How Did COVID-19 Affect User Research And Education? And Now What?

George Zhang
3 min readJun 4, 2021

It’s an article originally published on Qual360’s website on 4/30/2021. I added some new insights to give a minor update.

In the run-up to Qual360 2021, we spoke with one of our keynote speakers, George Zhang, Director of UX Research at Course Hero about the past year and how his company shifted its research focus during the pandemic.

Qual360: Without giving too much away — what is the core message of your talk and what would you like delegates to remember?

George Zhang: With my case studies at Course Hero, an EdTech unicorn, the audience will learn how we user researchers adapted qualitative and quantitative methods to understand our student users during the COVID-19 pandemic and how we used the user insights to impact design sprints, Education Summit 2020, and Course Hero’s external Research Hub.

Qual360: Why did you choose the topic of your talk?

George Zhang: The unprecedented pandemic, COVID-19, has massively impacted our lives and all industries including education and user research. Both education and user research went through a major transformation from mainly in-person settings to mainly online settings including self-paced and unmoderated sessions. I thought our practices and processes to adapt UX research can ignite meaningful conversations among research practitioners. I also would like to learn how other researchers adapt and thrive through the unprecedented challenges. It will be very useful for us right now when we are seeing the bright light in the end of the tunnels.

Qual360: What motivates you to join QUAL360 2021 and what are your expectations?

George Zhang: Back in January, I was delighted but honestly didn’t know much about Qual360. Very soon the past conference events, the diverse audience and cross-disciplinary practitioners, as well as the conference themes of this year attracted me to give a try. I expect to meet as many attendees as possible during the conference and have meaningful conversations with other researchers to share and to learn from them. By the way, we’re hiring at Course Hero so I am happy to talk about my company with interesting talents.

Qual360: There is a lot of talk about the current state of consumer insights and the impact of technology. How would you sum up the current state of the industry in 1–2 sentences?

George Zhang: Our industry is evolving rapidly in terms of how we investigate user problems. For example VR-based research and ride-along ethnography. But also how we present our insights, for example customer journey and job to be done. The technologies are evolving rapidly and new user behavior patterns are being formed constantly. However what defines an excellent research project still holds true over technology changes. For example the types of impact, the rigor of methodology, and the quality of cross-functional collaboration. Read more about our Research Excellence Framework in this Medium article.

Qual360: Looking back on the past months please, share your thoughts on the impact of COVID-19 on the qualitative research and the consumer behaviors in general.

George Zhang: I am still closely observing the COVID-19 impact to form some concrete thoughts. I think it’s still too early to call the COVID-19 as a threat, an opportunity, or both. It totally depends on the time, the sector of the economy, and the research approach. At the very beginning, out of panic the executives in many hard-hit companies laid off their top-notch researchers. Now they realize it was a huge mistake they have made in their career, and more and more of them already started to hire back.

The economy gets back to a new normal, thanks to effective vaccines. But the recovery path varies from sector to sector showing shapes of V, L, U, W, and K. Research wise, indirect, online, remote, and asynchronous research approaches thrived. However, some locales and industries are also reviving in-person studies. I hope we will see more and more in-person qualitative studies in the following years, if not any time sooner.



George Zhang

Global Head of Product Design, Brightly a Siemens Company. Formerly Google, Uber, Intel, Course Hero. Received Ph.D in I/O psychology.