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The Importance of the Learner Interface

October 28, 2014 Leave a comment

More than just a pretty face…

Don Landry, Business Development Manager, Blatant MediaOur company motto is, “Make software that feels right”. A simple and somewhat vague message perhaps, but it has served us well, based on the feedback we consistently get from clients, potential clients, and industry pundits. The visionaries who guide the evolution of Absorb, founding partners Mike Eggermont and Mike Owens (“The Mikes” as the team calls them) have been kicking down the walls of convention in the LMS industry for 12 years now. One of the many examples of this outlier thinking is the multi-award winning Absorb learner interface.

The Mikes unique approach to how the learning audience interacts with the software is one of the key differentiators between Absorb and the rest of this overcrowded market. The aforementioned feedback invariably includes adjectives like clean, sleek, beautiful, and easy which as we’d hoped, feels right.

In most environments, there is a range of comfort with software in general. On the one hand, you have individuals who only occasionally use computers, and only when they have to. This type of user often has little or no patience, and the end goal must be placed directly in front of them, or at least not more than a couple of clicks away. On the other hand, you have a whole new generation who have grown up constantly plugged into technology. They have much more sophisticated tastes and can spot a dated interface immediately.

So how do you make an interface that “feels right”, accommodates all level of computer users, and yet offers a positive learning experience? The answer is in the old cliché; “less is more”.

Many other systems out there want to “wow” learners with all of the cool things they can do in the LMS. In order to showcase these features, they tend to cram them onto the landing page. The problem is, most learners don’t give a hoot about all of this stuff. I call it the 90 cubed rule; 90% of the time, 90% of the audience doesn’t touch 90% of those features. Learners are far less in love with your LMS than you are. They want to get their training done and get on with their day. All the superfluous bells and whistles get in the way of that. They end up serving only to overwhelm people and discourage learning. Absorb has stripped away the clutter to present learners with a welcoming environment.

I won’t use any examples, because each environment is unique, and what may be clutter in one learning program may be critical to another. The point is: cut to the chase. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. What do they want/need out of the system? Once you isolate those requirements, get rid of the rest. The Absorb learner interface is highly customizable. Clients select the functionalities, in the form of “tiles” they need to support their learning strategy. In some cases as few as two or three tiles can accomplish this, as our client “Aftermath” configured their interface:

Absorb LMS: Learner Dashboard

Nobody likes an interface that is text heavy or crammed with info. Images and open spaces actually serve as a navigational tool and allow the eye to spot what is relevant.

Absorb brings more to the table than simply offering the advice of putting less in front of the audience. Workflow for your learners is as important as the tile selection. A great example of this is our “Resume” tile. This has been a fantastically popular addition to the interface. One of the biggest pain points for learners that we uncovered in our 12 years in the business is the situation where a person is searching for where they left off with their training. Online learning is typically self-paced, meaning people get to it when they have a spare moment. The problem is, those spare moments can often be days or weeks apart. The ingenious “Resume” tile takes the individual back to the launch page of the course they were last undertaking. This, coupled with Absorb’s clear tracking of progress through a course allows someone to return to the exact point where they left off within two clicks of arriving at the dashboard:

Absorb LMS: Armed Robbery

The space allotted does not allow me to go into more examples, but hopefully you get the idea; Absorb is not just pretty, it has loads of functionality built in to speed up navigation and put the focus on what is important. Your training.

What else is important? Your branding and your culture. These are two things many organizations have invested heavily in. Absorb lets you tie those into your training to not only maintain a theme, but to reinforce them. Your images and your company vernacular can be clear and present throughout the interface. Maybe in your world, they aren’t a series of courses, they are an “Integrateducation” as our customer Dialog chose to call them:

Absorb LMS Dialog

In many cases, this is the face of your organization or at the very least, of your entire training program. In either event, you want an interface that lends credibility to your training.

Just because we preach “Less is More”, this isn’t to say you can’t add value to your audience by presenting them with more than just course material. The trick is, it must be of interest to the person navigating the interface. That is where Mercury comes in. Mercury takes advantage of the same powerful rule engine that Absorb uses to control enrollments and resource access, build reports and learning Groups and so on, to deliver peripheral content to an individual that is relevant to the individual.

