In this article, you will learn how important learning interface design is and how efforts directed towards improving it can help you make your e-learning program highly successful.
To improve your learning UI and UX and take it to the next level, you need to address the following questions on priority:
What are the problems students face when learning online?
What are the causes of these problems?
How to overcome these issues with Learning Design?
How to design an effective learning program?
Problems students face when learning online
Have you ever wondered why platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, or Khan Academy are so popular? Users spend a lot more time on such sites than an e-learning website. Sure there’s always a resistance to learning. But are social networking and entertainment sites popular purely because of the content they offer?
Let’s see how some popular learning platforms perform in terms of UX and interface design.
Number of users or students
UDEMY: Number of students – 50 million
COURSERA: Number of students – around 40 million
DUOLINGO: Number of students – around 300 million
KHAN ACADEMY: Number of students – 2.5 million
Social media followers
UDEMY: 5.4 million followers on Facebook
COURSERA: 1.3 million followers on Facebook
DUOLINGO: 1.8 million followers on Facebook
KHAN ACADEMY: 1.5 million followers on Facebook
The Udemy course software is high-quality with no bugs reported by users. The lesson player and course navigation are very smooth and intuitive. Moreover, the audio and video quality is top-notch – this could be one of the prime reasons why they have so many followers. Udemy has a mobile app too. So, you can even watch Udemy courses through Apple TV and Google Chromecast. This gives you multiple study options. The layout is pretty straightforward and easy to use.
The course page interface is also pretty on-point, it keeps confusion at bay. With the intuitive checkout process, you simply add the course into your cart, sign in or register, choose a payment method, and begin the learning process.
Coursera has a developer-friendly web UI. It also has a good and user-friendly user interface. It also helps with managing your own learning agenda and always keeps you in the loop to ensure your learning is on track. Moreover, the courses are well-designed and the content is regularly updated for maximum engagement. There is a filter to easily locate the courses of your choice on the basis of skills, language, level, etc. This gives a lot of flexibility. The timeline for the course is clearly visible with each week’s segment outlined making it easier to plan yourself. You have the option to continue on and finish the week’s segment ahead of schedule.
Duolingo is a good example of another simple-to-use, straightforward language app. It’s super user-oriented and has a beautiful interface. Getting started is a piece of cake. You only have to create a profile, choose the language of your choice, and set your weekly targets or goals for learning the language. It is as simple as that. It is a very versatile platform where you can skip through the pronunciation-based exercises by turning the mic off if required. Another good thing about the interface that improves interactivity is the little turtle button that allows you to listen to ‘slow’ pronunciations of the word or phrase. The slow voice could come in handy for exercises that ask you to type what you hear.
Khan Academy also has an interface that makes the platform easy to follow and use. Moreover. the sign-up process is simple and there is an integrated login using Google+ or Facebook. This makes it quick and intuitive – good for getting started.
Gamification is quite widely used across Khan Academy. As you sign up for an account, you can customize your avatar. This character can be upgraded based on your performance in courses or exercises. Khan Academy also allows you to open special parent accounts to enable monitoring of their children’s progress.
Moreover, the layout, in general, is aesthetically pleasing and offers three different options depending on whether you’re a teacher, a student, or a parent. There is no overload of information on the front page. The page, even though it’s simple in design, does not bombard you with tons of information. It has a unique course topic layout that allows you to get a bird’s eye view of what to find or expect on the platform.
Talking about the dull university learning sites, the 3 big obstacles are unintuitive, boring interface, cluttered layout with an overload of information, and lack of personal touch. Not having a personalized notification system can affect interaction to a great extent. It’s impossible to keep track of everything individually.
Platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, etc. provide a sleek interface that enables access to all the generic information as well as learning material in one place, by tying everything together to one holistic system. Besides, it is 100 percent secure too.
When it comes to e-learning websites, engagement and retention are major problems. Online learning needs students to be self-motivated and interested to make progress. Procrastination and boredom get in the way.
How do these problems with engagement crop up?
Now, the course content is one part of the e-learning process. There are other factors like learning interface. Websites like Facebook, Netflix have simplified their interface. They make it easy for users to find what they’re looking for.
For example, Facebook’s feed feature or Netflix’s previews instantly get you connected with what’s happening or trending movies respectively.
For instance, Coursera is more organized and scheduling of events is much easier, unlike some boring LMS where keeping track of events can be cumbersome.
Coursera has a weekly discipline concept for the users in the form of lectures and assignments and this really encourages all to work hard and be on the same page.
To add to this both platforms keep you hooked with hyper-personalized content and timely notifications.
The content is extremely relevant and delivered in the simplest way possible. May it be the notifications you receive on Facebook when friends post new content, or the shortcuts to pick up movies from where you left them off on Netflix. The UI is designed to make interactions effortless.
Most LMSs are complex. Students need a certain level of technical proficiency and a fair understanding of technology to use these systems.
