Changing the tide on attitudes to digital learning: Why UX is a top priority for design

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Richard Nash

4 minute read

Digital learning is often seen as a tick-box exercise to just ‘get done’. We’re sad about that because we know that when done right, a digital learning or comms experience is transformative. It becomes chore-like, clunky and uninspiring when it’s not designed with the users’ needs in mind. Instead, we use UX design principles to create experiences that put the users’ needs first and make them feel good. That’s what keeps people engaged. We use our own design system to create and test bespoke digital design for a beautiful and polished experience.

The problem

Digital learning experiences have a pretty bad rep. We’re all familiar with ‘that’ time of year when clunky click-through learning modules on fire safety, occupational health, and diversity and inclusion are thrust upon us. Let’s be honest, 9 times out of 10, they’re boring.

The problem is that the subjects of these learning modules are important – it’s crucial that everybody in an organisation knows what to do if there’s a fire, how to stay healthy at work, and how to rid the workplace of discrimination. But do learners walk away from these modules enlightened and ready to act? Often not.

The reason that digital learning experiences often don’t have much impact is that they’re typically not engaging. And people can’t learn if they’re disengaged. What’s more, people expect to be bored – the news of having to do mandatory digital learning is often met with a deep sigh and a ‘get it over with’ mentality. That doesn’t exactly set people up to absorb new information.

It’s clear that we need to change the tide on attitudes to digital learning. How do we make these experiences engaging, enjoyable and, therefore, impactful? By bringing UX/UI principles to the forefront of digital learning design.

The solution: What is UX design?

UX (User Experience) design is the practice of creating positive interactive experiences that help users to achieve their goals. That could be anything from buying a new TV, to using a health app, or taking a digital learning course. UX goes beyond simply ‘designing for the screen’ by considering not only what you see, but what you do – how you interact with a product and how that makes you feel.

In the digital world, this means creating an experience that removes any friction to doing whatever it is that you want to do – if you go to a website to buy a new TV, the design of that website should align with the way that you think so that you know exactly where to go and what to do, with nothing stopping you from doing that. Questions for a UX designer can be as big as “How do we structure this entire website?” to details as small as “Where’s the optimal place to put a button on this page?”

It’s intuitive how to use sites like Google or Instagram. If you want to share a photo on Instagram, you don’t need instructions; you can figure it out pretty easily. That’s no accident – those companies pour huge resources into optimal UX design because they know that good user experience is what keeps people coming back.

These slick experiences are now part of our everyday lives and we take them for granted. You don’t notice excellent UX design because that’s what makes it excellent – the design is a vehicle for helping you do what you want to do but isn’t intrusive.

Users now expect to access content in a way that works for them. Historically, learning experiences have not been very good at that – they demand too much from the user and that leads to disengagement.

How does BestAtDigital use UX design?

We look to outside of the learning industry for UX inspiration to create experiences that align with the beautiful polished apps that we’re now so used to. This allows us to create enabling interactions that align with how people think, ultimately to make them feel good and want to return. We make sure that users can access content in a way that makes sense to them and get the right information at the point of need.

In many ways it’s harder to leverage UX for learning platforms compared to a website. Websites can track how people respond to different components over time and use sophisticated analytics to gain insights. Learning management systems are different – courses often run for a limited time and we typically don’t have access to any user data from our clients. This creates a challenge for us – data and insight into user behaviour is a basic requirement of good UX.

This is one of the reasons that we developed Cadence. Cadence is our design system that we use in the studio to create bespoke HTML5 experiences. Since we often can’t evaluate user experience post-deployment, Cadence allows us to do A/B testing internally or with small groups of people. That way, if we want to incorporate a new interaction, for example, we can test and evaluate it at its conception. This gives us confidence that it will have its intended effect when it’s dropped into a course.

We’re on a mission to convert digital learning experiences from flops to blockbusters. Putting UX at the forefront of our learning design plays a huge part in that. The underlying principle is simple – make people feel good and they want more. Make people feel bad and they want less. The practice is of course much harder. But if you abide by our Top 3 UX principles below, you can’t go far wrong…

Our Top 3 UX principles for learning design

  1. Create a friction-free experience.

    The user’s interaction with the learning platform should be seamless, even if the content or a process is complicated. Make sure the user isn’t complicated by the complication! Don’t ignore any pain points – however small, they must be overcome.

  2. Understand your user’s objectives.

    You can only create a friction-free experience if you know what the goal of the user is. Ask yourself: “What does the user want to get from this interaction?” and keep that goal at the forefront of your design decisions.

  3. Test!

    Don’t assume that an interaction or component will work in its intended way just because it makes sense to you. Get some data on how people interact with the platform – even if that’s just a small internal A/B test. There are plenty of online resources that can help with this.

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