One thing that frustrates me about rapid authoring software like Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate is that it encourages learning designers to build huge courses with complex menu structures.
Then the course is exported into a single folder, without too much thought about how that is going to behave once it's hosted on the learning management system (LMS).
In this article, I'm going to discuss some simple techniques that learning designers might want to consider using to drastically improve the user experience from within the LMS interface.
If you'd prefer to watch the video click below.
Let's start off by looking at the most common LMS setup and a typical journey that a learner would experience once they've logged in.
Here we are looking at the LMS dashboard. On the left, we can see the list of courses:
At this point, there is only one option - to start the course.
Why does the LMS show the whole course and not individual modules?
Let's start the course to see. If I click on the course, we can see it open up into a lightbox on top of my dashboard.
What we can see here is a self-contained eLearning interaction. Most learning designers will create a module and the lesson structure within the eLearning course itself (I'll talk about why they do this later on).
If we look at this eLearning course above, we can see in the top right, we've got the resources option. That might contain additional PDF documents and maybe cheat sheets, handouts, anything that could be maybe downloaded or printed.
If I click on the menu, we can see the different modules contained within the course.
If we were to click on any of the modules, the menu might expand to show us a list of individual lessons like this:
What would be a better setup?
Before I talk about why this is a bad setup, I'm going to show you a couple more examples and you'll probably start to see my point.
In the next example, we see a better example using the same course and same platform.
We're looking at the same LMS dashboard again here, but this time we can see that instead of a single option to start the course, we're seeing individual modules instead.
If we click on one of the modules, we can see the same style eLearning interaction - but this time the menu is only showing the lessons, because the modules are listed in the LMS instead.
Let's look at what would be the best setup for our learners.
Back to the same LMS dashboard again...
If I click on the same course one more time, we can not only see the modules, but in this example, we can also see that each module has been broken up into individual lessons:
Each of these lessons can be selected individually.
Let's click on one of these lessons to see how that looks when the course opens.
It's the same as before, but this time, there's no menu and no resources.
We're taking the navigation element out of the course and putting that into the LMS platform.
Reasons for using this technique:
Our learners will find content much quicker if the courses are broken down into modules and lessons within the platform itself.
Let's look at this example.
Here I've typed in a search phrase.
If I was using the first example, where the course was published into one file, once I click on search, we see a single search result, which is actually showing me the whole eLearning course.
Yes, I can venture into that eLearning course and I can potentially find the answer I'm looking for, but I'm adding an unnecessary step for the learner and potentially turning them away from going any further.
How would this look if I'd broken the course up into lessons and modules and uploaded them individually?
Probably something like this.
I've typed in my search phrase, hit search, and it's brought up three search results.
They're a lot more specific and smaller bite-size search results than clicking into a full-blown eLearning course. By individually adding lessons and resources to the LMS, I can tag each one with a key search phrase.
The LMS will also scan the name of each item for the search. The search results, my users are going to find to be much more relevant than defining the full course.
2) Visual progress
The next advantage is visual progress. It's really important to encourage people to quickly pick up where they left off.
Some LMS may have a form of visual progress like this, but that's only showing a percentage of completion. It means that the course is either showing as completed or not complete. There's no in between. It's just a very binary result.
If we break the course down into lessons and modules as we see below, it's much easier to show a visual representation of progress.
This type of result encourages the learner to quickly pick up the course where they last left off. You can see here; the green modules have been finished and the grey ones are still outstanding:
The next advantage is all about commitment. I always use YouTube to explain this concept, but if I'm about to click play on a YouTube video, the first thing I'll check before I watch it is the length of the video.
If it's over maybe 10 / 15 minutes long, I'll start feeling some resistance to watching that because it's quite a big time commitment.
I might search for something maybe a little bit shorter on the same topic. If I can find the video, it's two or five minutes, I'll obviously save myself quite a bit of time.
Our learners will face the same decision every time they land on your LMS dashboard regardless of whether they can see the duration of the course.
If the learner only has one option, which is to start the whole course, they might decide at this point in time that it's a little bit too much effort.
If they arrived on this screen and they can see all of their courses broken down, they're much more likely to click something that's maybe only two or three minutes long.
In fact, they might still end up doing the 45-minute course in the same sitting.
It's that initial commitment, that initial resistance to get started is much smaller and therefore we're much more likely to get people using the content.
Another advantage is that it's quicker to remove lessons without any help from a learning designer.
If you're an LMS administrator or maybe you've outsourced this eLearning course to a third party and you want to remove part of the course or maybe even add something new to the course, you wouldn't be able to do that without going back to the learning designer and opening up the rapid authoring software.
If that's a third party, that might take time.
However, if you're using the LMS to manage the lessons and the modules, you can quickly add and remove lessons without going to that learning designer.
One more advantage is the perceived size of the library. If I arrive at my LMS and there's not many items in there, I'm not going to be too excited about using that platform in the future.
Whereas if it feels like there's lots of content, there's lots of things to explore, I'm going to be much more likely to use the platform.
6) Commercial advantage
This can also impact the LMS from a commercial standpoint too.
If you're selling your eLearning, your library is going to feel a lot more full and complete if there's lots of modules individually broken down, rather than just having five eLearning courses, for example.
Therefore your customers are going to get a lot more value out of using the platform which makes it easier to sell.
Are there disadvantages to using this technique?
If you were to change something within every lesson of the course, that's going to be quite a big job - you're going to have to open the rapid authoring software.
If you've got 12 lessons within the course, you'd have to open 12 files and edit something within each of those 12 files.
Also, uploading the content is going to take longer. If you've got 12 lessons, you're going to have to upload 12 files.
One more thing - if you were to ever migrate your content to a different LMS, again, obviously that's going to have an impact there. It's going to take longer to do that.
But the disadvantages aren't important...
Those are the disadvantages but having said all of that, what we're really going for here is the ultimate user experience and giving our learners the best experience possible.
Personally, I don't see those disadvantages as being problematic enough to warrant not thinking carefully about how we structure these lessons and modules within our LMS.
Why does this issue happen?
Our learning designers aren't really thinking about how this content is going to look in that platform.
That's quite often because the eLearning design might be outsourced to a third party or developed by somebody who doesn't have an experience with this LMS.
It's important to get your learning designers to log onto the LMS, experience the LMS from the perspective of a learner, so that they really understand how that LMS behaves and they understand the relationship between the content and the platform.
Also, because the software that we use to build eLearning quite often suggests that we use these features, it gives us quick and easy options for adding content. Once that course becomes a certain size, we feel obliged to add the menu structure to help our learners navigate around the course.
Anyone can upload a course into the LMS without putting any consideration into the user experience - but why are we creating training in the first place?
Is it to tick a box or to help people learn?
Hopefully this has given you some food for thought.
If you enjoyed this article, then you'll really enjoy my free 5-day email crash course on 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Starting an eLearning Project.