There’s a reason websites like Udemy, Master Class, and Coursera are popular learning platforms despite their imperfections: they’re user-friendly. The process of registering for a course, accessing that course, and bookmarking segments is easy. Master Class, in particular, has an extremely user-friendly interface for communicating with other course participants.
Although these platforms are intended for simple instruction, online universities can learn much from the way they work. The interface designs are modern, smooth, and intuitive. The graphics are pixel-perfect, and modules are indexed within a clickable navigation system. Compared to these learning platforms, university platforms are due for an upgrade.
It’s well known that almost all college websites need an upgrade. For some reason, college websites are some of the most neglected sites. This diagram humorously, yet truthfully, describes why college websites need a better design strategy: what people come for is rarely found on the home page. Unfortunately, online learning platforms can be just as frustrating.
Online learning has evolved, but hasn’t arrived – yet
Since the mid-2000s, most community colleges and universities have offered online classes to students. In the beginning, these class structures were basic. Students would join a designated Yahoo! group to collaborate with others, and the teacher would email all students their assignments for the week. Or, the class syllabus and assignments would be posted on the school’s website.
As online courses gained popularity, the standard class format evolved. Some schools, like community colleges, stuck with the discussion group format. Then online universities started popping up, like the University of Phoenix.
Instead of relying on existing software, online universities launched their own custom learning platforms. These custom platforms were intended to be easy to use. Although these platforms have evolved and are easier to use, they still seem to be missing two things: one-on-one help and live interaction.
It’s time for online learning platforms 2.0
Formerly, the closest you could get to live interaction with an instructor was a pre-recorded video of the teacher giving a lesson to their live students. This has changed with updated video conferencing technology, and the introduction of something called the SMART board.
No, a SMART board isn’t a whiteboard you can program to lock your doors or do your dishes. As collaboration experts at IVCi explain, “the SMART board is an interactive whiteboard, aimed at providing unique presentations and engaging students.” They explain that the SMART board is connected to the instructor’s computer in real-time, allowing students to view, share, and store documents for later. You can even share notes digitally. This component should be integrated into every online learning platform.
A better design means teachers have time for students
The absence of one-on-one help in online environments may be a symptom of a poorly programmed platform. It’s understandably exhausting for a teacher to sort through an inbox full of messages from hundreds of students. They need to open and read each message to find out if it needs a response.
Instead of that method, online learning platforms should provide an automated system that identifies what a student needs, and directs them to the proper channel. For instance, within each module, there should be an option to request one-on-one help.
Then, there should be a progression of questions for students to answer, designed to filter requests, similar to the way self-help platforms work. This would greatly reduce the amount of time teachers need to spend sifting through messages, which would free up their time to offer personal help to those in need.
Will you build the next popular online learning platform?
If you’re a developer with an interest in supporting online learning, consider building a learning platform that is truly user-centric and user-friendly. The right project could end up being the go-to platform for all universities, and designers would jump at the chance to build and sell their themes. Such a project would bring simplicity and consistency to an industry in need.