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Oppida raises the bar in online education

The importance of user experience in elearning


Hi. Today I want to talk about why it’s important to care about the user experience when designing your online course, and I will also use the acronym UX just to get in the rhythm of that because that’s what all the lingo is. 

So the UX is super important when designing an online course because as consumers of a lot of technology over the last 20 years, all of us are really, really used to being able to get onto our devices and find what we need. And we have been very spoiled with user experience because of some of the big companies that we are accustomed to. So, I think Airbnb is one of the top-rated user experiences of an app. User experience means how easy and how intuitive is it for me to access what I need inside of a platform? 

So this is even more important when it comes to education, which is why it’s always shocked me that it has been not talked about too much, because if you have got a learner coming into your system for the first time, and they are, probably got some of their own emotions going on about the learning experience. They may have some anxiety around learning. They may be a bit apprehensive and they’re definitely kind of keen to get in there and understand what it is that’s required so that they can pass. 

And if they come in with that kind of mindset and they, they land on your online course or in your platform and they can’t find anything they need, they’re not greeted with a welcome, they’ve got problems navigating, they, and they basically get frustrated, that adds to their cognitive overload. So that can very easily deter a student from engaging again and it could take them days or weeks to come back into the system if they do not feel that they can find what they need and they feel overwhelmed. And not everybody is brave enough to reach out and get help and especially, I’ve found in my in my experience that, mature age students are often also very nervous to ask for help because they don’t really want to look silly and so that will cause a lot of problems and a lot of barriers for your learners. 

So there are some simple things that you can do when you’re building your online course to really pay attention to what it is those learners are going to need. And so the first things that we do at Oppida, is we make sure we have a very intuitive home page. We make sure that we decide upfront what is the key information that this learner is going to need for this course, and for many more if they are enrolled in multiple courses in your institution, and we put those things front and centre in buttons and so we say: ‘Here is where you can find information about how to get help. Here’s where you can find this policy etc etc’ and then we create a very sequential home page where we highlight again any of the key information they need about their lecturer and direct them straight to the modules and to create the con- to complete the content. The same goes for assessment. So all of those are designed in the home page and then once we get into the content, we really care about how each page is laid out so it is clear and concise and consistent. Consistency, consistency, consistency! 

So they’re just some of the things to think about when you are designing your online course is to actually pay a bit of attention up-front to that user experience and even test it with some of your users. That’s also a really good way to see whether what you think is intuitive is actually intuitive to your learners.

In this Oppida Talks vlog, Oppida CEO Bianca Raby takes a practical look at the importance of user experience in instructional design. You’ll find the video and transcript above, and more information about the subject and suggested further reading below.

Creating a great user experience lies at the heart of the design of all successful products and services. From forks to door handles, toasters to cars, good design gives the user a satisfying experience—it’s simple, intuitive and comfortable—whereas bad design is frustrating, awkward and difficult. 

The term “user experience” (UX) was coined to describe the interaction between the user and the hardware or software in the early days of the development of the internet and personal computers. Usability researcher Jakob Nielsen developed and promulgated his “10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design”—ten principles for interaction design that have held true over the subsequent decades. Technology and user experience design have continued to develop hand in hand, and there’s now a wealth of studies, discussions and information about the subject. A simple Google search brings up several million hits, many offering the five, or seven, or or eight, or ten definitive principles of user experience design.

Focus on the user

Keep the focus on the importance of user experience in elearning—how they will use, interact with and navigate around the website, system or product. Everything else follows from that—consistency of design and functionality; a hierarchical approach to enable easy navigation; an awareness of context, in particular the increased extent of mobile browsing; giving the user as much control as possible; accessibility for all users; and immediate feedback to the user when they perform an action, along with the ability to undo what they have done. And it’s well-recognised that UX design should be an iterative process, with the usability testing done by actual users.

user experience in elearning

Learner experience

Online learning has added a further dimension—“learner experience”, or user experience design for learning, with the emphasis focused on the learner:

Learning how to use an on-line learning course is not the primary task. Instead the prime aim of a learner-centered system should be how to create a stimulating environment so that the learner’s focus is on the task: acquiring knowledge. (Zaharias et al, 2002)

More recently, the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL) at the University of Waterloo in Canada tested a framework for user experience design for learning (UXDL) on undergraduate students and concluded:

[S]tudents value flexibility in how and when they learn, a clear organizational and navigational structure that renders content and assessment information easy to find, tools that are  easy  to  use,  present  and  engaged  instructors,  and  an  active  community  of  peers. . . [S]tudents  also  value  a  mixture  of  media  (text,  visuals,  infographics,  videos) with regular interactive activities interpolated throughout content. Further, good visual and information design matters to them and impacts their attention and motivation. (Zeni et al, 2020)

Expect more useful research on user experience to come out of 2020’s pandemic lockdowns in countries where all levels of education had to be rapidly switched to online delivery.

user experience ux

References/Further reading

“10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design” Jakob Nielsen 1994; updated 2020

“Designing On-Line Learning Courses: Implications for Usability” Panagiotis Zaharias, Konstantina Vassilopoulou,  and Angeliki Poulymenakoua 2002

“User Experience Design” Peter Morville 2004

“User Experience Design for Learning (UXDL)” Centre for Extended Learning (CEL) at the University of Waterloo

“The User Experience Design for Learning (UXDL) Framework: The Undergraduate Student Perspective” Meagan Troop, Darcy White, Kristin E. Wilson, Pia Zeni 2020

online user experience