“The largest myth about educational user experiences today” by Heather McIntosh Cassano was originally published on Pearson’s FWD blog.

Heather McIntosh Cassano

The largest myth about educational user experiences today is that great user experience is about visual design and graphics. If we make it pretty and easy to navigate, we have created a good user experience, right? In reality, visual design is the icing on the cake. If we don’t put the right ingredients into our user experiences, visuals and graphics will do little good.

In my view, one of the key elements of user experience is “user engagement.” That’s because the more fun and engaging we make learning, the more effective the experience will be. And that’s what it really boils down to: efficacy and student success.

So what are the ingredients for creating an engaging experience?

  • Conquer the basics: We can’t lose the traditional factors of a user experience, like usability, learnability and time to perform a task. Getting these fundamental elements right are a critical component of any design. But these alone won’t lead to a truly compelling user experience.
  • Make it delightful: This means making the experience fun. That, in turn, means complementing the way that students work in the real world and making sure learning technology isn’t frustrating or boring. We can also learn a lot from gamification – the use of gaming techniques such as competition, rewards and a providing a clear path toward achievements.
  • Personalize it: Personalized learning is the future of education, and it is a critical factor in engagement. We need to deliver educational materials so that students can learn in the way that works best for them. We need to provide all kinds of different options.
  • Connect and collaborate: Like it or not, we are emotionally attached to our iPhones, Androids and iPads. That’s a good thing for education, because tablets and mobile devices hold incredible potential for learning. We can accomplish more on these devices than we ever could before. We can take advantage of the user’s ability to manage their learning, no matter where they are. We can optimize social and collaborative learning, which we know can increase efficacy and engagement.
  • Get feedback from students and teachers: The key element of building great user experiences is research. As designers, our job is to come up with a lot of ideas and put them in front of real students and teachers. This is what really leads to innovation. The feedback we get from people who are actually going to use the technology allows us to iterate, find out what works, what didn’t and consistently improve the product over time.

We have just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible in educational technology. We know that technology today is not just another handy tool for teachers. What is happening in classrooms is unlike anything we have ever seen, and the rise of tablets and other mobile devices is changing everything about how teachers educate, and how students learn. This is a really exciting time for me and for everyone who loves designing educational user experiences.

Are you frustrated by today’s educational user experiences? Found a really fun example of something you love? Drop me a line and let me know why, I’m always interested in hearing from users what they like and what they don’t like.

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