Spotlight on UX: Designing an LMS with the user’s perspective in mind

One of my favorite quotes is “A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good” from Martin LeBlanc. Ask my colleagues, they have heard it at least a hundred times by now. When it comes to design decisions at work, my job as a UX (User Experience) Designer is to act as the user’s advocate. Why is this especially important in e-learning? I’m glad you asked!

If you want online learners to enjoy extending their knowledge or developing new skills, you need a solution that is tailored to their needs. Same as you want to support their managers in handling the platform and tracking learners’ progress with ease. As a result, user-centered design is key for the learners and the business at the same time. It’s time to forget about the previously tedious process of searching for relevant information and enhance the image of corporate e-learning. Now let me introduce you to the eight factors we identified on how to improve the LMS (Learning Management System) to make it an immersive experience.    

 

1. Know your users

An essential factor when designing an LMS is to learn about the people that will (hopefully) spend the most time on it: your users. How old are they, when will they use the system, how tech-savvy are they, how many courses will they follow, what do they want to learn? These are all questions you want to ask to get a better idea of who you are designing for. In order to keep track of their problems and needs, a common UX method is to create personas that act as representative users and help when it comes to design and even business decisions.

 

2. Make it responsive

Gone are the times where the learners consume content only on their PC. The modern user wants freedom and the ability to learn everywhere, even on their personal mobile device. Therefore, it has become inevitable to design for device independence and ensure an optimized performance to satisfy this need. Learners should be able to use the LMS effectively with their smartphone, tablet and PC – no matter if they are at work, at home or on the go – and still get the same experience.

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3. Stay simple

If users should be able to understand and navigate through the system in an intuitive way, you want to avoid complexity. For instance, you want to reduce the number of levels users have to go through to reach their goal in order to avoid frustration and a long daunting sequence of clicks. In the same way, you can consider reducing functionality if it doesn’t serve the purpose. Receiving too much information or having too many choices can quickly become overwhelming. Therefore, just because the tool offers a lot of possibilities, you don’t need to include them all, as some of them might only confuse users.

 

4. Give feedback

How much of this course did I complete? Which filter did I select again? Why does nothing happen if I click on this link? These kind of question will not even have to be asked if relevant and timely feedback is provided. Luckily, the latter can take many forms, amongst others: progress and navigation bars, highlights, text, sounds, colors, breadcrumbs or pop ups. The essential aim is to clear confusion, to avoid mistakes and to reduce the necessity of remembering every detail. 

 

5. Stay consistent
Consistency is key. No matter if it comes to terminology (does “log in” and “sign in” mean the same thing?), display of items (why is this button suddenly on the left side?) or to the whole page layout. It is equally important to stick to common UI standards that people are used to. Keeping the system consistent avoids users’ confusion and reduces their mental load. They will be able to recognize components and how to use the platform instead of having to identify meanings and behavior.

 

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6. Pleasant to the eye

Remember: An intuitive system does not need to look good to be user-friendly. Still, appealing aesthetics add to the full user experience. Now the problem often is that corporations adhere to a strict – often slightly outdated – CI (Corporate Identity) with a given set of fonts and colors that do not leave much room for creativity or beautiful designs. In this case we invite you to be daring and still try out different modern styles to your learner’s benefit!

 

7. Be accessible

Especially if you are a public institution or a large enterprise that aims to serve lots of customers, it is necessary to take into account users with special needs. Those might suffer from visual impairment, color blindness or deafness for instance and require inclusive design. One solution is to provide alternative ways for consuming content, e.g. a transcript, audio feedback, haptic feedback or strong color contrast. For more information, please read the following: WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 or inclusivedesignprinciples.org.

 

8. Fun is important

Last but not least, fun is one of the most effective ways to engage users. Luckily, gamification can be implemented in many ways: badges, challenges and leader boards, to name a few. But corporations generally like to stay professional and therefore deter from adopting a playful approach. Our opinion: Company size should not limit you to take yourself too seriously. In fact, gamification motivates employees and can even increase productivity, no matter how old and in which position they are.

 

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We hope this article has helped you recognize the added value of focusing on the user’s experience when designing your LMS. The main take away is that the system should always adapt to the learner, not the other way around. At LearnChamp, we work with the open source platform Totara Learn, as it best supports our company goal of creating amazing learning experiences and at the same time matches those eight factors.