Good design doesn’t have to be difficult. For some reason, L&D professionals created a digital world within e-learning and outside of the design that our learners see everyday on websites or in mobile apps. The resulting differences often lead to confusion as well as disengagement on the learner’s part.

Imagine starting an e-learning module with a good-old navigation slide. If we have to explain to the learners how to navigate an online module, we should go back to the drawing board and create better, more intuitive design. We owe it to our learners.

Think about smartphones, tablets and apps. Their intuitive interface enables us to navigate them with ease. This design is by no means a miracle or an accident but a result of extensive research and hard work by designers and developers. The basis of this research are user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design principles. As instructional designers, we should also use these principles when creating e-learning modules — or any digital assets for our learners.

UX versus UI Design

UX helps us identify a user’s pain point or need. Through an ideation process, designers develop a prototype that they can then test. For example, if a designer adds a button to a module, do the learners know where to click, and do they know where the button will lead them?

UI is the combination of visual and interactive elements that makes a product come to life. For example, if the learners click the button, what happens to it? How do learners know they successfully clicked the button? Often, UX designers create the user flow, and the UI designers refine interactions, adding color and emphasis to create an unforgettable experience.

Intuitive Design

Intuitive design doesn’t have to be difficult. There are a few elements to keep in mind:

Draw on Experiences

We should always be inspired by the world surrounding us: apps we are using every day, websites that delight us or emails that draw us to action. The list is endless. Build these daily experiences into your e-learning design.

Familiar Navigation

This point goes hand-in-hand with learning from your daily experiences. Our learners are familiar with navigating the web; for example, clicking a logo in the top left corner brings a user back to the homepage. Leverage this knowledge for your e-learning modules.

Responsive Design

With the rise of mobile phones and, of course, mobile learning, responsive design is often not optional anymore. Become familiar with different authoring tools that enable you to create responsive e-learning rather than “mobile-friendly” designs that might leave learners frustrated. There is a big difference in user experience here.

Eye-catching Design

Design principles such as scale, contrast or typography can make an e-learning module come to life. There are many free online tools that help designers to find, for example, the correct contrasting color or the perfect match for the font type they are using. Explore these tools, and be creative.

Usability Testing

If possible, have some learners test your e-learning module before it goes live to a bigger audience. Test navigation, flow and ease of use. Remember to share with learners that you aren’t testing them — you are testing the module.

Collect Feedback

During usability testing, collecting feedback is paramount. But it doesn’t stop there. Gather feedback throughout the shelf life to the e-learning module, and act on it.

Prototypes and Wireframes

One way to test and collect feedback on an e-learning module before rolling it out to your entire audience is using prototypes and wireframes. Instructional designers usually create prototypes after developing a design document and right before finalizing the storyboard. These prototypes are often built into the e-learning authoring tool.

A prototype can help us create the user flow and think through how learners would navigate an e-learning module. It tells a story about how learners will interact with the final product and allows us to design differently based on that research.

Prototypes don’t have to be difficult, and they also don’t have to be built in an authoring tool. If there is no budget to create a prototype early, wireframes can help guide you in the right direction. A wireframe is a sketch that explains on a high level how you can set up a page and where the user can click.

Take some time to write down a list of things you enjoy in your favorite app. Collect design ideas when you are browsing different websites. Be inspired by the commercials and advertising all around you. All of these sources can help you create jaw-dropping e-learning modules that truly engage your learners.

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