In a few words
Birmingham is a multicultural city with a long and proud history of welcoming immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from all over the world. A vital part of this welcome is the huge range of free and discounted ESOL courses offered by colleges across the country to learners who want to learn or improve their English language skills.
Birmingham Adult Education Services (BAES) had the brilliant idea of building a central hub that would be a central point from which learners search for and find courses and ESOL providers that matched their skill levels and geographic location. They commissioned Fablr after a lengthy and rigorous procurement process, and since then we have taken great pride in delivering a modern, well-crafted platform which is easy to use and informative.
One of the challenges that BAES needed to solve was the tendency for learners to approach colleges that were located closest to their home. The colleges would take them through a long onboarding and assessment process and would often find that they did not offer courses that matched the learners’ skill levels. This often resulted in the learners feeling knocked back and could have a disastrous impact on their learning journey.
BAES wanted a platform that could guide the learner to the right course for them in a way which was intuitive, engaging and gave them a great start on their learning journey. They also wanted a website that would act as a place where learners could find out more about the city they lived in with guides, articles and other resources for new arrivals.
In order to guide learners effectively, we needed to create a truly multilingual and multicultural platform. Learners arrive in Birmingham from all over the world, and coming from parts of the world where the usual assumptions around usability we make in the UK aren’t necessarily the correct ones.
In addition, we needed content to be translated to as many languages as possible – and we could not rely on the typical automated translations. Any points of misunderstanding or confusion could result in learners abandoning their search and putting off learning English for years (or more).
Engaging with users
Our brand development and user experience processes started concurrently but fed into each other as part of the process.
Fablr’s UX team embarked on a series of workshops with BAES, ESOL tutors, and the ESOL learners themselves. Most of these were undertaken remotely, due to constraints necessitated by the pandemic, but using modern technology and tools such as the Maze product testing platform, we managed to gather a wealth of useful information about user expectations, requirements and comfort levels.
Brand and design
It was apparent from the offset that the ESOL hub didn’t need to look like other council websites. We wanted to create a look and feel that was both modern and professional, yet also friendly and accessible. Fablr created an elegant and clean brand with clearly defined iconography and flexible typography.
A key part of the approach was to spend time on the iconography. Non-verbal communication and visual cues were really important factors in ensuring that users could find their way around the site and understand navigational signposting.
It was also necessary to create a design that would work just as well with right-to-left typography as it did with left-to-right. The navigation, calls to action, and content components all had to be flexible enough to handle this.
From the start our plan was to leverage the WordPress CMS to ensure we could deliver the flexibility of functionality the ESOL hub required. Our experience with WPML and our knowledge of building WordPress plugins gave us the confidence that we could leverage the popular CMS to deliver everything BAES wanted from the platform (and more).
Our intent from the beginning was to create a custom screening tool which would onboard learners and guide them to the right ESOL providers. Using TypeScript and leveraging the WordPress API layer, we built a customisable tool which validated the learner, gathered the requested personal information, and then asked them to answer some key questions about their English skill level.
The questions in the screening tool are completely customisable and admin users can add or remove questions and adjust the scoring to ensure the best results. The tool also generates an ESOL Hub ID which the user can then use to log back into their account in future, and which allows BAES to track their learning journey.
"Fablr have shown that the experience of the website users has always been at the heart of the work. We know that the website will make a big difference to the citizens of Birmingham."
- Head of Faculty, ESOL and Languages - BAES
The platform presents learners with a list of ESOL providers and colleges which can be searched by ESOL course level and sorted by proximity to the learner. Learners can also register with an ESOL provider through the platform – on the condition that they have already completed the screening tool. The requisite information would then be sent to the ESOL providers, making the sign up process easier for the learner and giving the ESOL provider everything they need to help the learner engage with their ESOL courses.
Fablr attended and spoke at a launch ceremony that took place in the Library of Birmingham in Summer 2022 and we were warmly welcomed by BAES and the City of Birmingham’s ESOL learners.
Since the launch, Fablr and BAES have been getting lots of feedback from users which we have been analysing and actioning – updating the site and improving functionality. New languages are being added as soon as these can be translated and the platform is growing as more and more learners find their way through their learning journey in Birmingham.
Throughout this, Fablr continues to support and build on the ESOL hub platform and we are looking forward to working on other projects with BAES and Birmingham City Council in the future. ESOL Hub can be accessed at birmingham.esolhub.co.uk