the first place and seeing if there’s a way that digital actually gives you a benefit, and it does something that the offline world doesn’t do. You want to play to this digital strengths rather than just taking, as you said, like a book, and then just putting that book online. Okay, well, actually, what is the book trying to accomplish? For example, if it’s nonfiction, if it’s textbook or something like that, actually, like, the words on the page aren’t really the point of it, the point of it is to teach, so that you’ve got a scalable way of people accessing learning. Now, if you just think, Okay, how do we get this digitally? You are kind of missing the point.


Rachel: That’s why I’ve seen set and lectures who have been resistant. How was it that overhead projectors where they have been notes?


Nelson: Yeah, I can remember those.


Rachel: But they’ve tried to find a way to scan it, digitalize it and just post that. That’s not going to have that kind of engagement. Especially for learners who have to self-learn. That’s been a new skill for both learners and the teacher side as well. The technology one is, it’s obviously a key one, right? There’s certain things of managing the technology within the virtual space, but also manage yourself. Right? I think all of us have had to find ways of like, maybe we’ve had physical spaces and having boundaries is easier. What does that look like having online boundaries? You know, it’s quite distracting. There’s many, much more noise if you think about it, because that’s the only way for connection in the same time. But it’s also where everything channels that was through that. So how do you almost have a balance still with the wellbeing side? I think the mental wellbeing side is super important. I would say again, that emotional need is really needed more than the functional because of you, if he look after the emotional, you can then do your best work to kind of make sure that the functional need is met.


Nelson: I don’t know about you, but I kind of feel like that emotional side is completely missing from the digital space at the minute. I think, if you compare to, if you compare it to the function, it’s not even like 1 to the 99. I just don’t, I just don’t think it is. Is there? Do you think there’s going to be some improvements in in that sort of space? Is anybody addressing it?


Rachel: I haven’t completely seen everyone. I’ve been trying to see, I guess, I’ve been trying to find ways to look after my own kind of wellbeing as well. And then I sense that more of the smaller companies or organisations are working on that more. I don’t see as much on there in the corporate space. Pearson is actually is quite good, where they stated that quite upfront quite early on. And they have been putting resources and stuff. But I think that was almost like the first thing, but I think it’s how do you make that continuous? And how do you even build that habit? Because it’s a new thing. I don’t think any of us expects these boundary settings, everyone’s some people have just gone much busier. I know that some of my friends have accelerated by, I don’t know, like, 100%. And they have no time whatsoever, because they feel like suddenly, they have to prove themselves more, because of this online spaces, which is quite interesting. So everyone’s in different.


Nelson: What do you mean by ‘prove themselves more’?


Rachel: Because, I guess, the threat of redundancies is much more and things like that. You feel that you need to prove your kind of your skill, your competency. So, you feel like you obviously pressured almost to be busier, to try and do more. But actually, if you don’t, again, look, after the basics, your basics, your core, you’re not going to be that productive, right? There’s still this association with hours versus productivity. And obviously, not everyone has that choice, either. But I’ve I’ve kind of sense certain people have gone much more quicker. And it feels more amplified, even though they don’t have kids, which is quite interesting to hear that. Like their priorities are even more shifted towards geared on work. And yeah, and I don’t know, if it’s because of other fears, like, potential redundancies and so forth.


Nelson: So, it seems like a bit of a breaking down of like the work-life balance. And you mentioned that that might be because the physical barriers have broken down. There used to be this distinct cutoff, when you get in your car, or you’d pop on the tube, and you’d leave your house you get to work. And then work was where you did work. Suddenly work is everywhere, like you’re at home all day. And you can just check an email, or you don’t have that commute. So theoretically, that time has been freed up, or like leisure activities, whatever that looks like for you. But I’m not sure most of that has gone to leisure activities. I feel like the people that I’ve talked to, a lot of that time where they would have been commuting has just been swallowed by more work.


