UX Design in Digital Learning – Why we start at the end

As instructional designers, we’re not just designing courses – we’re designing courses for people. For Frank, the 52-year-old dockworker who needs to learn how to work with the new administrative application his employer developed. For Annick, the 31-year-old who just switched careers and has a lot to learn about her new job. She doesn’t want to spend time in a classroom learning what she can just as easily learn on her smartphone, waiting for her train…

Before we start developing a course, it is vital that we know who we are dealing with in the end. Who are the people who eventually need to learn something? We should optimize the course material for them in the first place. The tricky thing is: the people asking us to develop the course material are often not the end users. They may have slightly different wishes and needs. Our job is to come up with a solution that makes both parties happy :-)!

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

(Benjamin Franklin)

That is why we start at the end: we get to know our end users. First, we gather as much user data as we can. User experience is all about context, about who, what, where and when. Who will take the course, what knowledge are end users looking for, what are the ideal circumstances to complete the training … It goes without saying that you can not take end users in account if you are not aware of their specific needs. Based on the user data we create personas. These are imaginary, but realistic portraits or descriptions of end users (for example, Frank, or Annick). They make it easier to visualize our users, and facilitate the discussions in the next steps of the process.

The following steps are all about making the right choices for your personas. We keep them in mind when writing scenarios and creating storyboards. In the storyboarding phase we pave the learning path and describe an ideal future. In this phase we do not consider possible technical limitations, everything is still possible. Afterwards, we check if our ideal future is both desirable for the end users ánd buildable for the developers.

One of the most important things of UX design is testing, testing, testing. We try to test draft versions of our learning solutions as soon as possible. That way, we can get feedback early on and adapt them, to fit our audience as well as possible. Making prototypes is one way to do that. Prototypes come in different shapes and sizes. You can make digital or paper prototypes. There are tons of websites and software to help you make digital prototypes. Check Adobe Experience Design CC or moqups.com, for example! Paper prototypes however have some specific advantages: they are often quick to create, easy to modify and have low development costs. On top of that, people tend to give more honest feedback if the product doesn’t look like it’s finished yet. Our advice: whatever method you might choose, build in several testing and feedback moments to finally offer the best possible learning solution.

So: if you need to make sure your audience gets what it deserves, you need to have an insight in their world, their context. You need to start at the end. Only by involving your end users, you can make them learn, not just remember.

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