A real-world lab for enabling
experimentation and innovation in education
Sarah is among many students who worked with the
BIF Student Experience Lab. For many students
like Sarah, being in a “one size ﬁts all” educational
environment creates many barriers to success.
BIF Student Experience Lab: Student
Why the Student Experience Matters Experience Lab
The conversation about innovation in education includes advocates, • Established in 2009
academics, policymakers and community leaders who all care very
to create a new platform
deeply about the future of education. This conversation includes a lively
debate across a broad spectrum of perspectives about where we are, for understanding and
how we got here and what we need to do to transform education in improving the student
But, what is missing in this conversation is the voice that matters most:
The voice of the student. To hear this voice you must tune into a dif- • Focus on documenting
ferent channel—one that most institutions and policymaking bodies do the student experience
not understand. As a result, too many conversations about education through the lens of
reﬂect the perspectives, needs and agenda of institutions and not those
of the students they serve. Despite our best intentions to give students
what (we think) they want and need, we often miss the mark. • Emphasis on connecting
The Business Innovation Factory’s (BIF) Student Experience Lab was innovators across all
created to put the student and the student experience at the center of
sectors and disciplines to
our country’s efforts to transform education.
work on transforming our
Central to BIF’s nonproﬁt mission is our work to help partners from
across the public and private sectors focus on solving problems by educational system
designing and testing new solutions in a real-world environment. It
• Committed to creating
was a natural transition for BIF to apply its methodology to understand
and improve the student experience. systems-level change that
puts the student at the
center of the educational
All photos courtesy of Erik Gould
• Building a network
who are committed
to designing and testing
new solutions in a real-
thanks to the Building a Real World Lab
BIF launched the Student Experience Lab in 2009 with an initial phase
BIF was honored to receive of work focused on illuminating the college student experience and
a grant from the Lumina identifying opportunities to enhance the college student experience and
Foundation for Education improve the effectiveness of the U.S. higher education system. Although
to launch the Student the Lab has since initiated efforts to expand into other areas of the
Experience Lab in 2009. educational continuum, initial work in the post-secondary arena was
In alignment with Lumina’s an ideal place to start.
speciﬁc interest in post- We embarked on this ﬁrst phase of work under the premise that the
secondary education, the current U.S. post-secondary education system does not deliver, at suf-
Lab launched with an initial ﬁcient scale or at an affordable price, a high-quality college experience
phase of work focused on that prepares all students with the skills they need to fully participate in
illuminating and improving the 21st century global economy. As a result, too many students are left
the college student with their educational and economic needs unmet.
The Lab’s approach is straightforward: Bring the student experience to
Building on this foundational life in a way that makes their voice more central to our conversation
phase of work, the Lab has about transforming education. With this mission, the team created an
begun expanding to include “experience map” of the environmental and human factors that are the
all parts of the educational most signiﬁcant drivers of the college student experience. The Lab’s
continuum. design researchers used observational and ethnographic research, in con-
junction with secondary research, to illustrate the experience of current,
former and prospective students at various ages and from diverse racial
and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Working with students at more than 40 schools from across the coun-
try, the team gathered thousands of data points related to the students’
experiences with the academic, personal and ﬁnancial components of
the higher education system. We captured their story using video, audio,
photography and narrative to shine a new light on the human, environ-
mental and systems-level factors that have the most signiﬁcant impact
on their success.
The team also interviewed dozens of education experts and advocates
from all sides of the debate and created a unique visualization of the
most signiﬁcant historical and policy-related events in higher education
What did we ﬁnd? Students are making decisions with tragically little
information about their options or the long-term consequences of their get engaged in
choices. Students are maxing out on debt and uncertain how to turn the bif student
their dreams into a fulﬁlling career. And, schools are struggling to deliver experience lab
affordable services that meet demand. To effectively educate Americans The BIF Student
at the scale and speed that we need, we must aggressively explore and Experience Lab packages
experiment with new solutions that enable more students to get the its ﬁndings in a highly
education they need. visual and interactive
BIF’s approach enables stakeholders to see the experience through the format that uses video,
lens of the student, better appreciate the dynamics of the whole system audio, photography and
and more readily identify opportunities for innovation and intervention. ﬁrst-person narrative
This deep understanding experience also enables BIF and its partners to tell the story of the
to identify speciﬁc elements of the experience where investment in student experience in
innovation is likely to yield the greatest return. a way that reveals the
Lab outputs from this phase of work can be viewed at:
and systems-level factors
that most impact degree
The Lab is continuing its work in the higher education space and has attainment.
initiated efforts to move into the K-12 arena. The team is also work-
Please visit our website
ing with advocates in the workforce development space to explore how
to explore lab ﬁndings.
BIF’s platform can be leveraged to support the expansion of programs
that enable lifetime learning and worker retraining. You can also join our
virtual lab and provide
The Lab’s methodology offers a powerful tool in ongoing efforts to
input directly to on-going
understand the student experience–at all grade levels–and accelerate
the design and development of new solutions.
In its ﬁrst phase of work, the BIF Student Experience Lab team
worked with students at schools across the country to gather
Chasing the Dream
thousands of data points about the college student experience.
Planning the Future While every student experience is in many ways unique, the Lab’s
Navigating the System design researchers identiﬁed nine experiential themes that span
Managing Finances demographics, geography and school and student-type. In mapping
Institutional Fit the student experience, the Lab team used video, audio, photography
and narrative to bring new visibility to the human, environmental and
Being in Class
systems-level factors that have the most signiﬁcant impact on student
success. You can explore these themes in full, and from the perspective
Leaving School of the student, at www.businessinnovationfactory.com/projects/sxl
First generation college students are in a unique position
in their families. They often must seek external support
to guide their decision-making about education. Hearing
stories from students like Henry and Victor illuminates
the complex dynamics of this reality and the unique
challenges they face in achieving academic success.
Why Experimentation in Education Matters
We need in education, as we have in most industries, R&D platforms
that enable systems-level experimentation; where disruptive ideas can
be tested in real-world conditions but in a manner where risk can
be managed and the scale-up of proven ideas accelerated. There are
some glimmers of this spirit of experimentation in education, but we
need to multiply the effort.
What is unique about BIF’s approach is our belief that transforma-
tional innovation in education begins with a deeper, more personal
understanding of the student experience and a willingness to Valerie is one of dozens of students in
experiment with new models of delivering education that put the the Lab who shared their stories about
students—not the institutions who serve them—at the center. balancing the demands of work and
BIF’s unique non-proﬁt platform creates an ideal setting for school.
collaborators, including those from within education and those
from other disciplines, to work together to explore and test new
ideas. Building a strong articulation of the actual student experience,
collaborators in the Lab are better positioned to design and develop
solutions that directly enhance the student experience.
In establishing the Lab, BIF has created a national network of
individuals, organizations and students who share our belief that
experimentation is key to creating deep transformational change.
This network, in conjunction with BIF’s platform for real-world
experimentation, forms the foundation for a living laboratory
where new ideas for improving the student experience can be
designed, tested and reﬁned with direct student engagement.
partnership opportunities A strong academic and personal
foundation, good study habits and the
BIF welcomes participation in the Student Experience Lab from ability to work in teams are essential
industry partners, education innovation advocates and foundation skills that students need to succeed
funders who share our passion for student-centered solutions that throughout their academic careers.
enhance the student experience. Students in the BIF Lab speak often
about the challenges of being deﬁcient
To partner in the Lab, please call us at 401.270.7906.
in foundational skills. This is an area of
opportunity ripe for experimentation.
Business Innovation Factory
60 Valley Street, Suite 25
Providence, Rhode Island 02909