Consider user experience (UX) right from the start as you develop your elearning software and you'll deliver better, more intuitive online learning. By increasing engagement and personalising learning, you can make online education more enjoyable and more rewarding. Research has shown that the way elearning content is designed can influence how easily learners understand content, and their enjoyment. Charles Miller's 2011 study found design elements could enhance student satisfaction and performance.
But what is UX design, and how can you apply its principles to your elearning?
What is UX design?
UX design puts users at the heart of the design process. For elearning, this means that both content and platform must suit the learner's specific needs and abilities, as well as their limitations. Rather than being a fancy term for graphic design, UX is about designing the digital space so that it offers a seamless, predictable and satisfying experience for the user. Every step along the way, the learner should feel that their expectations are being met and their needs have been considered. This lets them concentrate on the content that’s being delivered, leading to better information retention and, ultimately, compliance.
Develop user personas
Creating great UX begins in the planning phase. With elearning, this means thinking about your learner's objectives as well as your own as an educator. Who is your likely audience and what do they want out of the course? To really get to the heart of your audiences, study your existing learner base and develop learner personas.
Unlike marketing personas, which focus on the 'who' of the audience—factors like age, gender, location, income bracket—design personas concentrate on 'why'. What drives this person? What are their needs, habits and challenges? Give your persona a name, and tell a story about them. Answer questions about what they do in their spare time and what their interests are, and you'll come closer to figuring out why they want to study, how they choose courses and when and where they're likely to make time for elearning. Understanding your learner is the first step to creating elearning that is not only informative, but satisfying and engaging.
When your aim is to engage an audience of adult learners, with many conflicting demands on their time and a wide range of reasons for using elearning, developing thorough personas will help make sure your course sticks.
Create engaging learning environments
One of the biggest challenges in elearning is course completion. Learners often fail to finish because they have to work autonomously and manage their own time. Without a teacher present to offer guidance, it's all too easy for them to become disengaged and leave courses unfinished, which can affect compliance because the learner doesn’t have the information they need to meet compliance requirements.
Good UX can help address this problem by bringing a sense of challenge and achievement to the learning process, and can help you create an interactive system that actively encourages learners to keep going. One popular method is gamification, where the learner is rewarded with badges or medals for completing tasks and can compare themselves with their peers.
Although this method of engagement might seem simplistic for adult learners, as long as the rewards aren't overly childish, the thrill of achievement can still be there even for the most mature audience. Another way to encourage learners to complete is showing prominent progress bars, incomplete doughnut charts, and completion percentages. A psychological theory called the Zeigarnik effect, dating back to 1927, proposes that people remember incomplete tasks more easily than complete ones.3 Showing the learner how far they've come, and how far they have to go, doesn't only give them a sense of satisfaction as they nudge that progress bar up to 100 per cent. It also sticks in their mind, making them itch to come back and finish the job.
Use supporting visuals
Visuals provide more than just a pleasant break from text or audio in elearning. The visual language you use creates a sense of cohesion, communicates a message and supports the educational component of your course.
Of course, not all elearning environments are suited to highly visual interactivity. When developing the visual elements of your elearning content, take into consideration the personas you have developed. Are they likely to be more engaged by a fun, brightly coloured platform or are they looking for a more streamlined, text-focused experience? The objectives and attitudes of your learners should guide every design decision.
Set up a cycle of testing To make sure course content is suited to learners, you need to set aside time for usability testing. An ongoing cycle of testing and implementing feedback, usability tests iron out imperfections so the final result is the best possible.
You can start testing with very basic concepts, such as wireframes or sketches, to make sure the course structure is logical and intuitive. As you keep developing the design, content and structure, keep testing each stage to keep all elements of the final product on target. And, testing and improvement don’t stop once the course is launched. Building and improving on the product with rigorous, continuous testing will keep your course fresh and your learners engaged, and will contribute to higher levels of employee compliance.
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