Whether your learning materials are e-learning modules, videos, podcasts, or SME lectures, with the speed that technology and user demand are evolving at, there's a good chance you could do better when it comes to accessibility and ease of navigation. The metrics that we are used to applying – time to complete a task, click-throughs, test scores, and survey feedback are valuable but don't specifically target the user experience.
Looking from a UX perspective can help instructional designers address user experience on access, drill-down, and usability, identifying their pain points with the purpose of adjusting the learning material accordingly.
There's a need for a shift in perspective
Most corporate instructional designers today have had to adapt to the new technologies. What we once did with pen and paper in the early stages and with a slide presentation has now moved entirely to the digital realm.
While the principles of adult learning haven't changed, there's a lot that neuroscience has taught us about how the digital revolution has dramatically transformed earning. Simply building materials the "old-fashioned" way and running them through the most recent platforms is not enough.
It's not a question of adaptation but transformation, so instead of attempting to make something fit, we should focus on designing with both the user and the platform in mind.
The three components of a great online training user experience
The subject is vast, and numerous factors influence how people perceive digital learning. For optimization, there are three significant aspects that you should look at:
- How the user accesses the training materials;
- How the user navigates through the course or the learning path;
- What the user experience is like once they use that resource.
Each of these steps is important. Even if it seems like the first two are only a matter of a few clicks, they can make a difference between a highly successful course and one that doesn't even get enough participants to analyze what is not working properly.
If access and navigation seem complicated, the drop-off rate will be significant. Trainees don’t want to spend time and energy figuring out complex logins or intricate menus.
Access is really important
Access is about the ease with which users can locate the training materials they are interested in and interact with them. Having complicated steps for access leads to high drop-off rates.
I know that security is important, especially for sensitive information, but what may seem like a "simple login" for the IT specialists may be why many users stay away from the learning modules. You need to offer transparent and easier access, avoiding several steps and multiple authentication points. If those are necessary for information security purposes, you can invest in password manager apps to make it easier for the users while still following best safety practices.
It's also advisable to have a single training URL and advertise it constantly to learners. Content needs to be optimized so that it's easy to render on all platforms through multiple points of access.
Navigation is a big part of user experience
For many instructional designers, navigation is about the user being able to go through the material easily. That is only part of it and not the essential one. For the user, the drill-down is critical. They need to go directly to the piece of content that is relevant to them without spending a lot of time clicking around to get to it.
Keep in mind that we live in the age of speed, and when you want answers, the expectation is that they will be short and meaningful, not delivered in the form of a module with two quizzes and an end-of-course evaluation.
Instructional designers should use labels and create summaries that make it easy to jump to the section of interest. The search function also has a big role in how the navigation feels to the user, so it should be highly refined.
Applicability of information is important for learning interventions
The last thing you want to hear about your course is that it was a waste of time. Users will rate their experience not only on how easy it was to get to (and through) the materials but also on the value they got from what they learned.
In the case of online audiences, where there’s little room for corrections or explanations, everything has to be set up flawlessly from the start. Here are a few tips on how to achieve this:
- Explain in detail what learners need to do and in what order, how long they can expect the tasks to take, deadlines for completion;
- Establish how they will ask questions and who is responsible for answering them;
- Show how much of a particular course the learner has completed;
- Label all chapters and topics for easier drill down;
- Employ repetition of information to facilitate retention;
- Include videos that clarify the content and close caption them;
- Identify areas of potential confusion and build in preventative clarification;
- Clearly state learning outcomes.
The role of instructional designers and L&D specialists in charge of content curation is paramount as they need to work together to keep the materials updated and relevant.
UX rules and guidelines are ever-evolving. So are learning needs, preferences, and expectations. Luckily, you don’t need extensive UX training to optimize learning materials. Listening to the users and adapting to requests leads to an excellent overall experience and positive results.