Rachel: Yeah, but that’s what I mean. That’s what I’ve sensed as well. I’ve had to be, I was at home with my first couple weeks. So, it was kind of like, ‘Oh, I see those boundaries’. And I definitely see the difference when I’ve been out for that walk before even starting work. And so I will say like really smaller strategies like blocking out those time blocks in the calendar and stuff, even if it was me following it, at least I know that is my commitment. In the morning, with my phone, I don’t check it until at least eight o’clock or something. And, and that’s what I said that the skill actually that self management and we’re not taught that in the context of the physical spaces, and those boundaries have been removed. And we’re all kind of still adjusting to it. But because those boundaries aren’t there, over time it hasn’t become a habit and then we kind of fall back at that. We can maybe do one complete we can go ‘yes’. And then it kind of falls and then we kind of not get into it sort of thing. But I found for example that I took a habit where I hated running. I never liked running.

Nelson: I mean you sound you sound a lot like my wife now. She despises it. 


Rachel: I have never been a runner, but during the during lockdown I was like the idea of being locked down, being locked in, it was getting to me a lot. And I was just like, ‘Right, I’m going to start running, I’m going to do this couch to 5K app that’s there. I mean, after all, yeah, or treat myself as the couch potato, you know, even I’m not, but I just, if they can do it, I can probably do it too’. And I completed that. So, over that kind of nine weeks, and that has become a habit. And what’s great about it, it was progressive, it wasn’t trying to do everything, give your energy all in one go. It was building it up in increments, and then you kind of build that momentum. And then I’m like, ‘Wow, I went that far’. And now, I can actually say that I’m still doing it. So even though it’s not every day, I’m doing it every other day. And that, for me, that was never existed before. So, I think we need to take the same example for self-management and those boundaries, and kind of apply it that same way. And that’s where a good kind of learning motivation, all of that engagement comes into play. Because I think of like, how I learn best, and how I can use that from understanding about the learning space and how to apply it to myself. So, I’m learning in that process as well. And just because I’ve been in the education space, I’ve seen practices of people, what they’ve kind of done, and apply it to myself.


Nelson: Sure. No, I’m so glad that you use that example. Because just as you were saying, it was occurring to me that that’s a really interesting point. It’s an example of a digital technology giving you the prompts to give an offline physical situation. And I’m wondering about if the role of technology in some part is to get you away from technology. And I don’t want to get too meta about it because I prefer concrete examples. But I’m thinking about the wellness perspective here. And we’ll move on to learning in a minute, because I think that’s fascinating as well. But from wellness, you’ve got like things like couch to 5K that’s very much exercise based. And it’s a habit based, it’s not a one-off thing. It’s designed to get you doing something over a period of time and progressively get harder, but you also get fitter. So, it kind of matches where you’re at, which is fantastic. And then you’ve got things like headspace for mindfulness and meditation, which I think is, again, an interesting but similar example, in terms of it’s technology getting you to switch off from technology. I mean, it’s giving you a voice through technology. So it’s this tool, but people are using it to switch off from the thing that they are getting it from.


Rachel: I don’t think that’s I don’t think that’s uncommon. I think that is becoming more the norm. We were teaching kids design thinking and teenagers, I think it was towards the end of last year, beginning of this year. Their number one issue, (and this is around the world issue), their number one problem is their social media, it’s having that kind of discipline to kind of go and turn off this so that I can focus and concentrate on something. They use certain strategies one uses like The Forest app. 

Nelson: And what does that do?

Rachel: So The Forest app is actually getting you to commit to like, focusing on something and then at the end of it, if you focus without any other distraction, you start growing a little tree, it’s like, you know, like caring for Tamagotchi or something.


Nelson: Yeah I was thinking that, I killed my sister’s…so yeah…not good.

Rachel: I think for them, it resonates with them. Um, and that was kind of interesting. We’re like, ‘Oh, wow, is that these are the problems that they are also having’. It’s not just with adults, there’s actually quite broad and this digital age, I guess.


