Wednesday 9 November 2011

The Design & Experience of E-Learning Systems.

E-learning is generally defined as a learning experience that is supported by technology. It’s a very wide description and recently there has been a lot of activity in the startup scene* with people and organisations attempting to bootstrap, disrupt* or pivot* their way into this space*. Education is firmly in the gaze of the technology world.

The way that I see the problem is that the more common e-learning systems available - [Blackboard][1] and [Moodle][2] don’t actually provide a very good learning experience. Recently one of the online classes that I’ve attended as part of my MA had us digesting an uploaded powerpoint file before a class. In the hour the class was active we used a rather hideous Java applet based chat room to communicate with each other. This is a common usage pattern for my MA lessons.

Just to be clear

I’m not blaming or berating the tutors of such lessons. I know first hand how hard it is doing that job. Especially with the tools that you’re given. Neither am I apportioning any blame to the I.T. department. Defending a network from over 1000 hostile attacks per second whilst maintaining over 4,000 computers leaves little free time for anything else.

What to do?

This is the line of enquiry that I’ll be taking with my MA. My hypothesis is that platforms don’t work, they get in the way. Of course I’ll have to experiment, interview and test in order to prove my hypothesis so until then I don’t have anything concrete on which to form new ideas and recommendations.

Design and Experience

In the example that I gave above in which a 640x480 non resizable window containing a java applet was being used to discuss a powerpoint file I couldn’t help but notice the experience. If great design is invisible then the reverse is true. Bad design is visible, possibly even too visible. The experience of using bad design leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It quickly becomes the only thing that you see and taste. In my case powerpoint, Java & typing - that’s not a great experience and neither is it conducive to learning.

This is at the heart of what I’m looking at, how could the design, technologies and use case scenarios be re-imagined in a way that put the experience of remotely communicating and discussing a given file were effortless so learning could take place?

*I find these startup hipster phrases odd. I can’t bring myself to use them so I’ve asterixed them to ensure that you don’t think I actually use them.

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