User experience and e-learning

How can user experience (UX) design contribute to the success of e-learning?

A good user experience, or in this case learner experience, can ensure that a student experiences a training in a positive way and thereby learns more. Pay attention to these four characteristics when you develop e-learning:

Minimal interface

Learning is something that requires you to use your brain. People have a limited capacity to process information, so make sure that nothing distracts attention from the content. If the interface (the controls) of an e-learning requires a study in itself, this is obviously not beneficial for the learning effect. Compare it to a book whose pages won’t stay flat, this distracts you from the story.

E-learning therefore needs a user interface that requires a minimal mental investment from the learner. This means that the design is calm and demands little attention. Buttons should look like buttons and do what the user expects them to do.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. – A user –

Better learning when the course is beautiful

Aesthetics are usually not measurable. Yet, it has a big impact on the experience. A lot of attention usually goes to a design that complies with the corporate identity of the company, but there is more… The way the content is designed also contributes to the learning experience. Of course, it is important that a text is easy to read: use a font of sufficient size, enough contrast and line spacing and sentences that are not too long. But these are just the basics.

We’ve been mastering the art of printing approximately 500 years now, so we know the art of placing text on a page for just as long. Below you find an example of what we know about this topic (click on the image for more information on typography).

Unfortunately, this knowledge is often not reflected in e-learning. Pages with far too much text are still common, margins are too small and sentences are too long. The overall impression becomes messy and this compromises the overview. By using templates, you can control the layout. A template locks fonts, margins, etc. so the content stays legible. In the end, a beautifully formatted page just reads much more pleasantly. This has a positive effect on learning.

Visual learning

A lot of information can be presented visually, but it is important to keep the goal in mind. Illustrations that are only included as decoration do not promote learning, in fact, they are a distraction from the content.

Make sure you use images where they are needed, such as alongside the text it is referring to. Don’t refer to images on other pages. It is not forbidden to use the same image on multiple pages.

Space is limited on a screen. If an image is too large, include a smaller version that can be easily enlarged to clarify a detail. This way, the information stays available.

Consider the message an image should convey. A photo is realistic, but can sometimes provide too much detail because of objects in the background. In that case a drawing might be better.

Order and control

People are storytellers and therefore story-rememberers. Structuring the content as a logical story with a start, middle and ending is definitely going to help memorize learning material. On the other hand, we also want to give students freedom to navigate freely through the content. These wishes seem contradictory, but they don’t have to be.

Our experience is that a forced order and mandatory pages do not have a positive effect on motivation. Learners should be able to choose for themselves. This is mostly determined by the starting level of the learner. Experts just want to read what is new to them, beginners look at everything. We tend to design a menu that suggest a certain order, but which is not mandatory. In this way, both groups are served.

A clear table of contents helps to get a picture of the size and order of a course. The table of contents can also be visually shaped to fit the story, for example a metaphor such as a road or staircase. In addition, an interactive menu can track your progress, as you can see in the example below. Such a table of contents can be the central point for navigation in a course.

Learn more

There are many other aspects that can improve the learner experience. If you are interested in this, for example, read:

This article by Dorian Peters on UX matters

Or this article from the same author on elearning industry



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