Nelson: Yeah, it’s, I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how each different generation deals with the social media that’s in front of it. Firstly, because I grew up and had a certain part of my childhood before social media was even a thing. Then, I feel like we already learned those strategies, or we just didn’t have that in place. But now, when social media has got more advanced, social media – those companies have become better at pulling you in. Because their whole business model revolves on it. It revolves around them consuming as much as your attention as they possibly can. That’s how they make money. If you’re not there, they can’t serve you ads. And it’s interesting that you talked about Netflix before, obviously, the incentive is to keep you watching it, watching Stranger Things. But yeah, no, it’s really, really interesting. In terms of like education then, so the number one challenge you think for that for the kids at the moment that at least the ones that you’re interacting with, through Pearson, is that, forget the learning, we can’t even get them to concentrate for long enough for them to stand the chance?


Rachel: I’m not sure, actually, we haven’t actually. One of our barriers is that we, at the moment can’t reach young learners because of the schools. And we usually rely on partnership with schools; they’ve just been so hectic. And I’ve been more a career advisor for one of the schools, just to have a career strategy programme in place. And they’ve just been so busy. We never even, barely met, through that process. So, trying to get close to younger people is really difficult at the moment. Sure, is the only access we have had other people who are maybe at university now, just about to be in university, still figuring out whether they want to go abroad elsewhere to work and to study. We can reach those people, so they’re easier people to reach. But they still have similar things that we’ve discussed as well, as similar challenges. 


Nelson: Yeah I think if I was in the situation, knowing what I know, now, I don’t think I would have gone to university, like during this sort of period. And I said this to my wife, and she and she was like, ‘Yeah, but what else would you have done? It’s not like you can go and go abroad’, which is interesting. Like, there’s no gap year, sort of stuff is there. But yeah, from the from the other perspective, I guess that the students who have gone this year to university. I mean, we’re just in the periods where it would have been like freshers week, right? Like, last week or the week before, which is just like a week, I think even now, university, it might have been two weeks, where you’re just out every night socialising, drinking in my case, and getting to know people, and they’ve just not had that at all, right?


Rachel: Yeah, no, it’s interesting, because I’ve, I’ve talked to someone who is doing a Masters, but actually went back to his home country, because it then happened remotely. So he had that flexibility, which was like, ‘Oh, this is weird but hey, it’s kind of cool as well, that you can be studying a master’s in US, but then be at home, in the other side of the world’. But he did say the things that are missing is that student experience, in terms of the people that you meet, that kind of actual living as a student experience. Now, if you take the course online, and it’s delivered online, okay, that’s almost encouraging, ‘Oh, if you’re a full-time worker, it’s pretty flexible. You can even go around that. And that’s actually perfect at that stage of the life’. For someone who is just starting out of university. I questioned that. And he was saying the same he was like, ‘If I was studying a Bachelor’s at the moment, I’d be quite annoyed about it because you don’t get that full experience. I think if I was now a Masters, I’ve obviously met some of my friends and stuff, and I’m doing the second part of it in my hometown, it’s not as bad’, but he still misses the kind of day to day like, you get to see people, it’s different. The hanging out part. 


Nelson: Yeah, exactly. It’s about all the other things that university includes. It’s exactly what I said before about just taking a book and putting that book online. It’s like, well, actually the whole point of university or not necessarily the whole point, but not all of university is about learning stuff. You know, and I would actually say that for most people, the things that you learn from an academic point of view at university are probably the least important. A lot of what you learn at University are those like softer social skills. You learn how to live with other people from completely different backgrounds, you learn to have conversations with them, you learn probably for the first time for a lot of people by how to become an independent learner. You know, you have a project to do, or an essay to write, you have to learn how to go away on your own or in small groups, and do the research and then go through that period of writing and editing and working out what your ideas on one subjects actually are. Or in some cases, like myself, just regurgitating what other people have already, other studies have already said. But that’s really, really important. University for a lot of people is the first time that that happens. You can pretty much get, at least in this country, get to A level, and there’s still some kind of spoon feeding going, to some degree. You know, this is what you’re going to be learning in this subject today. For the next hour, we’re going to be learning about whatever, and then you get that feedback. But somebody is your guide. And I think university is quite an interesting step for people because you learn some of the skills, how to do that. And actually, I would like to see, and I’m not sure if it’s going on these days, because I did my undergrad, gosh, 12 years ago, or whatever it was. 

