Designing national digital education platforms

A case study from Turkey on how to design effective online learning platforms.

Özge Karakaya
5 min readJul 26, 2022
Image credit: (Unsplash, Apolitical)

This article is prepared for and originally published by Apolitical on this link.

  • The problem: Education platforms sometimes fail to meet the needs of users — the teachers and students using them.
  • Why it matters: Online learning platforms need to facilitate learning in the best possible way to ensure optimal outcomes for students.
  • The solution: An iterative development approach that puts UX at the heart of decision-making.

We live in a digital world. Just like our daily experiences of shopping, commuting, booking e-tickets, etc., access to education is also now digitised through national education platforms provided by governments.

Don Norman, the inventor of the term ‘User Experience’, says, “A product is more than a product. It is a cohesive, integrated set of experiences. Think through all of the stages of a product or service — from initial intentions through final reflections, from the first usage to help, service, and maintenance. Make them all work together seamlessly.” Meeting the user’s needs end-to-end is essential for good experience design, but how about when the users are students and teachers?

The EBA education platform

Looking at national education platforms designed to provide education services in developing countries, it is seen that they mostly focus on supporting teachers and students. ‘Geekie’ in Brazil offers a free smart course system online so that students can prepare for the university entrance exams. ‘Nafham’ in Egypt allows teachers to upload educational videos and make them available to users for free. The Education Information Network (EBA), established by Turkey’s Ministry of National Education (MoNE) in 2012, is an example worth examining in this context as it is one of the largest national education platforms in the world regarding user numbers; however, there is still a long way to go before the platform can be used more efficiently.

EBA enables all teachers and students in Turkey to access course content online, which is prepared by the MoNE and voluntary organisations and presented categorically. Teachers and students are also allowed to create and upload their own content. EBA played the main role in distance education during the pandemic.

The experience of EBA in Turkey can provide important insights when designing national education platforms, especially for distance education.

4 steps for success

Remember that access does not mean accessibility, nor inclusivity

Although EBA made education continue uninterruptedly for a significant population, it frequently went offline due to heavy usage during the pandemic. Thousands of children had difficulty accessing the platform because they did not have access to the internet or there were not enough devices to follow the lessons. The platform was supported by television streams but it was not enough for crowded families with children studying at different levels, nor for people who do not have televisions.

A good user experience design should consider the user’s needs and motivations, but also their constraints that may require the collaboration of multiple disciplines. Considering that teachers and students were already very segregated across Turkey and that a crisis was underway during the Covid-19 pandemic, scientists, engineers, interface designers, and marketers should have collaborated more seamlessly to ensure users could reach education without any problems.

Increasing access does not guarantee accessibility. Although various arrangements were made for the students with special needs in the process, EBA wasn’t successful in taking into account the differences between students and teachers in terms of age, gender, language, digital literacy, and learning/teaching styles.

When designing national education platforms, adopting inclusive design principles and creating a design for everyone is not an option, it is a must. Rosenfeld Media’s collection of personas can help interface designers to empathise with users, and the D4D Framework can help to illuminate blind spots around cultural and racial biases.

Design for learning

The purpose of digital educational platforms for students is to facilitate learning in the best possible way. However, the classic usability goal also requires a design that triggers the motivation of students to achieve their learning goals. In the case of improving EBA, a simple and fluent content arrangement is required that will facilitate its use. This includes a better filtering system that shows the upload date, duration, subject, the number of clicks, and so on. Additionally, implementing different interfaces for different education levels will help to improve the experience for students.

Digital education platforms should be designed to stimulate and retain an interest in a way that saves online education from becoming boring; they should increase interaction, and keep the excitement of learning alive. Producing creative, quality e-content suitable for the curriculum and year groups, and strengthening the learner’s self-evaluation and capability with the help of artificial intelligence can be better improvements in that sense. “Instructional design involves not just presenting information, but also presenting it in a way that encourages learners to engage in appropriate cognitive processing,” says Richard Mayer, who proposes the Multimedia Learning Theory. Based on 12 principles that facilitate information processing, Multimedia Learning Theory can also be used both in the future development of EBA and other digital education platforms.

Understand and collaborate with users

Putting the user in focus requires understanding what life is like for users in general, witnessing their daily lives, and even observing them while using the product. Students who make the most of educational platforms often have little say in product development. When designing national education platforms, decisions are often taken from the top down by decision-makers, administrators, teachers, and/or parents. While it is important to understand their perspective, it is the student who learns using the product and must have a strong say in design decisions.

It will be important to ensure the involvement of students in all stages of the future development of EBA and to test new hypotheses from previous learnings by using ethnographic methods that allow observing students in their own environments.

Deliver, test, learn and adapt

To put users at the centre of the design, problems should be investigated from the perspective of as many stakeholders as possible at the beginning. This will allow designers to discover and consolidate patterns and opportunities at the root of the problems and from the eyes of others. Solutions will also be discovered through brainstorming and testing, and the data from tests should guide decisions on which solutions to move to the next round. Therefore, user-centred design should never ‘end’, and ideas should not be expected to be perfect for implementation.

User-centred design should never ‘end’ and ideas should not be expected to be perfect for implementation.

Today’s needs, user profiles, and technology ecosystem are very different from when EBA was launched in 2012 as an integral part of a massive project aiming to increase the use of technology in education in Turkey. When designing a national digital educational platform, it is important to carry out an iterative process by fostering greater cooperation between institutions and people and aligning policies and tools according to changing conditions. Adopting this approach will also help create trust, ownership, and accountability in the long run.



Özge Karakaya

Stands at the intersection of strategy and creativity, private sector and civil society. Loves and occasionally writes about traveling.