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From UX to LXD: walking in your learner’s shoes

We all make assumptions based on looks and the same is true when it comes to elearning. Learning Designer, Lisa McGeady, explains the importance of ‘putting yourself in your learner’s shoes’ and how this can create a memorable elearning experience.

I attended a training session some years ago and at the beginning of the session, the facilitator asked us to stand in a circle and look down at each other’s shoes. The aim of the game was not to scrutinise who had the shiniest or prettiest shoes. Rather, we had to think about who’s shoes we would like to stand in for a day and why? Now, as much as I’d love to rival Imelda Marcos, my shoe collection is more functional than inspirational! So I had a dilemma – I immediately spied those three-inch heels – envious as I could never manage them all day – but then my eye caught the motorbike boots and I imagined life on the road.

At the end of the session, the facilitator asked the same question, “whose shoes would we like to spend some time in and why?” Having spent the day getting to know each other, finding out where everyone was from and their varied experiences, who would we like to be for a day? My daydream of hitting the road was dashed after I discovered that the guy in the motorcycle boots had never been on a bike in his life. He simply wore the boots for comfort and style! And the lady in those three inch heels? She was struggling by the end of the day. Although her shoes were pleasing to the eye, they were causing a painful experience.

This was a fantastic lesson on the age-old cliche of the importance of first impressions. We all make assumptions based on looks and the same is true when it comes to elearning.

Research has shown that “94% of a learner’s first impressions are design-related.” With this in mind, Learning Designers should take the time to find out about their learners in order to ensure that they provide a good user experience? Let’s take a closer look at the importance of this.User experience or UX is a term that has been bandied about recently. But what does it actually mean and how does it apply to learning design?

UX is any user interaction with your product or service. In the elearning design world, it refers to the quality of the learner interaction with your elearning course. Learning experience design (LXD), as it has become known, is design which places the learner at the centre. Your goal as a Learning Designer is to create a positive learning experience for your learners; that is, an environment that makes them feel good but also fosters their interaction, motivation and success.

Good LXD finds out and understands the user’s learning objectives before starting the design process, remembering that you are NOT the learner and you are not designing for YOU. As the designer, you are often too close to the potential solution and have so much knowledge about what the solution can or can’t do. So remember to put yourself in the learner’s shoes. Research key user characteristics such as job role and responsibilities, demographics, technical proficiencies, their values and current challenges. This information will help you understand your learners better and help you design a more customised and effective learning experience.Good LXD involves taking the time to understand your learners. This can be difficult if you’re up against tight deadlines or you’re facing resistance in the face of doing something a little ‘out there’.

But fear not! The following rules can help you stay focused on the task at hand when implementing the elearning design process.

  1. There’s no point designing a pretty elearning course if it doesn’t solve a problem. Take the time to understand what you’re trying to achieve from your learner’s point of view and don’t lose sight of the learning objectives.
  2. Design as a learner. Understand your learners (developing user personas may help here) and think about how they learn, what devices they use, what motivates them to learn, what you want them to do as a result of participating in the elearning experience.
  3. Provide a clear learner journey. Learners should know where they are going and be able to navigate easily from one section to the next. Prompts and calls to action should be apparent.
  4. Keep it simple. Text should be written in plain language, to the point and critical to your learners’ needs. Only relevant visuals and videos should be used to break up the content and make it more engaging.
  5. It’s not just about design but interactive, engaging content that brings the subject to life that creates a positive learning experience. Make your elearning memorable and unforgettable, simulating real life examples or scenarios where appropriate in order to ensure knowledge transfer and retention.
  6. Passive learning and poor knowledge checks don’t motivate the learner. Remember what you want the learner to take away from the elearning experience and consider how you can promote skills development or behaviour change through learner participation.
  7. Just because a feature is possible, doesn’t mean you should use it. Be selective and critical; ask yourself if including this feature helps the learners meet their objectives. Gamification is often the worst culprit here, often added for gamification’s sake. If you decide to use gamification in your learning, make sure it supports your end goal.
  8. Stick to well established interactions, positioning and visual conventions to ensure the learning experience is understandable and usable. For example, we all recognise blue, underlined text as a standard visual cue for a link which is clickable. If we changed this, it may create confusion for learners.
  9. On the flip side, we should always question our use of standard conventions throughout the design process. Are we using them just because it’s the same ones we always use or can we provide a more innovative experience by implementing alternative conventions that are also easy to understand and use?
  10. Gather feedback from your internal and external stakeholders throughout the creation of your learning and at key points during delivery in order to improve your LXD process. At the outset, decide how you are going to evaluate and measure the impact of your learning experience. After implementation, analyse the full design process and identify lessons learned in order to ensure you are constantly implementing the best experience for your learners.

Designing an elearning course with user experience in mind is becoming increasingly important and one that Learning Designers would be silly to ignore. In an online learning environment, where you are constantly trying to engage and motivate learners, you should employ LXD thinking before starting to draft any content.

Investing in good LXD will lead to a much more efficient and successful process in the long term, with learners achieving their objectives in an easy and enjoyable way. Failing to do so will leave your learners feeling frustrated and bored and they will switch off without retaining any of the course content.

I’ve never forgotten that training session all those years ago. The powerful message has stuck with me and has taught me a valuable lesson about never being presumptuous but to take the time to find out about the person in those shoes. Me? I ended up opting to stand in the patent ballet pumps for a day. They looked good and the lady wearing them was having the time of her life! It turned out that jumping out of planes and climbing mountains were par for the course for her! Who would have thought?

Remember, it’s vital that you know and understand who you are designing for. Put yourself in your learner’s shoes and walk the road to learning success.

To find out more, check out Creating Learning Experiences: Guide to Learning Experience Design (LXD), a free eBook which looks at LXD in further detail and highlights best practices to help you create learning experiences that leave your learners wanting more. We’d love to get your thoughts. Get in touch here.

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