Industry Voice: Upping Our Expertise in Home-buyer Education
By Danielle Samalin | July 12, 2016
At Framework Homeownership, we think a good education in homeownership can help homebuyers become successful homeowners. So then the question becomes, how can we deliver that education most effectively?
We think the answer is by understanding how people need and want to learn. We’ve integrated the latest research on both into a complete renovation of our home-buyer course. (Editor's note: Framework 2.0, reflecting these updates, launched in late July.)
Doing Our Homework
Framework has always connected homebuyers with both education and advising, and they like what they’re getting. More than 50,000 people have taken our home-buyer course, and nine out of 10 have said they’d recommend it to a friend.
Nevertheless, we knew we could do better. So we spent months researching best practices in adult learning – and working with our network of housing counseling agencies, lenders, and Fannie Mae – to create an interactive learning experience that supports the full spectrum of homeownership.
Our goal was to make it even easier for homebuyers to obtain, digest, and retain the information they need to be successful. Among our findings, we knew our course needed to be:
- Memorable. Emotion and relevance have staying power.
- Even more interactive. Interactivity increases attention and retention.
- Optimized for mobile. Nobody buys a house from their living room. People expect and need a learning experience that they can take with them.
Working with the Adult Brain
We started by taking a close look at the research on how adults learn – in general and in particular online.
During adulthood, the human brain becomes highly analytical. Think of all the decisions a buyer has to make during the home-buying process: choosing a real estate agent, comparing loan quotes, selecting the right property, deciding what to offer. Adults want to analyze all their options.
The challenge was how to help them remember what they’ve read. We found it’s all about connection and engagement.
When learning new information, the human brain tries to make connections with known information. With that in mind, we’ve tried to tie new ideas to things people already know. For example, when we talk about escrow, we might relate it to a savings account: “Escrowing is like having a dedicated savings account. You’re automatically putting money away on these expenses each month instead of having to budget for a few big payments.”
The brain also wants to break everything down into manageable chunks. Researchers say our brains can only support about 10 minutes of focused attention. For effective engagement, you’ve got to avoid overload. So we bite-sized the course lessons into 10-minute segments that allow for frequent mental breaks. Visual clutter can also contribute to overload, so the course now has a cleaner look, with more white space.
Emotion is another big factor in improving retention. We know that buying a home is an emotional process. That’s why each lesson now begins with a video connecting to the emotional journey every homebuyer undertakes. We’ve also included more real-world home buying stories.
Interactivity: a Brain Friendly No-brainer
It’s been clear for a long time that interactivity increases engagement. Our home-buyer course was already interactive. But we’ve taken it further. Among other things, the course now has more exercises, more clickable components, and multiple “check ins” – quick quizzes that don’t count toward the learner’s score.
Frequent assessment in whatever form is also beneficial. It helps ensure that learners have absorbed one topic before they move on to the next. In addition to creating the new check-ins, we have changed the testing format. Instead of one big test at the end of the course, we now have a test at the end of each lesson.
The research also strengthened our commitment to mobile-first design – for two reasons.
First, most of us are time-crunched and on the move. Homebuyers need to educate themselves when they can, sometimes in spare moments – during their subway commute or at the laundromat - via smartphone or tablet.
Second, technology increasingly allows buyers to complete parts of the home-buying process online – such as browsing for a home and applying for a loan. But buyers still need to go out into the world to meet with their real estate agent, look at homes, meet with their home inspector, and close on their house. At those times, they may need the critical information found in our course at their fingertips.
We regard these improvements in our home-buyer course as a big leap forward. But we won’t be resting on our laurels. Researchers are continually learning more about how the brain works. And we intend to keep our home-buyer course up-to-date – not only on the ins and outs of the mortgage marketplace, but also on best practices in online learning.
(Editor’s note: Fannie Mae requires the Framework home-buyer course [or equivalent] to qualify for its affordable HomeReady® mortgage and HomePath Ready Buyer™. See Fannie Mae’s FAQs for more information.)
Danielle Samalin is president of Framework Homeownership LLC, which provides comprehensive online homeownership education and advising.
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