Underlying my current research interests is the concept of instructional design. I’m worried that my PowerPoint presentations and current iterations of Blackboard courses (especially for senior students) are ineffective on one hand and a digital filing cabinet on the other. How far do these resources and environments impact positively on my students’ learning? I’m not sure, but I feel I’ve gone backward to a certain extent, so it’s as good a time as any for a review. Whilst focusing on apps for handheld devices, this article gave me much food for thought in regard to LMS course structure too.
This post is my summary from an article by Carmen Taran entitled ‘From e-Learning to the iPad: Don’t Just Move Bones from One Graveyard to Another’ (Learning Solutions magazine, eLearning Guild, 20 December 2010). It’s the first, of what I hope to be many, responses to reading. I hope I can formulate a clearer plan in my own mind as to how I can improve my digital options for students.
I’m struck by how many of these sentiments apply to traditional website design as well. The underlying idea that Taran is trying to express however is that designing digital content needs to reflect the unique qualities of its media, not just the regular considerations of purpose and target audience. She sums this up aptly in one of her final sentences – “Refrain from merely dumping electronic content into an app shell.”
An iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad (iDevice) affects the development of the resulting digital learning object (DLO). It’s not just the obvious issues related to screen design, but how the iOS impacts what instructional designers can do also plays a huge part in the software solution. It’s not just Apple handheld devices that need to be considered either. The term ‘iDevices’ can be applied to any brand of smart device as they can all potentially be used by students in the learning process and in the case of Android devices, the OS is similar to the iOS regarding user interaction.
This article focused on the importance of designing the user interface when developing digital learning apps. Five key questions are asked when reviewing any DLO:
- Where am I?
- How did I get here?
- How can I return to where I once was?
- How far have I gone?
- Where else can I go.
Uses need to know where they’re going, where they’ve come from, and where they’re going to – and not necessarily in a linear fashion! Two concepts spring to mind when I consider these questions: transparency and consistency. How the user navigates a DLO needs to be intuitive and unimposing. Content is still king, even when chunked, after all! Like all good web design, the placement of navigation buttons and menus, along with the colour scheme, also needs to be the same throughout the DLO.
Taran critiqued five very different apps according to these questions and my summary of the findings are below. Again, so many of these features are common to traditional web design as well.
- Less is more. Don’t bombard learners with too many options all at once. Once example of this is with menus. If you have many menu items, each of which have sub items as well, just show the main menu items first. Then using a concertina-style or pull-out menu design, display the sub menu options when the learner selects one of the main choices.
- Show how far the learner has progressed (and how far he/she needs to complete). Keep this is the same location on each screen as well (and the same size). See the next point about terminology as well…
- Terminology – ‘screen’ versus ‘page’. We view DLO’s on a screen, so use the word ‘screen’ when indicating learner progression throughout the app (i.e. Screen 5 of 12). Leave ‘pages’ in books…
- Title each screen. Tell learners what the main focus of a screen of content.
- Be consistent. Ensure that your screen titles and menu options use the same terminology. There’s no need to confuse the learner…
- Book templates in DLO’s need chapters. And I guess having a contents page (whoops, ‘screen’) wouldn’t go astray either. I love it when ebooks on iBooks or Kindle for iPad have this as it’s really handy, especially for non-fiction books.
- When is a button not a button? Make sure that the state of buttons is really clear to the learner. Don’t blur the lines (in the name of some fluffy ‘artistic design’) between when a button is enabled or disabled, or if a button has been clicked (i.e. depressed) or not.
- Back to the beginning. Each screen should allow learners to return to somewhere where they’ve already been (e.g. a ‘Back’ button) and/or skip to anywhere in the DLO (e.g. ‘Main Menu’ option).
- 80/20 split in screen real estate. 80% of the screen should be for content, 20% max for navigation options.
- Proofread carefully. Avoid spelling errors or unwanted repetition, in content or navigation.
Designing user interfaces for DLO’s (whether on an iPod Nano, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, Galaxy, Galaxy tab, Playbook, PSP, etc – or even an online course in a more traditional LMS) is not about trying to find the ‘one right way’ of optimizing layout, because there isn’t any. It’s about looking at how the qualities of different media and platforms can be utilised to support learner’s needs. This, combined with evaluating your app or course against the questions raised here will do much for your understanding of the importance instructional design principles play when developing learning resources for your students.