The Importance of Successful e-Learning Interface Design
by Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist
Designing and developing effective e-learning requires the seamless integration of so many elements: content access, effective communication, human learning and cognition, graphical representation of information, to name a few. The interface (often simplistically viewed as the way a piece looks and what options are provided) is the critical element that brings all these things together.
Too often, the interface design is viewed as optional, as something that you can do to make a lesson look pretty. It goes much deeper than that. The interface is the central tool you have to lead the user through the learning experience. To make this point clear, I’ll use a well-worn example that Allen Interactions created a number of years ago for Union Bank of California, which is available for you to explore in the demos section of our website. The first image is the central interaction in which the user is to identify the element lacking on a check that makes it non-negotiable. There is much in the interface that creates meaning, that requires useful actions, that builds memorable context.
Here’s the same interaction, with only the interface changed. All the other elements (content, questioning, etc.) are the same. Without the interface (the contextual graphics, the realistic gestures incorporated into the interface, the heightening of the experiential aspects over the testing aspects, etc.) this simple yet powerful interaction loses almost all of its value—value created by a completely integrated design of interface and interactivity and content.
It seems like too many designers only think about interface as either a neutral shell providing navigation and basic controls that exists completely separate from any details of the actual lesson (in the shape of pre-existing inviolable templates and question formats) or as nice-to-have but completely superficial decorative treatment (e.g., speech bubbles are prettier if they have rounded corners, etc.)
This is a very complex topic, and one that deserves more attention than most of us devote to it, to our own detriment. I’m happy to add my voice, though, to the recent announcements about the recent publication of a new book in Michael Allen’s e-Learning Library: Successful e-Learning Interface: Making Learning Technology Polite, Effective, and Fun. In it, Michael creates a strikingly powerful model of learner interface design (contrasted with user interface design) and integrates it fully into the Context-Challenge-Activity-Feedback model of instructional interactivity.
I encourage you to check it out if you are serious about thinking of ways to improve the effectiveness of your e-learning. You can even download a free chapter here to sample it before getting the full version.