Rachel: I think that’s the same for me. 

Nelson: I did my masters like eight years ago. So it’s been a little while. But I would like to think that there’s more focus being given to teaching people how to become learners full stop, at university. Just as like, that’s the most important thing like, I would want to teach my children someday. I think that’s one of the most important skills isn’t necessarily like to teach them the actual knowledge, but to teach them the process of how to go about obtaining that knowledge. I think it’s incredibly important.


Rachel: Yeah, it does make me wonder whether, what is that position of higher ed versus other alternatives now? Are there other alternatives out there? What are apprenticeships like? Are people even doing apprenticeships now because of the COVID scenario and stuff? It makes me wonder, are there kind of, yeah, alternative ways to learn and be self-directed?


Nelson: Hmm. So I think it’s about what you’re actually trying to accomplish? If by learning you’re literally meaning picking up certain skills that you can use either in life or in the workplace? I would say, yes, there are there are those alternatives, whether or not they’re particularly accessible to a range of people, I would say probably not. I still think, the best courses out there to learn things, to pick up actual, like usable skills, the best online ones still cost a lot of money. And a lot of the courses that have been released in the over the last few years, the free accessible ones from fantastic universities, they’re still, very much seem to be, offline courses that have been just been put online. Yeah. And they see terrible, terrible engagement and completion. Like and I’ve, I’ve been there myself, I’ve started, how many courses have, you know, through like, the Stanford one or, gosh, what’s the other one? There are loads of different, like Eduexe and stuff in in the US. There were loads of these. I’ve taken quite a few, or I should say, started quite a few and then bailed after a week or two, because quite frankly, they are courses that were designed to do in person. And then they’ve just been shoved online as kind of like an afterthought and they’ve gone. ‘Online Learning is good’. All right. Okay, cool. It’s learning and it’s online, but it’s not online learning. Yeah. But then there’s this other thing. I don’t know if you’ve come across it or not. I just be interested to get your take on it. There’s an essay, it’s really tough to describe without seeing it, but there’s kind of a resource online to teach yourself the basics of quantum computing. 

Rachel: Right. 

Nelson: I’m not particularly interested in that, I have to say, but I was interested in the method that they were using. It’s like an online format combined, of webpages and emails. And essentially, you go through, and you learn stuff, ad it gives you quizzes as you go as part of this essay. But then uses spaced repetition, to then make sure that you actually learn that stuff over a period. And depending on your answers, it completely changes the frequency and the material that it shows you again, in what order and the kind of progression that allows you to make until it feels like you know the prelim. I wonder if you come across that at all, or something similar?


Rachel: I have come through space repetition because of being in the education space, but I’ve also come across it because my husband used it when he was learning Japanese. He finds it very helpful to put in almost your flashcards things into that…I can’t remember that programme on top my head.


Nelson: For Spanish, I used Anki.


Rachel: Anki. Yeah, that’s the one. Yeah, he does use that. And that’s his way of reviewing stuff and making sure that he learns it. Interestingly, that would not work for me, me and him have very different learning styles, I think. Because then I think it’s regurgitating it was something that I feel like is boring to kind of review the stuff. So I’m a learner, it has to be quite active, and has to be sensing experimental or doing something. So project-base for me, works super well. And recently, I signed up to this kind of sketching online art club thing but it’s to do well being at the same time, there’s creativity and wellbeing mixed together. 

Nelson: What’s that called?

Rachel: It’s the Surrey Art School, they’ve just launched it, and they’ve always been physical, in a space that’s quite close to nature. And they’ve had no choice, obviously, to pivot part of their business online. But what I’ve really liked about it, and I think it’s kind of a model that I see maybe more common, and it’s the mixture, you said that the blend between the digital and the physical. So, I received a kind of starter pack, there was also an email kind of video. So she had that video bite size, kind of format where it’s on her. So, it feels very, like engaging in the in the first impression. And she gets you to kind of connect things in nature, and the theme was like wisdom of the woods. And that’s great. She’s you so you connect things in your own time you bring in but you also had a starter pack with like a sketchbook so feels like ‘Whoa, I get something, I get to do it’. And then she also added a sense of community, if people who want to because some people get that encouragement from the community, or accountability from that, and you upload your progress and stuff like that, when you want to end things. And, and that feels much more connected and meaningful in some ways.


