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Unlocking Student Success: The Power of Learning Experience Design

Picture this: You step into a classroom bursting with enthusiasm, ready to share your knowledge with a new group of eager students. You've meticulously crafted your syllabus, and created engaging assignments, and you're all set for an exciting semester. But wait, something is missing—a key ingredient that can make all the difference: Learning-Experience Design (UX).

What Is Experience Design (UX)?

In academia, we educators are seasoned experts in teaching methodologies, curriculum design, and assessment techniques. Yet, the term "UX" may appear unfamiliar and foreign in this context. Nonetheless, UX is a fundamental principle that has quietly underpinned the success of some of the world's most prominent organizations, many of which you likely engage with as a consumer.

Imagine seamlessly browsing Netflix’s vast content; the convenience of hailing an Uber; engaging with friends on Facebook; or enjoying the exceptional service at Chick-fil-A. Each of these brands stands out in their respective domains and share a common thread in delivering exceptional user and customer experiences.

Netflix keeps you hooked with personalized recommendations; Uber simplifies urban mobility; Facebook connects you socially with ease; and Chick-fil-A's friendly service leaves a lasting impression. These experiences—functional and delightful—collectively set a high standard for user satisfaction and engagement in both the digital and physical realms.

What ties these diverse experiences together, making them functional and enjoyable?

User experience—the invisible but essential element that transforms ordinary interactions into extraordinary ones.

As someone who's both a professor and active in the industry designing apps and experiences for the Fortune 500, I've seen firsthand how the power of UX can transform the learning journey, leading to improved engagement and stronger outcomes.

The Overlooked Role of User Experience

Remember those early days when you were a student? Perhaps you, like me, encountered the labyrinthine world of Blackboard, where resources were stashed away like hidden treasures in a confusing web. Files lacked sensible names and navigating the system felt like decoding ancient hieroglyphics.

Sometimes I felt that I had to put more effort into accessing the content than learning from it.

And let's not forget the professor with a syllabus that looked like a mad scientist's experiment: 13 different fonts, 5 text background colors—pure chaos! It was a mess so bewildering that it felt like trying to read Shakespearean English for the first time (thankfully my mom, a high school English teacher, could help me with that one!)

These experiences illustrate a fundamental truth: UX can and should play a pivotal role in the student learning experience.

Defining User Experience (UX)

User Experience (UX) is fundamentally about how a person feels when interacting with a system, be it a website, a web application, or in our educational context, the learning environment and materials.

It’s like the seasoning in a dish—what makes the entire meal come together. In our context, it encompasses how students interact with course materials, platforms, and the overall learning environment.

Imagine this: You walk into a library where books are scattered randomly, and the shelves lack identifying labels. How frustrating would that be? That's what students often feel when course materials are disorganized or buried deep within a digital labyrinth.

When the learning journey is cluttered with obstacles, students can quickly become demotivated, and learning becomes a chore rather than a joy. Conversely, a streamlined, user-friendly learning environment empowers students, making them feel confident and engaged.

Creating a great User Experience (UX) in an educational course requires a professor to think like a designer, focusing on the ease, engagement, and effectiveness of the student learning journey.

This starts with a well-structured course layout where every material, assignment, and resource is intuitively organized and easily accessible, akin to neatly labeled shelves in a library. Interactive elements such as discussion forums and multimedia content are integrated to make learning more dynamic and engaging. Clear instructions and expectations are established from the outset, eliminating guesswork for students.

Practical Learning Experience Design Tips for Educators

Embrace a Student-Centered Perspective Start by stepping into the shoes of your students. Often, educators are only familiar with the instructor side of digital platforms like Google Classroom, McGraw Hill Connect®, or Blackboard, without a clear understanding of the student experience. It's crucial to see the course from the student's viewpoint, especially when dealing with technical issues or grading nuances. Utilize the student-view feature many platforms offer, or even enroll in your class as a student to gain firsthand insight. This approach is eye-opening; it allows you to help students get on the runway to success as the semester commences, double-check the clarity of your instructions, discover the breadth of the questions, understand the grading system better, and ensure that feedback is correctly set up.

By mirroring the student experience, you can provide more precise guidance— especially as you do a walkthrough in class, enhancing their learning journey and your teaching effectiveness.

Design Visually Engaging Syllabi Think of your syllabus as a work of art. Use a mix of infographics, cartoons, and brief paragraphs to make it visually appealing and fun to read. Remember, a colorful syllabus with a touch of humor can set a positive tone for the entire course.

A syllabus should drum up excitement for the semester and the course—not deflate students’ energy as they learn about arcane policies or sections that have been lifted and shifted for decades (Remember, it’s 2023 — Internet Explorer doesn’t exist anymore).

Optimize Course Organization

Like mobile apps that deliver content in digestible chunks, break down your lectures and assignments into manageable segments.

Organize content that lives on your learning management system by week, module, or topic. Use folders to keep relevant assignments aligned and organized. This helps students absorb information more effectively.

Post short video clips, concisely written content, and interactive quizzes that align with each module's learning objectives.

Craft assignment requirements that are coherent and easily digestible, avoiding the creation of an overwhelming wall of text that students find challenging to read, comprehend, or even skim through.

Ensure your Blackboard, Canvas, or other online learning management system resembles a well-structured roadmap, guiding students with clarity and simplicity.

Keep your assignments and course materials consistent in structure and format. Students appreciate predictability, and a clear, uniform approach reduces confusion and boosts confidence.

Utilize Multimedia for Engagement

Take a page from the playbook of apps like Uber, which often use images, illustrations, animations, and videos to enhance user engagement.

Incorporate multimedia elements into your course materials to make learning more dynamic. Record short video introductions to each module or create narrated presentations. Visual aids, infographics, illustrations, and interactive simulations can also enhance comprehension.

Let's Spice Up Education with UX!

In the end, it's all about creating an environment that nurtures rather than hinders learning. A well-designed learning experience can be the spark that ignites a student's curiosity and drives them to excel.

So, when we ask ourselves why students sometimes don't engage, let's remember that even the most captivating content can be overshadowed by a less-than-thrilling user experience.

It's time to spice up education with a dash of UX magic! Together, we can create a recipe for success that will leave our students craving more knowledge. Let’s go!

About the Author

At the confluence of business strategy, creativity, and innovation is where you’ll find Daniel—with an agile mind, curious disposition, and collaborative spirit. Teaching within the University of Toledo’s Neff College of Business & Innovation, Daniel’s courses span the disciplines of business: management, marketing, technology, and innovation. In addition to teaching, Daniel is active in industry for Nationwide, on its innovation team where he serves as an Innovation Designer, creating new impactful products and services that people can’t imagine, and then can’t imagine living without. Prior, Daniel worked for Root Inc. (part of Accenture), a consulting firm, bringing strategic change, interactive learning solutions, culture transformation, and engagement strategies to life for American Airlines, Fossil Group, Hilton Worldwide, Verizon, and numerous other Fortune 500 companies.

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