Ep. 411 – How Moving Online has Forever Changed Market Research with George Zhang, Director of UX Research at Course Hero

My guests today are George Zhang, Director of UX Research at Course Hero.

Course Hero is an online learning platform with over 60 million course-specific study resources contributed by our community of students and educators, and produced by our team of educational content specialists in collaboration with subject experts. 

Prior to joining Course Hero, George has held Senior User Experience Research roles at Uber, Google, and Lenovo, and was a Mentor at 500 Startups. 

These interviews are being done in conjunction with the Qual360 North America 2021. It will take place virtually on a dedicated conference platform! The unique Qual360 concept allows for a diverse range of participants and topics at each conference, offering local trends as well as a global perspective. 

Qual360 North America 2021:

Website: https://na.qual360.com/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/merlien-institute 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Merlien 

Find George Online:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gqzhang/ 

Website: https://www.coursehero.com/ 

Find Jamin Online:

Email: jamin@happymr.instawp.xyz 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jaminbrazil

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaminbrazil 

Find Us Online: 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/happymrxp 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/happymrxp 

Website: www.happymr.com 

Music: 

“Clap Along” by Auditionauti: https://audionautix.com 

Epidemic Sound: https://www.epidemicsound.com/ 

This Episode is Sponsored by:

This episode is brought to you by SurveyMonkey. You may know SurveyMonkey as a leader in feedback software, but may not know about their all-in-one market research platform. It’s powered by AI technology and taps into an integrated global Audience panel to deliver insights faster, without compromising quality. 

Their latest innovation, the SurveyMonkey Brand Tracker, disrupts traditional research techniques by helping companies continuously monitor shifts in brand perception. Instead of static presentations, data is delivered in dynamic dashboards. Revolutionary AI-Powered Insights instantly surface meaningful trends so you can spend less time digging through data and more time on your high impact strategy.

To learn more about SurveyMonkey’s market research solutions, visit surveymonkey.com/market-research.


[00:00:00]

Jamin Brazil: Hey everyone. I’m Jamin posted today’s episode on the Happy Market Research podcast. My guest today is George Zhang, Director of UX Research at Course Hero. Course Hero is an online learning platform with over 60 million course specific study resources contributed by a community of students and educators and produced by a team of educational content specialists in collaboration with subject matter experts. Prior to joining Course Hero, George has held senior user experience research roles at Uber, Google, and Lenovo. And he was a mentor at 500 Startups. I would also like to point out that this interview is being done in conjunction with QUAL360 North America 2021. This event will take place virtually in a dedicated conference platform. The unique QUAL360 concept allows for a diverse range of participants and speakers as well as topics and offers a global perspective on this rapidly changing area in consumer insights. So with that, George, thank you very much for joining me on the show today.

[00:01:19]

George Zhang: Thank you, Jamin, for having me here today. I’m very excited to chat with the audience and show and tell our stories. Jamin, go with your question.

[00:01:37]

Jamin Brazil: This episode is brought to you by SurveyMonkey. You may know SurveyMonkey as a leader in feedback software, but may not know about their all-in-one market research platform. It’s powered by AI technology and taps into an integrated global audience panel to deliver insights faster without compromising quality. Their latest innovation is the SurveyMonkey brand tracker. It disrupts traditional research techniques by helping companies continuously monitor shifts in brand perception. Instead of static presentations, data is delivered by dynamic dashboards, revolutionary AI powered insights, instantly surface meaningful trends. So you can spend less time digging through data and more time on your high-impact strategy. To learn more about SurveyMonkey’s market research solutions, take a second, visit surveymonkey.com/market-research that’s surveymonkey.com/market-research. Sure. So my first question is, tell us about the topic for your session at this year’s QUAL360.

[00:02:42]

George Zhang: The topic is about research at a tech unicorn. How do we transform qualitative research and the quantitative research methods during COVID-19? So that’s a title. The storyline runs this way. Everybody knows COVID 19 totally up-ended our lives. For example, the city locks down and there’re international travel bans. It affects campus significantly as well. For example, the students had to go back to their homes. So did the teachers and the professors. That’s point one. Another bigger point, it affects the qualitative researchers significantly. Almost the same time last year, many qualitative researchers lost our jobs and it’s because many sectors got affected. It’s really a tough time. The research team at Course Hero, which is an online education platform, which Jim very well introduced, we worked hard, and then we were initially caught off guard even as we got some were prepared thanks to the existing research and thanks to the existing research framework we got from there and then we worked with our team to get through this. That’s basically the story we’re going to talk about. I’m also happy to give a little bit more detail upon Jamin’s question.

[00:04:48]

Jamin Brazil: I am very interested in the transition. There’s so many things I’m interested in about this, especially given the companies that you’ve worked for, sort of providing a very global view on, what is in my opinion, the most significant event that’s happened to us at a global scale in my lifetime, maybe our lifetime. So one of my questions is how has the pandemic now impacted your actual, types of projects that you’re doing going forward?

