The View from the Learner’s Chair

It’s easy to get caught up in what we are trying to communicate, especially if our content is complex. We get focused on the essential information, how we are going to structure it, what’s the best way to chunk it to avoid cognitive overload, how we are planning to assess learning, and so forth. Yet this rather myopic view is focused on the teaching, and not on the learning.

That may sound like a small distinction, but it makes all the difference. Being focused on the view from the learner’s chair can transform an ordinary course into one that is engaging and effective.  

Focusing on the learner’s point of view is just another expression of what should be central to our design process – knowing our target audience and trying to get into their mental frame. 

To design an effective learning experience, we need to know (amongst other things) what our audience knows and does not know, how they will react, what they need to be able to do, and what their common errors or misconceptions are likely to be. 

Learner-centered design takes this farther, thinking about the learning interface and what is going to make for a smooth, enticing, and enjoyable learning experience. It removes barriers to learning. It makes explicit how this course will benefit the learner, and what the learner will be able to do as a result of the course.

I’ve had a personal experience as a learner these past two weeks which has brought home to me the importance of this way of thinking, as a designer and developer. Last year I bought one of the big authoring tools. I won’t name it, but you’ll know it. Let’s call it Program A. It has an excellent on-boarding process, an intuitive interface based on PowerPoint, and an involved and helpful learning community. Program A is simple to use but has lots of power and capability for customization. 

Two weeks ago I decided to expand my skills and I bought the other major authoring software. Let’s call this one Program B. Program B can do everything Program A does, and it certainly has lots of power and space to customize what you are creating. But learning how to use Program B is a completely different experience. Why? Because it wasn’t designed with the user in mind. 

I’ll give you an example. I’d created a sample project, and I wanted to publish it as a SCORM-compliant file. This is a basic functionality that most, if not all, eLearning developers need to be able to do. In Program A, you go to the big Publish button on the task bar, hit LMS, and it automatically outputs a file ready to upload to your LMS.

Not so with Program B! You have to go to quiz—>quiz preferences—>quiz —>reporting, and select the box to turn on reporting in order to get a SCORM-compliant file. Then you have to go to publish. Is it able to create a file for an LMS? Yes. Is it obvious how to do so for the new user? No. Well, not for me, at least.

I can see the logic of the way Program B does it. Program B’s designers are creating a very complex program, and trying to be original – not based on something like PowerPoint. Just as we are trying to take complicated content and chunk and sequence it to make sense, they are figuring out their own organizational systems, based on logic. Why would you want to load it to a LMS? Why, to track people’s quiz scores. Therefore, it should be a quiz setting. 

But as a user, I’m not thinking like that. I’m thinking I want to publish it, and I’d like my settings under the big publish button. 

So that made me wonder: when I am designing eLearning, am I doing it in a way that is logical to me but might not make much sense to my learner? Am I working like Program A, or like Program B? Which one is more likely to provide an effective learning experience? 

What do you do in your learning design to take your learner’s point of view into account? Please share in the comments. 

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