Allison Miller is a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog who is passionate about engaging learners, equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the world of work. Here
Allison discusses the impact of IxD and usability principles to both enhance the user experience and drive technical evolution in the world of education.
User experience and the technical evolution
Technology and the internet, both their development and uptake, have been changing at an amazing pace over the last five to ten years. This has been greatly enabled by mobile devices and better internet/mobile data plans. Another key driver of this evolution has been improved user experience (UX). For example, consider how touch screens, mobile apps and improved mobile phone responsiveness have greatly changed how we live our lives and communicate with one another compared to ten years ago.
However, it could be said that this technical evolution has not occurred as rapidly in online learning and assessment tools such as learning management systems (LMS), eportfolio tools and webinar rooms. This evolution is also unlikely to gain the same momentum as other technologies while educational institutions continue to accept a low level of UX design in these systems.
To ensure that your next online training and assessment tool (online tool) doesn’t fall into the same low UX design trap, ensure that you factor in UX from the perspective of the learners, educators and educational support staff, by basing your selection criteria on interaction design (IxD) and usability principles.
What are IxD and usability principles?
IxD and usability principles make sure that an online tool is:
- Efficient to use as it takes the least amount of time to accomplish a particular task,
- Easy to learn to use, and
- More satisfying to use compared to other online tools.
IxD and usability principles concentrate on:
1. Being user focussed
This is done by defining who the users of your online tool will be, and then determining their needs in relation to your online tool, for example:
- Learners wants to easily find relevant information and access learning and assessment activities, eg discussion forums, assignments etc, from any device.
- Educators want to easily find learners’ work to mark and provide feedback, and to be able to easily update information or activities.
- Educational support staff want to be able to easily create exciting and interactive learning and assessment spaces; extract learner data such as their results; and view site stats about the use of the online tool for reporting purposes.
2. Ease of use
How easy is it for users to navigate the online tool to achieve their goals is also important. Questions to ask in this area include:
- How many clicks does it take the user to satisfy their needs?
- Does the system’s workflow help users meet their requirements in the least amount of time?
- Can users easily find where they need to go to achieve their goals?
Optimum learnability means the online tool has a consistent design approach which makes it easy for the user to quickly understand how to use it, with the least amount of information and support. You determine this by consulting with organisations that already use the online tool you are considering and ask them how much upfront support their users needed before they felt confident to use it.
Online tools should provide symbols which indicate how far a user has progressed through a task task such as ‘progress’ bars or through prompts such as ‘you are at Page 5 of 15’ or ‘you are marking learner no 2 of 5’. Signifiers provide the user with a context of where they are at in completing a task which can help them manage their time better, and/or motivate them to continue to complete a task.
Considering the key functional requirements for each user group and the way they might therefore navigate your system will contribute to the user friendliness of it. For example:
- Learners want simple ways to access content, as well as communicate and collaborate with others, and to upload their work.
- Educators want simple ways to access learners’ work, provide feedback and results, and to review information about their learners eg activity logs.
- Educational support staff want simple ways to present information and encourage learner activity, and to access results and reports.
As online tools cannot use body language to communicate how well a user is performing, it is important that the online tool provides feedback prompts to users as they progress through the system eg You have successfully submitted your assignment. This confirmation ensures that users feel confident that they have achieved their task, and they can take satisfaction in this achievement.
7. Response time and responsiveness
Most users these days have access to fast internet on highly responsive devices. This means that they expect pages/screens of your online tool to load quickly. They will also expect to be able to access the online tool from any device, whether that is a computer, laptop, tablet or mobile phone. This means that responsiveness needs to be a key factor in the selection of your online tool.
Get it right at the start
Incorporating IxD and usability principles into the selection process of your next online tool will ensure a return on the investment you have made into researching, implementing and maintaining the online tool, and your users will quickly adopt and continue to utilise the system with lower ongoing support.
This approach requires user consultation and research into how other educational organisations rate the IxD and usability of the online tool. Any questions? We’re here to help.