Your e-learning platform may have great courses, and you might have invested a lot in instructional design. But without the supporting interface, and hooks to engage your students, you’re losing out.
Moodle Reviews (source Capterra)
-Moodle needs more improvements related to both user experience and user interface.
-It could use a bit more polish. The interface can be a little clunky, but it works reasonably well for what it is.
-Moodle is not intuitive to use. It has a user interface that is far below the current industry standard unless you partner with a third-party provider who is building their own interface on top of Moodle, in which case they typically charge significantly more than the market average.
Totara reviews (source Capterra)
-Not as visually pleasing as other LMS software I have used.
-If you have thousands of courses, for example, it makes finding the right course cumbersome. Having search boxes for all administrative tasks would be very helpful.
-Despite being very good, its interface is not competitive with other platforms, they have to develop a better interface because this platform has potential
Canvas LMS reviews (source Capterra)
-Sometimes can not be user friendly when moving around the hub.
-The mobile app version of Canvas seems to be lacking the features and conveniences that the web version offered. I also have always had trouble getting the notifications for the mobile app to work reliably
-For me, it is a little confusing and difficult to navigate (I am Gen X, so a little more technologically challenged!).
How does Learning Design Help Engage Students
Now, I’m guilty of this too. When it comes to course content, I focus a lot on instructional design and I think my job as an educator is done. I’m not a full-time educator, so I can be excused here. But then when you have a dedicated learning portal, you can’t ignore other aspects of teaching.
You have to work a lot and master instructional design but learning design isn’t limited to just that. It’s the presentation medium that needs to be taken into account too.
For example, let’s take the case of Moodle. Moodle is awesome. You can create all types of courses. But there’s a major roadblock to learning and more often than not, it’s the interface.
Compare that to how the platform looks with a learner-friendly theme. (Example, Edwiser RemUI).
The differences an intuitive interface can bring are:
a short learning curve for students
easy to find most-used shortcuts for a better experience
a more vibrant, user-driven interface
It doesn’t end there; good themes add functionality too:
easy access to messages
a simple option to broadcast updates
quick event creation… and it could be anything your users want.
You could extend this engaging experience to beyond your learning platform and send students notifications to keep them coming back to your LMS. Engagement is a result of the holistic activities you perform.
How to design an effective learning program?
Now, you don’t have to do the things mentioned above, your interface doesn’t need all the said bells and whistles. What you do need is to understand your users well and to provide them with the UI that best matches their expectations and improves the learning experience.
To understand user needs, you have to wear the hat of an observer and observe your users – teachers and students in this case.
Understand what they go through and the challenges that they face. How they interact with the system.
Conduct User Interviews, ask them about the tasks they do, how will your students perceive the initiative
Record interactions using online tools such as Hotjar
Discuss it with subject matter experts and your support team to understand existing challenges and how they can be overcome
Interview students, teachers and parents to gain multiple perspectives
Evaluate the amount of time, money and resources you have for the learning initiative
This is not just important for educators but product developers too, to understand how to better their offerings.
Once you’ve figured out the user needs, you now have multiple ideas and perspectives to work with.
You can proceed with making clear learning goals on the basis of feedback. Next, you come up with relevant topics for learning. Also, it is important to gauge how detailed individual topics will be.
The topic list will direct you to the appropriate resources and research material. Planning ahead of time as to what all activities will be included and the method of teaching or topic delivery makes sense at this stage. It’s better to recognize the desired learning outcomes before chalking out a complete plan. A clear analysis of learning needs will help you choose the right learning method. Accordingly, storing every useful piece of information for creating effective content is crucial here.
The next step is organization – bringing everything together and ensuring that your content is supported with the right kind of visuals, structure, overall navigation etc. This should be reviewed and updated by getting in touch with senior management and SMEs. It will be easier to incorporate any changes here before you proceed to the next stage.
You can now begin creating all the graphics and images, audio/ video editing, managing voice-overs, if required and labelling content before collecting all and presenting it in a suitable format to your learners. It even involves preparing and processing any pre-learning content such as readings and handouts or preparing material that will be used in instruction/pre-course delivery.
Finally, you can push your content into the necessary course format. This can be done using a variety of authoring tools such as Adobe Captivate, Adapt, Articulate Storyline etc. This makes your course content interactive. Now, you can upload the course as a .zip file to the LMS of your choice. Effective, time-bound assessment, tracking and reporting can then be taken forward from here.
The process does not end here. Careful attention should be given to communicating your program to learners. You will be deploying various marketing tactics to promote your learning program. So, a thorough due diligence effort will become mandatory – it is advised that you regularly measure the impact of your program for efficient learning. This will help you make consistent improvements. This will even help you go back to your basic goals and prevent any kind of digression.
However, nothing is permanent. The future will offer new challenges and it is recommended to stay updated in order to upgrade your learning interface design, as per changing times. It is important to embrace this fact to move forward smoothly. Despite these challenges, making learning designs student-centric by using a systematic design process will definitely help boost your odds of success.