Learning Environments: Creating a positive user experience

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A few weeks ago, the Digital Learning Team published a blog post called “Designing an advanced online learning environment for higher education” in where we discussed the importance of having a set of principles in mind that could guide the design or selection of a learning environment for higher education.  I strongly encourage you to read it, if you haven’t done so.  In this blog, however, I will focus on one of the principles identified by the team, which was clearly defined as “creating a positive user experience”.  

Within the Digital Learning Team, the consensus is that a learning environment must be enjoyable to use for all members, meaning that the quality of the interaction between the user and the system is pivotal.  Defining what a positive user experience is can be challenging; this could be because those involved in the process of designing or selecting a learning environment might assess users’ needs differently, or they simply give more importance to some elements than others.  Nevertheless, for the purpose of this post, I would like to say that when discussing the concept of UX (user experience) within the context of learning environments, what we are really talking about is appearance, and usability.  So, think of a positive user experience as being closely linked to how easy and enjoyable it is to use the platform; or if you are familiar with computer science see it as the thinking that goes behind designing and creating a great GUI (Graphical User Interface) or UI (User Interface) for a computer application.  

“think of a positive user experience as being closely linked to how easy and enjoyable it is to use the platform”

Now, you might be asking yourself what we mean by appearance and usability, but more importantly what these terms consist of.  This is a valid and relevant question, and one that I like to rephrase in this manner: What specifically do learning environments must have, and be able to do if we are to ensure a positive user experience?

We believe that a learning environment must:

  • Follow established web usability standards
  • Be intuitive for the users (easy navigation)
  • Provide the tools that allow for the creation of rich, web based learning and teaching content
  • Allow users to build and access content in an easy manner and at the time of their choice
  • Enable and encourage peer-to-peer and peer-to-mentor interactions
  • Be multi-device capable
  • Mobile enabled
  • Allow for personalisation
  • Allow students to set personal education goals
  • Allows for apps integration
  • Provide teachers with a flexible skill assessment

This list is by no means, exhaustive, but one that could help us to place the importance of appearance and usability into context.  I am eager to expand on this list, and therefore I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions; you can do so in the comments section.

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