Nelson: So, she’s obviously quite carefully considered the different aspects that she wants to bring in. She’s got the digital there, she’s got the offline, the experiential, the hands on stuff, and then she’s got the community as well. I think that that sounds like it’s been done pretty well.


Rachel: But she pivoted to her business, you know, not knowing and she had to redesign this, and this is her second term. So, yeah, no, I’m very impressed because for her, some of the content is quite new. So, there’s this whole like, does content have to be all polished and stuff or could it be kind of sorting them out, you know, sort of thing. You do a more scrappier version because there’s more that prototype; see what works, see how many views you get, see how long people spend on that. And I think she’s got the kind of right level of the amount of time it takes to digest the video before people get disengaged. But also, there’s an activity worksheet that she has, and you can choose to be stretched if you wanted to, but then there’s a cool thing that you do do. And then she’s got a tutorial of prompts of how you might want to improve your technique. So, I think it’s really it’s a nice kind of combo packaged as an experience, right? Because then I’m excited to go, ‘Oh I haven’t even walked around or with near my area in Surrey, that I’ve never explored. But maybe I’ll might want to go there by bike’. So I think she’s connected things that are both, it gives me a sense of wellbeing; exactly what she says she wants to do. And it’s interesting that she read up on the book about the mindfulness, that I’ve also done the course. But that actually, I can’t remember the exact name, but I can find it for you need to


Nelson: Sure, we’ll put that in the show notes.


Rachel: But we have it where she used it as a framework of almost like, is the creativity mindfulness together. So you’re always finding ways to be mindful, but find a sense of novelty. And there’s different activities, some which are more for a week go some longer kind of thing, and some of them are quite small, but quite, you know, feels that ‘Yeah, I can do this’. And I guess it’s using maybe similar motivational type things as the couch to %K. But she’s kind of translated slightly differently. But in a very mindful kind of way, which I really liked. 


Nelson: Yeah. No, is it sounds like it’s incorporated a lot of things, like the community that we’re talking about. But then the goal setting, and like the sense of accomplishment. I think it’s about that, right? Not having one insurmountable goal that looks like impossible to achieve. How can that be broken up in ways that make you feel good for doing it, but also give you hope that you can carry on the doing that?

That’s really interesting. I think that is a fantastic place to leave things on. We started talking about a murder on my doorstep in Peckham, and ended with a lovely trip to the Surrey woods, and creative and mindset. So we’ve gone all over today. And so, Rachel, where can where can people find you if they’re interested in learning more?


Rachel: And so I’m on LinkedIn, on Instagram, on Twitter, as well. And I’ve also got this side little project that I’m doing about shaping include more inclusive cultures as well. So that’s my little passion project. And, and that could be found as well on Instagram. 


Nelson: What, what’s the name of that passion project?

Rachel: Inclusive Pioneers.

Nelson: Inclusive Pioneers. Fantastic. And as well, for everybody listening, all of those links will be in the show notes. So if you’re interested in hearing more about Rachel, then just pop over and see the transcripts and pick close up. Rachel, thank you so much been such a lovely conversation. And thank you for appearing.


Rachel: Oh, likewise, a very nice way to end our Friday.


Nelson: Exactly. Thanks again.


Rachel: Ok, bye. 


Nelson: And that’s it for today. You’ve been listening to the working from home podcast with me, Nelson Jordan. We’ve been talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly side of remote work. Thanks so much for listening, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed the time you spent with us today. If you’d like to discuss the podcast, you want to make a new friend or you’re interested in working with me on a copywriting or digital marketing project. Then visit nelson-jordan.com. That’s nelson-jordan.com where you can also sign up to my newsletter to hear about this podcast and other exciting projects. Until next week, goodbye.

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