I was reading this articles posted by Geeta, NO Next and Back Buttons on Learnability Matters. It was great reading and reminiscing the experience of designing the course on 'Dealing with Conflict Management.' At Kern, we give a lot of importance to user and learning experience. How you ask? Let me ask you a question.
How do you decide what goes on the learner interface?
A. We use the basic buttons/features: Next, Back, Pause/Play, Audio Mute, References, Glossary
B. We decide based on the learner profile and the need for features
If your answer is A: That's incorrect! (Love telling that to the learner, but hate having to read it ourselves?) Why? Because there is no such thing called "basic" buttons. Focus on learning experiences rather than adding features. Think about it. Who says that these are the basic or the most essential buttons that your learner needs to navigate through the course? We assume this to be the case. Do a really small experiment. Take a course and test it on your learners. See which buttons they use and why. You will observe that they will not use the buttons you thought were essential. And what's worse, they may look for other features that you have not included.
The idea is not to undermine the importance of features provided in a course. But, to ensure that you integrate the right set of features in your package. Why give the learner features he will not use? Why miss out a feature that he/she is likely to search for? What do we do to get the right set of features?
1. Do a learner analysis: Understand the following:
a. What's their typical day like?
b. Have they taken an eLearning course before? How comfortable are they with the computer?
c. If they are expected to take the course during their work hours, what are the possible distractions in the learning environment?
2. Based on the profile and instructional design strategy, pick the features that are essential for the course. For example, if your course is an audio-dependent course, do not add a mute button. Instead add a pause button. If your learner is not fluent with the language, avoid transcripts.
3. Ask why and not why not. When discussing the features that you want to add on the learner interface, always ask your team why the learner needs a particular feature. In most cases, we say 'why not; let's just include this. This is bound to be useful'. If there is a doubt, keep it out. You can always add the feature later if your learner really needs it.
4. Do not design for edge cases and what ifs: Design for your primary user and for second visits. Do not design for edge cases and try to accommodate the what if scenarios.
5. Keep it simple. You cannot go wrong if you keep it simple. It is an extremely challenging task to just keep it simple. But it ensures that learner experience is not hindered due to clutter and unnecessary choices.
6. Test your course on sample learners: Test your course on atleast 5-7 learners. If you do not have access to them, test it on people who have a similar profile. This really helps understand how your learners will react to your course. It will give you a first hand experience of what their experience is like.
It is important to understand what the learners need than to just populate the learner interface with the regular features. Are we forcing actions that the learner does not need? Learner interface, navigation in particular, plays a crucial role in making your training program a success. So, think it out well. Spend some time getting it right.