[00:05:22]

George Zhang: That’s really a good question. In terms of types of project, let’s go back a little bit about the questions and also the problems we are solving. We still needed to understand our users and that we still needed to understand how they are living their lives right now in a different scenario. What changed? What hadn’t? And then, for example, while more and more students are taking online classes and they are separated from their fellow students, they still needed to learn the same thing at the same pace following the same semester. Some semesters got disrupted. So what has been changing there significantly changed the way we do research. So if we have to see something that is different than in the past, is that the shift of our research project to change from more evaluative research in the past to more generative research right now. Gladly Course Hero stakeholders, they talk about the basic questions about, where our students are, how well are they doing? And then what specifically needs they’re having. So we supercharged and then doubled down to more fundamental research. And once we got that thing clear and we worked [INAUDIBLE] and many other things to come up with more user-friendly and user centric solutions to our students, and then implemented that. And it then goes through the traditional if it has to make sure it works for the end users and solve their problems. And that’s one type. Another type of users are our online tutors. Course Hero, for example, we have the Q and A product. Basically the students can ask questions and the tutors will answer about that. The COVID led to a lot of lockdowns working from home, this kind of thing. We are seeing more and more tutors applying with us. Comparing with other gig works, Course Hero tutoring became apparently a choice for them because they don’t have to leave home, their place to take this job to help the students. To stay at the home is perceived literally as safer, cleaner than other gig jobs. For example, delivering food and other things. So therefore, we’ve got a lot of tutors and a lot of first time tutors. How do we have them to get familiar with our platform? How do we have them to answer the right questions in the right way at the right time to help the student. They are all big questions we needed to look into. So that’s basically the changes of our project. Again, let me summarize. We focus on the users. We focus on the changes in their life, and so do our product stakeholders and that’s what has been changing in our projects.

[00:09:35]

Jamin Brazil: Being very customer centric is what I’m picking up, or user centric across the organization. And that’s something that I’ve heard from many companies, especially lately. Obviously we all need to make money at a corporate level, but the way to really achieve that is by building tools and systems. It’s really about creating a connection with the consumer on an emotional level, as opposed to just on a transactional level.

[00:10:04]

George Zhang: Yeah. Exactly.

[00:10:05]

Jamin Brazil: I want to pull back a little bit and think about some of the macro trends that we’re seeing in consumer insights. Obviously, qualitative is part of that, but there’s many other things that we’re seeing inside of inside of our space. Could be HR, that is, maybe work from home coming back to work. It could be storytelling, trackers, et cetera. But I’m curious, what do you see as material trends in market research that will carry us into 2022?

[00:10:34]

George Zhang: Looking forward and also looking back. Looking forward, we cannot necessarily have the dots connected, but if we’re looking back, we’ll possibly know what we will be carrying, being carried over to the next year. What I saw in the past is this. For example, for the qualitative market research, many older ways won’t happen easily. For example, live sessions, in-person sessions, field works, focus groups. Those things won’t be happening easily, instead, I’m seeing a lot of online alternatives for those activities. Those things are growing and keep growing. And I also see many tools are coming up. For example mural board, and those things will be used and also Zoom based focus groups. And Zoom based interviews will happen as an alternate. That’s the number one for the qualitative researchers. Number two, I’m seeing actually the unmoderated sessions is happening more and more, at least in my company. And also on the other companies. I’m talking with their research leads. Unmoderated sessions can give us somewhat larger scale and also reach out to the users who are living in a different time zone with you and different locations. And literally many users are living in other countries and those things, that’s why unmoderated sessions will be the second point. The third one I really want to drive a home is that qualitative researchers and the quantitative researchers, they’re two ends of one spectrum. And the boundary between the two are literally pretty blurred. And this COVID pandemic has even further blurred the boundaries between the two in this manner- For the qualitative researchers, we’re working more closely with data scientists, the data analysts and the quantitative researchers. And the way I use more and more survey based insights and also log based insights to help us either to come up with the right research questions or validate or falsify our qualitative insights. So that’s my sort of point to see the further, stronger, more timely triangulation between qualitative and quantitative research. Then move onto the fourth thing. It only applied to researchers working in a small team or a small company like Course Hero. We will run a larger scale research project. We very likely needed to work with external research partners. In my talk, I will give one case about the way we work with NASPA and the college reports. There’s two partners to run a very large scale national student well-beings survey. And we found a lot of interesting, valid and reliable insights, which guided us, and it also guided our external research and product. Partners working all in the education ecosystem. So that’s my overall summary. I believe those four things are still going on into 2020.

[00:15:03]

Jamin Brazil: That’s wonderful. Super helpful. My last question is, what is your personal motto?

[00:15:08]

George Zhang: Thank you for asking. I don’t have a particular people in mind. I do have a framework in mind talking about what guided me through in the last 10 years at least. And what is the thing I look up to when I’m facing difficult decisions. The motto is called ikigai. It’s I-K-I-G-A-I. It’s a Japanese word. The literal meaning is the meaning of life. And it answered many challenges we are facing about whether we do this or do that. It is only made of four things. What you are good at, what you love to do, what is needed for. And whether you call it beautiful. The beautiful thing is that if you combine the four things in the two by two and three by three and those manners, you’ll see different combinations about whether you treat a thing as a mission or a vocation. All those things like that. I put that into many of my media post and you’re welcome to look into that. And also you can Google it and to see what it means. It’s extremely helpful for me to find the meaning of my life as a researcher.

[00:16:46]

Jamin Brazil: I’ve never heard of it before, but in our pre call briefing, I found it very valuable just in terms of how I frame the things that I do, where I spend my time and maybe even helping me understand where I shouldn’t be spending my time.

[00:17:01]

George Zhang: That’s exactly. It’s a simple motto and I encourage more people to have a look at that.

[00:17:09]

Jamin Brazil: Everyone, thank you so much for joining me today. Our guest has been George Zhang, Director of UX Research at Course Hero. George, thank you for joining me on the Happy Market Research podcast.

[00:17:21]

George Zhang: Thank you Jamin so much. And thank you everyone for having me here. And that’s a really great honor.

[00:17:28]

Jamin Brazil: It is absolutely our honor for having you. Again, this is connected with QUAL360 North America that is happening relatively shortly in the next month when this show drops. I’m encouraging you now. Check out the show notes, click on the link in order to register. I’ll also include some other relevant links that George has referenced. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day.