Project Overview

Role: Learning Experience Designer & Education Manager
Duration: November 2017 - November 2018
Methods: Desk Research, Design Thinking, Surveys, Testing, Needs Analysis, Course Mapping, Interviews
Tools: GSuite

The Challenge

The challenge was to develop a 600-hour German online language course for Filipino nurses who wanted to work in Germany. The goal was to improve the passing rate (< 15%) on the official telc language exam for nurses which allowed them to move to and work in Germany. I was approached for this project by the Swiss recruitment agency CarePers where I had been working as a German language teacher since 2015. This course design project was part of my promotion to the role of education manager and learning experience designer of their language department.

The Solution

I designed a 600-hour German language course based on an extensive research phase, existing books and online material and my own experiences with German language teaching. I intentionally went beyond knowledge acquisition and also focused on positive thinking, overcoming fear of tests and learning how to learn techniques. The new course received lots of positive feedback from both learners and teachers and ultimately increased the learners’ success rates.  


Goals & Constraints

After the task was given to me, I wrote a project brief in which I outlined the goals:

  • Improve the learner’s passing rate on the official telc language exam for nurses
  • Improve the consistency of the online German language course across the board

The challenges were plentiful:

  • Budget and time constraints: I had about half a year to develop a 600-hour course and had to work with a very limited budget.
  • Class consistency and quality would never be completely to the level that I ideally would like to have it at, since CarePers often worked with inexperienced teachers. The course therefore had to be easy to use for all teachers, no matter how experienced they were.
  • There’s no course book on the market that could be followed from A to Z due to the various needs of both learners and teachers. This meant that I had to create a mix and match of several course books, mixed in with new exercises, study tips and other useful material specifically suited for the learners, their backgrounds and issues. 
  • The management required that the effectiveness of the course would be proven within the first year of the implementation or the project would be canceled. This was a fundamental difference between the management’s thinking and myself. They wanted quick, effective results whereas I wanted to follow the process. I knew that it would take several iterations, testings and evaluations in order to get a good end result. 

Assess & Empathize

I started working for CarePers as a German language teacher in 2015 where I was responsible for one of the first groups of Filipino nurses. In 2016, I was asked to conduct a pilot project teaching nurses medical vocabulary and assess their curriculum

I analyzed various aspects of the classes, the teachers and the learners and noticed several key issues that without a doubt negatively impacted the learners’ final test scores and their overall learning experience with CarePers:

The existing curriculum:

  • CarePers used a make-shift, improvised curriculum based on a German language course book series.
  • The course wasn’t particularly engaging and lacked a lot of supporting materials: audiovisual material, study tips, online tools and methodology, extra exercises.
  • There was also no specific exam preparation part in which the learners could simulate and train the type of questions and exercises they would be faced with at the exam.

The teachers:

  • A lot of teachers were struggling to use the course effectively, especially when faced with learners who were struggling and needed extra support or material. There was no learning management system, there was just a set of guidelines which everyone interpreted differently. 
  • A lot of teachers were struggling with preparing their learners for the exam specifically. The guideline provided didn’t have any specific guidance towards that. They also often lacked the knowledge and didn’t have the experience with the exam to help and train their learners effectively.
  • A lot of teachers were not used to online teaching and lacked the resources and online tools to do so effectively. 
  • A lot of teachers had issues with introducing the nursing vocabulary, tasks and instructional language to the learners.
  • There was no way for the teachers to keep systematic track of the progress of learners or of their attendance rate as there was no centralized system in place.

The learners: 

  • They didn’t feel motivated or connected to the language they were learning. To many, the German language was just a functional tool they needed in order to be able to move to Germany and improve their quality of life. They didn’t enjoy the experience of learning the language, which considering the fact that it takes most candidates between 6 to 9 months with daily classes of 4 hours, is a long time to feel that way. 
  • The learners often felt anxious, stressed or nervous when taking the test which then in return affected their results negatively.
  • They often lacked the knowledge to use the right online tools to improve their German language skills (many were using Google Translate as a dictionary for example).
  • The learners often had to study and take the classes in difficult circumstances. In the Philippines, many elderly of the same family live together under the same roof which meant that the learner often was also acting as a caretaker and sometimes s/he was also raising children of their own while working at the same time. 
  • Many learners didn’t know how to study effectively so they didn’t manage to get the most out of their classes and often ended up feeling quite frustrated as a result. 
  • There were also several technical constraints (slow internet, computer problems, a lot of learners didn’t have their own computer and followed class from their phone) and other personal issues (e.g. work commitments).


As a result of my extensive research, together with a colleague of mine, I outlined my recommendations for a course of action in the form of a SWOT analysis

I suggested three recommendations of action for the company:

  • Empathize with the learners and the teachers. We needed a course that takes both of their needs, problems and constraints into account.
  • Understand Filipino learners better. The company needed to understand their life circumstances, their mentality, their difficulties and proactively engage them during the course.
  • Create a more solid structure and overall course organization. CarePers needed to implement an organization that would engage both learners and teachers to comply with a certain standard that was universal across the board and made the results comparable.

