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Card Sorting and it’s non-traditional uses

Card Sorting and it’s non-traditional uses
Daria Krasovskaya
•  20.08.2021
Card sorting is a really handy method when optimizing the information architecture on your site, but it is also commonly used in areas you wouldn't have guessed. For example, the ancient Greeks were the first ones to develop categories, with Aristotle providing the foundations for the categorization scheme that we use today for plants and animals.

Card sorting (as we know it in the UX field) is a quick, inexpensive, and reliable method for creating and evaluating the information architecture (IA) of your site. It helps designers to understand how their users think, and gather insight into how they group content to perform common tasks. Read along to discover the different and exciting ways to use this multi-purpose method.

Card sorting for education

Card sorting for educational purposes is used to let students organize and test their knowledge about a topic in an engaging way. It is especially useful when students are working on a problem in pairs or groups, which helps them to build communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, on top of deepening their knowledge about a topic. Besides reviewing study materials, card sorting may also be used instead of giving traditional exams.

There are a few different ways how to use card sort in the classroom:

  • Problems with answers 
  • Reviews for vocabulary
  • Matchups
  • Sorting and classifying

Example of vocabulary review – match all the synonyms together

Try it yourself here to test your vocabulary and see how card sorting can be used as a method for education! 🙂

Example of sorting and classifying – review the differences between animal and plant cells

Card sorting for personal development

Knowing what people value most in their work, relationships, and other commitments makes it easier for them to respond to opportunities and conflicts with integrity. Card sorting is a very useful tool to help reflect on what is most important for every individual. It is also one of the techniques counselors use to help clients clarify their skills and occupational interests.

Example of clarifying values with card sorting

When thinking about personal values, people often tend to identify ones that are too large, for example health, family, friends. Although these are very important, they are difficult to understand and apply. Sorting cards helps to understand what other values underpin those global, large values.

Steps to clarifying values with a card sort

  1. Create around 30 value cards like belonging, trust, risk, compassion, creativity, challenge,…
  2. Choose one large value like family
  3. Sort the value cards into two piles: ‘more important’ and ‘less important’, in the context of  the chosen large value (family)
  4. Take the values you identified as ‘more important’ and repeat the process of sorting them into two piles again: ‘more important’ and ‘less important’, and repeat this process until you end up with 6 final values
  5. Create a pyramid, with the 3 most important foundation values at the bottom and the less important values at the top in the context of family
  6. Reason the choice of your cards, as well as their position within the pyramid

You will end up with a strong understanding and explanation of the core values that underpin the larger value (family in this example) and make it easier for you to respond to opportunities and conflicts when they arise. Check out the video bellow to learn more about how you can use card sorting to clarify your values.

Card sorting may be also used in a similar way when identifying personal skills, which helps clarify what sort of work might be a good fit for someone, as well as marketing one’s abilities on a job interview.

Card sorting for gathering feedback

Another useful way to use card sorting is in gathering feedback from employees, colleagues, students, etc. It can be easily set up, and sent out to all your respondents within a matter of minutes.  For instance, it can be used to let employees evaluate which company benefits they like, which ones they dislike, and towards which ones they’re indifferent.

Example of gathering feedback from employees

Card sorting for psychology

Card sorting tests have also been long used in the field of psychology. For example, the now-famous Wisconsin Card Sorting Test is used to assess patients’ level of brain damage. 

In this test, people have to classify cards according to different criteria. There are different ways to classify each card, for example, according to the color of their symbols, the shape of the symbols, or the number of the shapes on each card, and the only feedback is whether the classification is correct or not. Then, according to the feedback received, the individual has to find out what is the correct criteria to classify the cards. The classification rule changes once the participant has figured out the rule. This serves to measure how well people can adapt to the changing rules.

And that’s it! You reached the end of our list of unusual ways to use card sorting. Have you ever used card sorting in any non-traditional way, or do you know any other interesting uses of card sorting that we did not mention? We want to hear from you, let us know!

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