Traditionally, learning design has been conservative about user interfaces in digital interventions. Designers have been unwilling to make too many assumptions about learners’ levels of technological and cultural awareness, often due to the pressure of ensuring that learning interventions are accessible across very large populations with wide ranges of ability. However, while I applaud this intention, the ubiquity of standard digital user interfaces in everyday life means that learning design of this kind is running the risk of losing credibility from an increasingly tech-savvy audience.
A Modern Brief
I recently designed a piece of digital compliance learning which had an exciting brief from the client.
‘Treat our learners like highly intelligent, highly cynical, decision-makers.’
Fair enough, but often when compliance is the subject such good intentions are soon buried beneath a deep pile of highly technical and legal information, and pathways are made very black and white, with little scope for creativity. My approach was decision-driven bite-size branching, which placed the learners in situations where they had to manage risk and reward within familiar scenarios and then learn from the consequences of their actions. Fairly straightforward and robust conceptually, but where I wanted to innovate was in the graphic interface.
Dropped Into The Story
I have long been a proponent of a highly graphic narrative style, one that tells a graphic novel type story and mixes media to pull out key moments. This was the approach I took here, and I wanted to test whether I could effectively remove or replace the ubiquitous ‘how to use this module’ content and experiment with more intuitive design. To do this I created a situation where a learner is ‘dropped’ into a narrative without any information on what they are expected to do or where they are expected to click. The first section of the narrative was therefore a completely immersive part of the story which in effect ‘taught’ how to use the course without actually slowing the experience.
It was a highly successful concept in user testing, however the client was not quite ready for the complete lack of some of the more familiar icons of e-learning. Over various iterations a slightly more familiar approach was taken with some great work from the instructional design guys I work with. We managed to remove the reliance on many of the standard outdated user interface requirements and maintain a narrative focus right from the beginning, while compromising on some icons such as a progress bar.
So it’s still one step at a time for innovating with interface design, however this is an approach worth pursuing in order for digital content to remain current and engaging. The audience for digital content is overwhelming familiar with web interfaces and extremely impatient with anything which they feel is wasting their time. Couple that familiarity with the web and an entire generation of middle-management that grew up as gamers and you have a compelling drive to make some assumptions around how information can be presented. Digital learning content needs to keep up to retain its credibility and it is up to designers to push these concepts with their clients so they can get the engagement they want from their learners.
What do you think? Please comment or share your thoughts on Modernising Learning Interfaces