Photo credit: Adrian Sanchez Gonzalez, Montana.

Science Action Club

educator professional development

Client: California Academy of Sciences

Teammates: Katie Levedahl, Laura Herszenhorn, Rik Panganiban, Cesy Martínez, Andrew Collins

My role: service design | content development | productization


Science Action Club (SAC) is a professional development provider in the afterschool space. SAC wanted to scale from a handful of sites in the Bay Area to hundreds of sites across the nation. To make this transition, SAC needed to radically overhaul its content delivery system.


I designed and developed an online learning program for SAC's network of educators. The goal of the program was to enable our educators to become experts at the SAC curriculum. Due in part to the program's success, SAC now serves 5,000+ youth and 500+ educators in 15 U.S. states.

User Research

Common traits include hectic schedules, non-permanent part-time jobs, and a fear of science and technology.

I was wholly unfamiliar with the afterschool space when I joined SAC. So, I began by learning more about the target user of Science Action Club's product, the afterschool educator. Based on a number of conversations and interviews, I came up with a list of user characteristics:

  • Unfamiliarity with web and mobile technologies. A majority of our educators were either middle aged residents of suburban and rural areas. Many of them were not comfortable with technological tasks more complex than email.
  • Spotty background in science. Many of our educators did not have a background in science. A number of them hadn't taken science since high schoo, and were wary, even terrified, of sicence.
  • Little training in pedagogy. A number of our educators entered the afterschool space without any training in education or pedagogy. They would need additional support because they had never worked with groups of children before.
  • Pressed for time. A number of our educators took on afterschool education as a part-time job to supplement other pursuits. They were often required to lead afterschool activities with little or no preparation time beforehand.


How does a team of five people create an experience for five hundred educators?

The SAC team decided to use a blended learning approach to train our network of educators. After joining a network, each educator would go through the online training and an in-person workshop. Here is a sample user journey for our service:

We divided the SAC experience into four main steps. Step 1 creates buy-in among new educators. Step 2 allows educators to prepare for SAC on their own time. Step 3 gives educators a space to hone their skills in a community of other paticipants. In Step 4, educators bring SAC to middle-school youth, the end-users of our program.

Product vs. Service

SAC needed to transition from a product to a service in order to provide an end-to-end experience for our users.

The technology industry no longer draws a clear disntinction between products and services. This dintinction is especially obscure to users. Today, most mature products are designed as services; the product's success involves a compresenhive (or service-oriented) approach to user experience.

For Science Action Club, our service includes tangible products (such as an online learning course), multiple artifact-based touchpoints (including recruiting material and surveys), as well as a steady stream of communication to keep optimize the user experience. The particulars of SAC as a service are captured in the service blueprint below.

This service blueprint builds out the specific exchanges of information and artifacts taking place during SAC's training process.


Scaling meant moving away from exclusively in-person trainings. We recognized the need to go online early on.

Science Action Club has three different curriculum units - Bird Scouts, Bug Safari, and Cloud Quest. At the beginning of the design process, I chose one of the curriculum units and created a skeleton for the online training. I then built a high-fidelity prototype of the training using Articulate Storyline 2 and hosted it on a learning management system called Litmos. Here's a map of the online training:

User Testing

We tested our online training with 25 educators using techniques such as contextual observation and think alouds.

In the inaugural round, we had a group of twenty-three educators take the Bug Safari online training in our presence. We made ourselves available to answer questions, and we also collected a treasure trove of data on how our design decisions were being perceived by our users. The insights we gained from this round of user testing were instrumental in informing future iterations of the online training. Here are some examples of insights:

  • Synthesis: Many of our users had trouble summarizing the key takeaways from each section of the training.
  • Time: Our training, which is designed to last 2 hours, was too long for our users to complete in one go.
  • Interactivity: Many of our users wanted the training to be more interactive, so they could validate their progress.

Concurrent with the online training, we also conducted user tests for our in-person workshops. Here's a photo from one of our early workshops.

Photo credit: Adrian Sanchez Gonzalez, Montana.

Final Design

Guided by the human-centered design process, and limited by the resources available to my non-profit client, I built an online training that was efficient and effective.

Based on the data from our user tests, we decided to implement a number of changes to the online training. The final product was an interactive online trianing that lasted two hours. It contained explanatory onboarding sites in order to be able to accommodate even our most tech-averse users. It also contained optional sections that allowed our more savvy educators to delve deeper into the topics that interested them. Here are some features from the final design:

We added summary slides at regular intervals to capture and consolidate the key takeaways from the online training.

We added 'Take a Break' slides after each of the four parts of the online training. These slides weren't meant to remind our educators to take regular breaks during the 2-hour training.

We added three knowledge checks throughout the training to allow our educators to test and augment their learning.

    Check it out

    Science Action Club now features three environmental science units—Bird Scouts, Bug Safari, and Cloud Quest—that take youth outside to investigate nature, document their discoveries, share data, and design strategies to protect the natural world.

    SAC curriuculum and training

If I had more time...

...I would conduct contextual interviews with our educators to understand more about their background and teaching style. I would also take a survey of our entire network and use that information to create well-defined buckets of users. I would then use this informaiton to personalize the online training even further.