How easy is it to navigate your course to find materials and activities? Think about the different reasons why a student may be visiting your course in Learn. For example, they might be accessing materials for preparation for a teaching activity, revision prior to an exam, taking part in an online learning activity.
Is the course intuitive to be able to use without any prior knowledge of the course, can a person access the materials they need without asking someone else for support?
Everyone has different ways of navigating a site. You should take care not to design a course in the same style that you like to access and view a website, but consider if it is usable by others too.
Learn offers some key ways of navigating the site:
- Course Menu – displayed on all pages
- Breadcrumb bar – displays your current location in the course
- Course Links
- Web Links
You can try and find the right balance of navigation for your course that makes sense to your course context and layout, and based on what the student may be interested in when they come to the course.
A good starting point is to get your course layout designed and then if you have some extra time think about adding some extra useful links to sections of the course that link to other course areas that may be of interest in that context.
Meaningful titles and descriptions
As people become more familiar with a course and its layout they become less reliant on the text and description labels on menus and items within the course.
For people new to the course or investigating new areas the titles that we give to each menu link, folder name and course element become even more important.
A common mistake is to think that the way you have named a file will make sense to someone else. It is common to see files or items with titles such as, “Lecture 2.2”, or “week 1 handout”. Once you understand the context of the course these may make some sense, but will often require a person to do a quick cross-check in their mind as to what will be in that file.
Learn offers the ability to provide a meaningful title and an area to add a description for the file, or offer some instructions to the student for what is required of them.
As a minimum the item should have a meaningful title, and ideally would have a concise sentence that summarises the item.
Depending on the nature of the course we normally aren’t trying to create an online textbook so we can avoid using too much textual description in the item as people are unlikely to read it all.
Presenting your content
Courses are often designed to offer some form of course context to provide updates on the course and signpost the most relevant information that will allow the student to support their studies.
In some cases the Learn course is fully online and is the only platform for studying so will contain much more information and materials than a course being taught in a blended manner.
In either case you want people to be able to easily find the content they need in a format that is engaging and easy to digest. The University’s "Effective Digital Content (Writing for the Web)" course can be a good starting point to look at the differences at digesting information from a webpage compared to reading traditional texts and journals.
People behave differently when reading content on a screen. They are more likely to skim through sections, scan headings and skim read the sections until they find the nugget of information that they need at that point.
The use of meaningful headings and carefully selected images can help draw the student’s attention to the key elements of content. Find the right balance of content where a key summary of the information is available at a high level and becomes more detailed as the user scrolls through the content and sections.
We have already mentioned that people use websites in different ways and will demonstrate many different behaviours on how they might navigate, read and digest content from a course.
It is useful to test out your material on people who are not involved in the course, or get feedback from students. It could be as simple as setting out a task that you know to be common and seeing if people could complete the tasks. If you do this with 3 or more people you may identify a pattern or a variety of different approaches to complete the same task.
This testing can be a useful approach to refine your course design, or even inform some induction materials that you may wish people to complete to help familiarise themselves with the programme approach when they first start at the University.
If you would like some additional perspective about your course try asking a course secretary or learning technologist from within the School.
Learn Foundations project
If you are interested in the usability of your course area in Learn, you might be interested in the findings from the Learn Foundations project. This is a large project, currently underway, which has completed vast amounts of user research on Learn course sites. You can find out more about the project and its findings on the Learn Foundations project web page.