Our school, The University of Georgia, uses an LMS (or Learning Management System) called the Electronic Learning Commons (also known as ELC, parent is D2L/Brightspace) to establish an online classroom where students can access course materials provided by their professors. The system recently went through a visual redesign that prompted complaints from both teachers and students. As a recurring user of this LMS, I began to dive deeper into solving the problems of our educational platform. (Side Note: I renamed the platform “Zeno” during the design phase)
DESIGNER, RESEARCHER, INFORMATION ARCHITECT. I will be applying UX and Service Design methodologies in order to solve the user’s problems while connecting them to solve broader academic problems.
Develop a learning community between college students and professors by providing easy access to educational materials/tools and facilitate a streamlined method of communication between both parties.
Design Thinking has multiple enterprise interpretations, but for this situation, I will base my process on IBM’s Design Thinking. IBM’s holistic approach takes the method as an iterative process. Due to this product having two key stakeholders (teachers and students), the design will require constant considerations of both party’s problems in order to maintain a balance of experiences.
Here I will empathize and gain a deeper understanding of users through quantitative and qualitative data that I will gather from interviews and surveys. These will guide potential scenarios for the project.
I will then synthesize the results, allowing me to scope the most critical issues to redesign. Identifying these pain points will allow me to brainstorm solutions through a careful analysis and exploration of potential ideas.
At this stage, I will create wireframes and flows to visualize the new user-centered LMS. This will allow me to create and redesign features that will tailor towards Higher Education students and educators.
The Teachers Goal is to quickly complete the mundane tasks of posting content on ELC, so that they may focus on educating and connecting with students.
The Student’s Goal is to view these assignments either before or after class so that they may focus their time on listening in class and reviewing their notes effectively.
The Business Goal aligns with the value proposition of the LMS. These platforms are designed to provide students and teachers with an effective learning tool to promote a successful online higher-education.
Understanding these goals will allow me to map out the right questions to ask and conduct the proper research to define the right problems.
In order to measure the scope of the of the problem, I conducted surveys with students to understand what specific issues I could draw from the results. I had to diversify the samples by surveying students of different backgrounds because each student could be facing different problems depending on the types of classes they are taking. First, I had to understand the students’ motivations and actions with the platform:
The data suggests that there is a perceived value to the platform. Students will check very often to access course materials and schedules from professors, as well as their grades in each class. ELC does offer a method of communication, so I continued to look into why students prefer to contact their professors through email, along with additional questions to discover paint points within the platform. Here are the results:
There could be two pain points drawn from this data:
Lack of clarity in communicating with their teachers online (see “Example: Contacting” below)
Lack of organization of assignments on the platform (no schedules, assignment due dates, etc.)
Two of the key quotes above mentioned the act of their professors posting content. To design a truly efficient LMS, one needs to consider not only the student’s input, but also the teacher’s. I focused on qualitative data because teachers are already incentivized to provide students with class materials, so their motivations are already realized.
What kind of information does this data give us? Teachers want ELC to be effortless and easy to use. The design should be invisible. However, teachers and students both face usability issues when communicating online. They lack the motivation to post every detail online, as the easier method of communication is in person. Additionally, issues with teachers posting assignments could link to the problems associated with organizing information. Usability issues include:
Navigating towards desired pages (see “Example: Navigation”)
Sending and receiving messages (see “Example: Contacting”)
Lack of clarity on posting assignments, dates, and announcements
So, my hypothesis did have some backing evidence. The LMS could make for some room for improvement. The next plausible step would be to interrogate these problems.
User Personas & Flows
The objective is to streamline these processes of interaction. In order to do so, I will use these insights on users, their goals, and their problems to map out user personas and flows that will help prioritize these interactions. Doing so will help provide solutions to minimizing these issues and steps to attain the user’s goals.
I then created flows to match the needs of each persona; starting with their identified problems and envisioning the ideal scenarios for them to complete their goals.
The goal of the redesign is to make the communication of information easier between students and teachers. It was important to structure the information so that teachers could either A) be incentivized to post details on schedules (a pain point from student surveys) and/or B) make it very streamlined and allow teachers to focus in class (a paint point from teacher interviews). In order to design the best product, I had to find a balance between the two that could still improve the overall experience. This led to my focus on designing the communication platform and assignment posting.
In order to visualize these flows, I quickly created wireframes to organize the information I gathered. Each iteration led to a new discovery and helped me design the ideal structures to match the flow.
Once multiple sketches were created for the wireframes, I decided on which ones best fit the information architecture that would provide the best experience and interactions. I created two separate prototypes, each prioritizing the needs of students and teachers. Additionally, Most of the essential design patterns and components remained relatively the same in order to maintain functionality and recognition from users. I also renamed ELC to “Zeno” (see note on top).
The new redesign gives quicker access to message composition as well as an easier read and reply on inbox messages. Messages are organized in colors that are paired with their registered courses.
The new information hierarchy prioritizes the most used items, allowing for quick and easy access to materials and readily available due dates.
A new calendar that focuses on dates, allowing simpler and faster access to assignment information. The individual colors are also displayed here to allow for easier communication with schedules.
The new teacher platform allows teacher’s to easily switch to “student view”, allowing them to see what their students are seeing. Additionally, the structure of assignment submissions was redesigned to flow through submission, making it easier to post new assignments.
Research: Up to this project, I never realized the full importance of research in the design of user experiences. Understanding the stories that people tell when interacting with technology allows designers to reach a greater understanding through empathy. This became a powerful tool for me to reconsider in my design and create personas that actually tailored to the users.
Information Architecture: I began to apply and observe navigational patterns after reading “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steven Kruger, helping me reconstruct the hierarchy of information based on the research I acquired from the users.
User Testing: The next step is to test my designs and hopefully uncover any solved problems, as well as any new ones that may conflict with my hypothesis.