Making an online learning interface intuitive for students AND teachers has always seemed (to me at least) a critically important piece of the online learning design puzzle. We do know that many students have chosen the ‘solo pursuit’ path and enrolled in an online subject / degree to work through the course at their own pace; the logical conclusion at that point is surely that the user interface | navigability | layout for every subject must facilitate that choice.
This leads to some broad assumptions we might make about subject sites layouts:
• That the organisation of items in the navigation bar is important (what order, how many etc.)
• That the nav bar items should reflect (and facilitate) the student learning experience over the session
• That more is not necessarily better – how much scrolling do students need to do to access items in the subject’s nav bar?
• That some umbrella terms might facilitate an intuitive nav bar – Learning Content | Assessment Items | Subject Community etc.
As such, perhaps it’s time for some ‘pruning’ of your subject nav bar? Putting on your pragmatic student goggles or perhaps thinking on your own experiences as an online learner – what worked / what didn’t?
I’ve always felt that a good place to start is by trying to answer the question, ‘what do I do now’? If the answer is not immediately apparent, there’s a problem with the learner interface | subject layout.
As a student, which items are you going to use / need the most – just how many times are you going to want to visit the ‘Contacts’ and ‘Announcements’ page? Are these more important than the Learning Materials and Assessment Items required to pass the subject?
Following on from the previous rant about intuitive / explicit subject site layouts, we come to one of my pet peevs for online delivery – the home or landing page, or to be more descriptive – the one and only location that we know every student must view, every time they log in.
As such, the landing page represents a unique opportunity to engage with the online learner in a variety of ways:
• To provide and reinforce Teacher Presence – who is up the front of this thing again? That’s right – there’s an expert on hand here, progressively helping me to break down content, the learning interface, their expectations of me as student and ultimately – assessment and progression.
• to explicitly highlight weekly key opportunities & expectations – assuming that there is distinct value to every week of the subject delivery
• To provide a ‘snapshot’ of the potential interactions (teacher – student, student – student) for that week – our discussions this week are looking at X, our online tutorial will cover Y, the recorded lecture looks at Z etc.
• To provide multimodality in terms of how information is made available to the student – a recorded video weekly ‘round up’ from the academic? A visual representation of the session that can be ‘drilled down’ to that week’s key items (e.g. H5P embedded subject timeline tool). An embedded social media-esque stream of media rich communications that student can scroll back through where necessary (a la embedded Padlet wall?)
There are just so many possibilities for making a dynamic landing page a key feature of an engaging student learning experience. I’m not saying that your academic Bio, subject welcome and details of subject textbook are without value – the point is that they only have value to the student once.
Going back to that question of ‘What do I do now?’, a dynamic landing page provides an immediate answer, each and every time you log in:
1. Here is what we’re doing this week
2. Here is what we expect you to do
The good news is that these are all areas educators can have an immediate and visible impact on. There are no permissions involved (yet?) – this is your ‘classroom’, the furniture is easily moved about and the time required to make changes to your subject aesthetics is minimal, yet absolutely worthwhile – particularly when you think about the alternatives, to name just a few:
• frustrated students giving up / opting out because they don’t know what to do / where to find things?
• Significant overuse of the subject Announcements tool – how much is too much?
• Subject sites needing constant reworking / jobs logged, session after session
• Continually having new sessional staff trying to figure out where things are and what they should be approaching their online delivery?
• Fielding countless emails asking for clarification re. learning resources / assessment detail / location of critical information etc.).
All I’m suggesting here is that a little concise, explicit, personal and timely direction can go a long way toward making a potentially isolated learning experience that much more accessible and achievable for our students.