What would happen if every eLearning course was designed as a product that was bought and sold in the marketplace? Although some in this field do work in commercial ventures, most designers and developers seem to be involved in internal courses for their own organizations and institutions or for private clients.
But if more of us thought in terms of product design, I believe our courses would be more engaging, more exciting and more to the point. In Donald Norman’s book, Emotional Design, he discusses three components of product design: usability, aesthetics and practicality. Now aren’t these excellent criteria to take into account when designing effective online learning?
Usability refers to the ease or difficulty of working with your online learning system. Although this often refers to the user interface, in an eLearning context much more needs to be taken into consideration. Usability should be considered at every touch point where the learner interacts with the system. This might include online registration, launching the course, navigation, interactions, explorations, browsing, searching for content, receiving feedback, testing and exiting the system.
Well-known usability expert, Jakob Neilson, says usability can be defined by five quality components:
- Learnability: refers to how quickly novice users can learn the the system to accomplish their goals
- Efficiency: refers to how well experienced users can accomplish their tasks
- Memorability: refers to how easily experienced users can reestablish their proficiency after a time gap
- Errors: refers to the number and severity of errors users make with the system and how easy it is to recover from the errors
- Satisfaction: refers to how much a user likes using the system
Cognitive researchers increasingly agree that emotion influences cognition, implying that we should all be thinking in terms of affective design. Your courses have the potential to enhance an audience’s emotions, fulfill an emotional need, encourage creative thinking and motivate learners. As explained in Emotional Design, stress and frustration narrow a user’s attention and thinking, while attractive design evokes positive emotions, enabling audience members to expand their attention as well as their thinking. This latter state is more likely to promote learning.
To consider the aesthetic and affective aspect of a course:
- Ensure the design is consistent with both the audience’s taste and the topic
- Base the look and feel on established design guidelines
- Maintain a consistent design throughout
- Know your audience and topic well enough to appeal to their emotions
- Help the audience feel positive about taking the course
When measuring the practicality of your courses, think through your course goals. What content helps learners achieve these goals and what is extraneous? Although some adult learning is meant to be theoretical and academic, workplace learning is often meant to improve and enhance a person’s practical work skills. If this is the case, then most of the content should be transferable to the workplace.
To make courses more practical:
- Analyze the work environment and associated tasks
- Think about the gap between current and desired skills and knowledge
- Ensure your course focuses only on closing the gap
- Provide real-world interactions and scenarios
- Offer remediation in another format
- Connect novices with experts for informal learning
- Use social media to enable in-house experts to answer questions from staff
When you think like a product designer, you can transform a generic course into a learning experience that touches the audience in important ways.
Do you think like a product designer? What’s your reaction to this approach? Leave your comments below.
Emotional Design by Donald A. Norman