Ideate & Curate

Because CarePers liked my research and conclusions so much, I was promoted in 2017 to the role of education manager and learning experience designer of their online language school department. One of my key tasks would be to completely redesign the course and implement a better organizational structure as I had previously outlined. 

I started to plan and ideate the first version of the course that would then be used by the first two groups of learners. Due to the time constraints, I hired my colleague Nout Van Den Neste to work together with me on this project. Together, we planned, ideated and outlined the most crucial elements of the new course:

STEP 1: Finding a new course book

Considering the time and money constraints, it was completely out of the question to design all of the material from scratch so we needed to choose a course book that we could rely on and use throughout the development of the course. 

Requirements of the new course book:

  • It should have plenty of audiovisual material, maybe with an online tool or app to help the learners study vocabulary.
  • It should be a book that would be easy to order from the Philippines and that should not be too expensive for the company.
  • Ideally, the course book should also contain some official telc language exam references so that the learners can prepare themselves for the exam.
  • Ideally, the course book should also have a specific, separate component for nurses that introduces nursing vocabulary and professional language.


It was impossible to find a course book series that fulfilled all of these criteria so we ended up with a mix and match solution of different course books and study materials. 


We ended up with a general course book series (Linie 1) as the backbone of our course. This book provided the student with plenty of exercises, audiovisual material, study tips and had its own online tool and app to help with vocabulary acquisition. Then we added a selection of two nursing course books and additional exam preparation material to the course books. This way, we also had more control over our selection of course books since we didn’t have to commit to a single series of course books. 

STEP 2: Designing and structuring the course

We decided to work with G Suite to create PDFs where each document corresponded to exactly one class of four hours. We had considered other learning platforms but considering the fact that many teachers didn’t have a lot of experience with online tools and platforms, we decided it would be best to not go down that road. The PDF would be easily accessible for both teachers and learners which provided us, the creators, the learners and teachers with several advantages:

  • Consistency: We wanted to develop a course that would be easy to follow for all teachers and where the material in each PDF would roughly correspond to exactly one class. The teacher just had to follow the PDF in order for the company to gain comparable results at the end.
  • Flexibility: The slide format also meant that we could structure the content as we saw fit. This was especially convenient since we had used a mix and match approach in our selection of course books. This meant that from A2 onwards, we would often have to create our own pathway through the various coursebooks so that we could optimize how all of the materials worked together. We also knew that we would want to put in a lot of exercises, approaches, materials, study tips and other things that we would create ourselves. 

STEP 3: Scheduling

We outlined a plan with the following details:

  • How many hours it should take the learners to reach each level and the general progress of the course.
  • Which books we would use for what levels.
  • How long the development of the course would take. Due to time pressure from the management’s side, we agreed to a head start of about a month to develop the materials for the first couple of weeks. After that, a new group of learners would start using the new course and would use it until the completion of the course. This meant that the actual time of developing the first version of the new course couldn’t take much longer than about 7 months.


1. The course content

We decided that the course should go beyond mere grammar, vocabulary, knowledge in general and German skill acquisition. Other than the usual elements of a traditional language course such as speaking, listening, reading exercises, grammar and vocabulary, we also wanted to include the following elements too:

  • Study tips: This would help the learners to study better and more independently at home, even under sometimes challenging circumstances. 

  • Audiovisual material & German culture content: Humor, music, movies, cartoons, articles, anything related to German culture in order to make the learners feel more motivated and more emotionally connected to their target language and the country that they were going to move to.
  • Focus on fun exercises in class: We created speaking exercises that focused on having fun to make the learners feel as comfortable as possible in class. Filipino learners in general tend to hold back and it was important to loosen them up and help them enjoy the process as much as possible. 
  • Motivation and positive thinking: This would help the learners keep feeling motivated during the long process of reaching the required level (which normally takes between 6 to 9 months) and positive thinking was necessary since Filipino learners often had feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure due to both internal and external pressures. This became a very important part towards the end of the course when the exam was coming closer.
A selection of tips and motivation from other learners who had previously passed the telc language exam.

  • Nursing content: Smoothly integrate nursing content, vocabulary and language instructions from the beginning in order to confront the learners with their job as early in the course as possible, not only to ensure better exam results but also to keep the learners feel involved and engaged from the beginning of the course.
An example of an A1 level grammar exercise on auxiliary verbs, but with nursing vocabulary. 

  • Exam preparation content: We wanted to keep the last 30 hours of the course for exam preparation in order to help the learners prepare for the exam and guide the teachers, who were often unfamiliar with the exam, at the same time too. 

