Research  |  Strategy  |  Wireframing & Prototyping  |  Visual Design  |  Validation


The Problem

Before we began this overhaul, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Online Course Application was a six-step process, which was overwhelming and time consuming. It took an average user thirty minutes to complete from start to finish and required unnecessary questions to be answered in order to submit the application.

The six steps of the application process

The six steps of the application process

An example of some of the questions students were being asked upfront. 

An example of some of the questions students were being asked upfront. 

NOLS was experiencing large drop off rates with their application and realized it was time for a change. This process was asking too much of the user and users were leaving because of it. With the ever increasing competition in outdoor education, NOLS couldn't afford to miss out on this potential business. 


And There Was Another Problem...

Not only was NOLS experiencing a problem with their online application, but after prospects were converted into students, the process of preparing them for their expeditions was antiquated and time-consuming.

All the required pre-course paperwork was sent to the student via snail mail and had confusing and inconsistent information about deadlines.

This often left the student overwhelmed, confused, and failing to meet their pre-course expectations. It also made the Admission Officer's lives harder as they had to spend a ton of time tracking down the student's missing components.

This was not creating a quality experience for the students and was not an efficient use of school resources for the Admission Officers. Instead of focusing on quality customer service, they were bogged down in a tedious run-around game. 



In order to start solving these problem for NOLS, we established five primary goals:

  • Simplify the initial application process to increase conversion rates
  • Remove information thats not needed at time of application completion
  • Make the design responsive
  • Allow students to complete their pre-course paperwork online
  • Alert students to important course prep deadlines


Once goals were established, we got started by:

  • Mapping out the user journey
  • Interviewing several Admission Officers
  • Conducting a competitive analysis
  • Performing usability testing on the current application

After understanding the problem in greater depth and developing a strategy, we began paper prototyping and started testing our design on real users.

We adapted the strategy to test early and often.

This helped us to not become too attached to our own design and instead helped us empathize and focus on the user's needs. Testing early also allowed us to use user expectations to move faster and shape the concepts from the very beginning.

For example, we didn't have to think through every single screen before we began paper prototyping. Instead, if a user tried to do something that wasn't built into our prototype yet, we could use that as an opportunity to ask them what they expected or wanted to happen and then quickly build that screen. 

We conducted over 50 usability tests throughout the three month project from paper prototyping to high fidelity design with real NOLS students and parents. This allowed us to feel confident in the solution we ended up with as we saw real users become delighted with the new process before we launched the web application. 



The Application & student Dashboard


So What Was the Result?

The gist: happier users, more revenue, and saved employee time. 

Through this project, the application was simplified from a six- step process to a two-step process, which sped up the thirty minute process to about five minutes. After the launch NOLS experienced a 28% increase in conversion for applications. This correlated to a 4% increase in enrollment for spring 2015 courses and a 8% increase for summer 2015 courses.

The Student Dashboard has saved thousands of hours of employees' time in customer service and clerical work and made for more satisfied students! It also increased the rate at which students turn their pre-course information in by 5%. That has freed up the Admission Officers to focus on providing the highest quality experience


Thanks for checking out this project!