The Capacity to Learn

Meet The Woobles and you’ll begin to understand the power of mastering a craft.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Justine Tiu is Co-Founder of The Woobles. Justine specialized in educational products as a former Google Senior UX Designer as she led Google Classroom and helped invent Google Expeditions. As a self-taught designer and crocheter, she strongly believes in people’s ability to constantly learn and grow. She’s particularly interested in the intersection of physical and digital experiences, and how we can use technology to augment (instead of detract from) real-life experiences. She’s the creative force behind The Woobles.

‘…while today we’re focused on crochet, our broader objective is to create a design framework that makes the learning process for any physical skill more intuitive.’

Adrian Zhang is Co-Founder of The Woobles. Former trader, Adrian managed multi-billion dollar trading books at JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank. In addition, he built one of the largest Centralized Risk Books on Wall Street. He currently works alongside his co-founder (and fiancé) Justine in developing new products and technological developments that guide users in gaining confidence through new skills.

In this EdTech Digest interview, Justine and Adrian share the origin of their venture, some of the edtech and learning theory stitched into it, how they’ve literally given every learner a head start, and where they are headed as an education company. 

What prompted you to create The Woobles? What problem were you trying to solve?

Justine: We started The Woobles because of a woman named Emily. Emily had been trying to learn how to crochet for years, but couldn’t figure it out because she was “too old,” “not coordinated enough,” “not crafty,” and “not smart enough.” To my ears, it sounded like the thing actually stopping her was that she had stopped believing in herself. So I offered to teach her at a local coffee shop a few days later.

‘To my ears, it sounded like the thing actually stopping her was that she had stopped believing in herself.’

When we met, Emily started things off by apologizing. She apologized for being a minute late, for taking too long to order, for taking up my time. She even apologized for how loud the cafe was. After our hour together, Emily got the hang of crochet and I realized she had also stopped apologizing. She spoke louder, sat up straighter, and couldn’t stop smiling. In just one hour, it was as if Emily became a new person.

It wasn’t crochet in particular that changed how Emily saw herself. It was that learning to crochet showed her that she still had the capacity to learn. The experience made such an impact on her that it changed how she carried herself outside of the skill of crochet. Seeing her transformation is what made us want to boost other people’s self-confidence through The Woobles.

Why did you choose to apply edtech to crochet?

Adrian: Crochet particularly stood out as an opportunity because it’s something people expect to only be able to learn person-to-person. What’s more, when it comes to the process of independently learning crochet, there are a few things going for it. 

‘Crochet particularly stood out as an opportunity because it’s something people expect to only be able to learn person-to-person.’

First, it’s a skill rooted in mastering a few fundamentals. So while the learning curve may seem high, it’s also fairly short and therefore feels very achievable. Plus the repetitive nature of crochet gives learners ample opportunity to practice and improve. 

Second, it’s a medium that has a safe learning environment. As a beginner, when you inevitably make mistakes, you can simply undo them or fudge things a little to get back on track. By reducing the pressure to execute newly learned skills perfectly, it gives learners the confidence to experiment.

How did you apply your experience designing edtech at Google to The Woobles?

Justine: We use several learning science and user experience design principles in our beginner crochet kit experience – both the physical kit and the accompanying digital learning platform.

One of the main things we think about is how to reduce cognitive load. People learn better when presented with small bits of information. That’s why we chunk the learning process into multiple bite-sized steps, several of which include a short video that’s 5 minutes long or less. It’s also why the actual UI design of the platform is important.

‘…the actual UI design of the platform is important.’

We employ progressive disclosure – an interaction design pattern of sequencing information across multiple screens to prevent users from feeling overwhelmed – and keep the UI minimal, so that learners can stay focused on only what they need to know right now.

As for the physical kit, we pre-start it so that the first challenge a complete beginner is faced with better matches their current skill level. Starting a crochet project is one of the trickiest things to do – to the point that for a complete beginner, it would deter them completely. By pre-starting the project for them, learners can jump into mastering the basics before attempting higher-level skills.

Pre-starting the kit also creates the Endowed Progress Effect. It’s the reason why customer loyalty cards usually come with at least one free stamp. By providing people a head start, it encourages them to complete a goal – in our case, learning to crochet. 

‘By providing people a head start, it encourages them to complete a goal…’

Additionally, this pre-started piece is set up in a way that’s impossible to unravel. This makes for a safe space to fail. In the event that the learner makes a mistake and needs to start from the beginning, they won’t have to start from zero – they’ll always have a head start.

Why do you think your product is working?

Adrian: We spend a lot of time figuring out how to teach a physical skill through the combination of hardware and software.

The pre-started piece is key to beginners’ success with learning how to crochet with our kits. It’s why our product is more effective than just YouTube videos. Combine that with our step-by-step guide, and now we have a very safe and doable learning experience. And once someone does successfully learn to crochet with our kits, they experience fiero – that feeling you get when you accomplish a difficult task. It gets them excited, and makes them want to share their success with others.

We’ve also taken a microscope to the crochet learning process. We regularly test new iterations of our product to inform how to order curriculum, explain concepts, and improve the UI or even the actual material of the kits. We watch complete beginners use our kits and pay attention to the littlest of things – from the words they use to explain something, to how they hold their yarn in relation to their device. 

What’s next for The Woobles, after your first year? 

Justine: We brought The Woobles from a 0- to 7-figure business in less than a year, and we’re reinvesting everything back into the business. Our growth so far has come from solely selling crochet kits, which is why outwardly we may look like a crochet company. 

However, unlike regular crochet kit companies, we don’t spend the bulk of our time making new designs. We actually spend the bulk of our time figuring out how to teach physical skills at scale. This is why we think of ourselves more as an education company.

‘Our goal is to simplify how people learn physical skills, whether it’s for a hobby, job training or to just put together a piece of furniture.’

Our goal is to simplify how people learn physical skills, whether it’s for a hobby, job training or to just put together a piece of furniture. So while today we’re focused on crochet, our broader objective is to create a design framework that makes the learning process for any physical skill more intuitive.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]

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