2. The course organization

I developed an excel sheet where each teacher was required to provide the following information: 

  • The learner’s attendance rate.
  • The progress made by each student and any other relevant observations at the end of every week. 
  • Indicate which presentation s/he had done that day in order to track the progress of each course. That way, I could also intervene when things were moving too slow according to the planning. 

I also introduced the online platform Basecamp to streamline communication between myself, my colleagues and the teachers. 

Test & Evolve

The feedback process consisted of three approaches:

  • I developed a student satisfaction survey to be filled out at the end of every level to track overall course satisfaction, satisfaction with the teacher, the organization of the course, etc.
  • I organized monthly calls with each group of learners where I also got feedback. In Filipino culture, it’s not always common to give direct criticisms or spontaneously mention problems or issues, so it’s key to develop a personal relationship with each one of the learners. That way, they’ll also be more inclined to be open and honest.
  • I organized regular calls with teachers to ask for course feedback and opinions. 

Without a doubt, this particular part was the most challenging for us. Every month, there was a new group of learners that was starting which meant that by the time we had reached the end of the first development stage of the course, there were 8 groups using the course. This often resulted in adapting certain slides or classes if several teachers had indicated an issue with a specific exercise or content while at the same time continuing developing new classes. It was a bit more chaotic than we would have liked to but unfortunately, there simply was no time or budget allowed to follow a more conventional, ideal evaluation and test procedure. 

Key Takeaways

What I learned:

  • The importance of empathy: Because I was able to empathize with my learners and understand their life circumstances, their work situations, their needs, their culture and their way of communicating, I was able to develop a course that spoke to them and helped them not only learn a new language but also helped them feel motivated and have fun in the process.
  • The importance of UX: I followed the analytical process of learning experience design: empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping and testing throughout all stages of the development process.
  • The importance of interdisciplinary thinking: It was a very good experience for me to integrate various disciplines and modes of thinking throughout the development process of the course: the SWOT analysis, positive thinking methodologies, learning how to learn techniques, the science of memorization, etc.
  • Go beyond knowledge acquisition: Building confidence, overcoming test anxiety, learning how to learn, playful exercises with lots of humor, etc.: They all turned out to be key factors in contributing to the learners success and positively influenced how they experienced the course and the arduous learning process.
  • Focus on the minimum viable course: Because time and money were such scarce resources, I learned how to let go of perfectionism and get a good basic first result quickly. I managed to create a minimum viable product with a minimum amount of effort and time. That way, I learned to accept that the end result of a standardized course - even with small shortcomings and with room for improvement - was a more important overall goal for the company than my own personal focus on smaller details. I also learnt to accept that I would never have full control over learners’ outcomes.

What was good for CarePers:

  • They received a 600-hour German language course for nurses which became the company’s unique selling point and attracted more candidates. It improved the overall course consistency and delivered comparable results between groups and candidates. This also increased the learners’ success rate by up to 30%.
  • There were no previous surveys of learner satisfaction so there’s no data to compare it with, but the general satisfaction rate of the learners who were working with the new course was about 80%. This also meant that the company had motivated, satisfied candidates, who would then in return pass on the word to other Filipino nurses who would then also consider to study with the CarePers Academy.

After the first version of the new course was completed, I was asked to make a second course. This second course was intended for 3 months of mainly self-study with two hours of weekly contact with a teacher. This was a course intended for students who had already passed the exam and were waiting on paperwork to move to Germany. It was also intended for learners who had studied German at other language schools. They had worked with a different course, had previously passed the general telc B2 exam and now needed to learn nursing vocabulary. At the end, the plan was that this course was going to be used by about 1000 candidates.

I considered the fact that we were asked to execute this task to be a personal victory. The learners technically didn’t “need” this course for any exam or any other reason than personal benefit and satisfaction. It seemed to me that the company understood that the overall learning experience was about a lot more than just passing a test or acquiring the necessary knowledge to work in Germany. I also should mention that the CarePers Academy doesn’t exist anymore but thankfully, both courses are still being used in other schools and companies. 


"​I worked together with Nora on this course design for nearly a year. I was most impressed with her capability to simultaneously process feedback from various angles (teachers, students, co-workers) and develop educationally solid solutions accordingly. Throughout the process, Nora always kept her focus on the needs of our Filipino students. Our collaborative process was the very definition of great team work as there were lots of opportunities for honest criticism and good communication. Our curriculum not only improved the consistency of the company's classes but also substantially improved the candidates' success rate. Her playful approach to the work and to the curriculum design itself not only made for a very pleasant, stimulating work experience but also resulted in a colorful, intuitive curriculum that was a pleasure to use for both students and teachers. She is a true asset for any company looking for an enthusiastic, passionate designer who is able to process and structure information at a rapid pace and deliver a fantastic project in the end."
— Nout Van Den Neste (Dutch & Go)