The addition of our Mercury Module lets you manage contests to encourage quick course completion, targeted news stories, and polls and the extremely powerful scrolling billboards (below) allow you to slip in additional self-promotion focused on the person viewing the screen.

Absorb LMS Billboards

Let’s not forget where the learner is accessing their learning from can be a detriment if your LMS interface can’t accommodate the tiny real estate afforded by mobile devices. Simply shrinking down the interface, even a three-tiled configuration, is not the answer. The HTML 5 masters on our team have designed state-of-the-art responsive design into the Absorb interface meaning we don’t just resize your interface but the interface restructures from a horizontal to vertical layout to allow for thumb-friendly, north-south navigation. Brandon Hall and Deloitte Bersin both felt this innovation was award worthy and bequeathed their Advancement in Learning Technology prizes to Absorb in 2013.

A great admin toolset is important no doubt, and Absorb delivers there too. What often gets left behind however is the learner who, at the end of the day is the most important piece in all of this. Something to consider when selecting your LMS…

How Mobile Devices are Influencing User Interface Design

January 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Richard Nantel, Vice President, Enterprise Learning Solutions, Blatant Media | Absorb LMS

“Dear Doctor,

I’m concerned about Stanley. He has developed an unusual growth between his left thumb and index finger. The growth is the size of an average hardcover book, yet thinner. One side is silver and emblazoned with the image of an apple. The other glows with an iridescent light.

Stanley does not appear to be in any pain. Nevertheless, I know he’s concerned since he stares and taps at the growth constantly.

Sincerely,
—Concerned” 

“Dear Concerned,

Please rest assured that we in the medical community are keeping close watch of this condition, which is reaching global epidemic proportions. So far, it appears to be benign and may in fact result in heightened curiosity, increased knowledge, and new skills.

—Your caring doctor”

Computer tablet sales are in 2013 predicted to outpace sales of traditional computers. There are currently almost as many mobile phones on the planet as there are people. These devices are becoming extensions of ourselves, rarely leaving our hands.

Futurists say we’re on the cusp of becoming cyborgs. We laugh and think this is crazy… until we misplace our mobile device and have to deal with the resulting separation anxiety.

The fact that people increasingly use mobile devices to communicate, collaborate, and access Web content is having a huge impact on the design of user interfaces for enterprise software applications. Here are some examples.

  • Rather than shrinking down a traditional computer user interface to fit the smaller screens of mobile devices, smart designers create interfaces that adapt or `respond’ to different screen sizes as well as vertical and horizontal orientations. In the example below, interface elements are resized and rearranged to best display on an Apple iPhone and iPad.

Absorb LMS displayed on an Apple iPhone and Apple iPad

  • Prior to the mobile revolution, many web sites were designed with a navigation menu that runs along the top of the screen. That works fine using conventional computers but is a poor choice for devices such as tablets which you typically cradle in both hands. Having a thumb touch the top middle of the screen is awkward on larger touch screens. Smart mobile interface design places navigation elements within comfortable range of human thumbs.

Absorb LMS navigation, placed within reach of the learner's thumb

  • Attempting to click tiny hyperlinks on small touch screens using human fingers is frustrating. Below is a screen capture from a popular garden supply company. This site looks really nice on my iPad.  Unfortunately, whenever I attempt to add eggplant to my shopping cart, I get cucumber. The links are simply too close together for my fingers to select what I need without zooming in. (I wonder if my family would notice if I substituted cucumber for eggplant in my famous eggplant parmigiana recipe?)

Shall we purchase eggplant or cucumber?

Smart designers create user interfaces where all clickable elements such as hyperlinks and buttons are large enough to be selected with fingertips.

biglinks

Tablets and phones are now ubiquitous so software designers and content providers need to assume that people will be accessing their content on a mobile device. What might look great on a traditional computer monitor may be completely unusable on a phone or tablet.