Selecting a Learning Management System: The UX PerspectiveThe international standard on ergonomics of human system interaction, ISO 9241-210, defines UX as “a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service”. From the perspective of a Learning Management System (LMS), User Experience (UX) encompasses everything, from the ‘functional’ (works as expected) to the ‘meaningful’ (holds personal significance for the user).

As per a 2016 survey by the Brandon Hall Group, 44% of companies were considering to replace their Learning Management System, with nearly 90% of those companies wanting to boost their User Experience (UX). If these companies eventually switched to a better LMS or not is a different story, however the large percent pointing to the dissatisfaction with the LMS UX cannot be missed.

UX is almost synonymous to a user’s happiness and is not just about the usability; it is influenced by three main factors: System, User and the Context of Use.

Here are a few things pertaining to User Experience that you may want to closely consider and tick off while choosing an LMS:

  1. Reliability
    The primary function of a Learning Management System is to facilitate learning/ training. This is why you need to make sure that the LMS you choose functions flawlessly for the job it is supposed to do. But it doesn’t end at just that. 99.99% uptime (and higher) is not just a good-to-have requirement, but a must-have when learners and admins alike rely on the LMS for their learning/training and administrative requirements respectively.
  2. Flexibility
    Though the LMS you choose doesn’t have to be a unicorn to stand out in the crowd, it should have the right balance of basic and advanced features, and the flexibility to use them as required. For instance, Batch Management feature for Classroom Training (also referred to as ‘Instructor Led Training’ or ILT) should allow learners to ‘Enroll’ for a batch or ‘Change’/ ‘Cancel’ an already assigned batch. For the admins, the same feature should assist them in creating multiple batches for each ILT session and also in assigning learners to different batches. That’s flexibility right there.
  3. Usability
    Broad and vast in its true definition, this term often confuses us. According to Janice (Ginny) Redish and Joseph Dumas (A Practical Guide to Usability Testing, 1999), “Usability means that the people who use the product can do so quickly and easily to accomplish their own tasks.”

    Below are some questions you need to ask yourself while short-listing the LMSs:

    1. Is the system too complex?
      Complexity in an LMS breeds confusion and creates dissatisfaction amongst users, thereby leading to low system adoption and usage. Look for an LMS that’s simple (to use and easy on the eyes too) and user-friendly; not jazzy and rocket science-ish.
    2. Will the user be able to go from section A to section B easily?
      This is where the navigational aspect comes into play. Check for the number of buttons and clicks needed to complete simple learning/ admin activities. Look for universally accepted symbols/ icons and tool-tips, and how these render on different devices (touch vs. mouse-operated) and screen sizes.
    3. Will it work any time?
      The system’s availability pattern i.e. online-offline availability, availability in low connectivity areas etc. should give the users an unrestricted access to learning/training at any point in time as per their convenience.
    4. Will it work on any device?
      Freedom of choice extends to devices too. In today’s multi-device world, it’s critical for learning to be available on all devices, anytime and anywhere. Look for an LMS with multi-device responsive capabilities (at least on the learner side) to ensure a learning experience that is seamless, ubiquitous and meaningful.
    5. Is the text readable? Are the images loading correctly, are the videos optimized?

      Though these aspects are mostly considered by the vendors while designing for usability, it’s best if you do the necessary testing at your end too.

    In addition to the above mentioned elements, also look for ‘help’ features and tools like Learner Support, FAQs, Search and Chat that make the LMS usage simpler for learners. Features like Single Sign On (SSO), bookmarking etc. too go a long way in ensuring a smooth learning experience. From the administration perspective, simplified workflows and auto assignment rules that can assist in quick completion of tasks can help in reducing the overall time and effort expended in day-to-day admin activities.

  4. User Interface Design
    As Wikipedia puts it, “the goal of user interface (UI) design is to produce a user interface which makes it easy (self-explanatory), efficient, and enjoyable (user-friendly) to operate a machine in the way which produces the desired result.” In short, UI deals with the overall presentation, look, feel and interactivity of the product. So, look for uncluttered dashboards, easy navigation, customizable interfaces, good fonts and themes; things that today’s users are used to. Most importantly, check if the aesthetics – the look and feel of the LMS – appeals to and engages both the millennials and the iGeneration in your organization.
  5. Collaboration & Integrations
    According to a 2016 Brandon Hall Survey, “When it comes to technology-enabled informal learning, more than half of companies consider discussion forums and collaboration on platforms as either essential or critical to the business.” With the rise of the 70:20:10 model for Learning and Development and other similar ones, it’s crucial for corporate learning/training to encompass both formal AND informal learning. An LMS should facilitate classroom/online learning with the necessary socio-collaborative tools that make knowledge sharing and social learning easier.
    The survey also found that, the need to integrate with other systems is a big factor in why organizations switch learning technology providers, with 77% of companies saying that integration capabilities are either essential or critical for their learning technology vendors to have. There’s no doubt that integrations save time and money, but they create a smooth and integrated user experience by their ability to easily integrate and exchange data with other systems. When selecting an LMS, look for one that gives you access to a comprehensive library of secured APIs, Schedule Data Synchronization Processes and Integrations.
  6. Appeal & Context
    I did mention UI earlier, but appeal is more than that. Customizations, personalization of content etc. are proven to help in creating a better connect with the learners. Simple things like custom brand colors, organization logo, the option of uploading of images/ videos/ documents for the curriculums, can make the users feel more at ease while using the LMS.
    Last but not the least, an aspect that is often overlooked in midst of all the LMS feature listing is the actual content that is being deployed on the Learning Management System. No matter how well designed the LMS is, it will fail to create a good UX if the content used is outdated, or not created well, or doesn’t suit the context of learning at all.

As Don Norman, co-founder and principal of Nielsen Norman Group, (also, the one who coined the very term) puts it, “User Experience is everything, it’s the way you experience the world, it’s the way you experience your life, it’s the way you experience a service, or an App or a computer-system, but it’s a system that’s everything.”

Happy User Experience to you!

Author