10 ways to use heuristic evaluation for the perfect learner journey

Hands arranging a paper version of the learner journey according to heuristic evaluation principles

It’s accepted wisdom now, at least in enlightened circles, that a learning or content management system needs to have the learner’s user journey and experiential needs at the forefront of their minds. At the basic level, every platform should ensure users can easily navigate and interact with the system and, in the age of the social LMS, with each other. But let’s look at 10 ways to use heuristic evaluation to make that user experience so smooth that learners will just keep coming back for more.

When starting the design process, many designers forget that the end user won’t have anywhere near as much familiarity with the platform as they do. So, often those basic things like logging in and resetting passwords are actually quite clunky.

The 10 original heuristic principles laid out by Jakob Nielsen, a Danish web usability consultant, can be used to make sure that you design in a holistic way. Let me explain exactly how.

  1. Visibility of system status

    Make sure to help the user understand what’s happening in their interactions with the LMS at any given moment. Is it still working? Can they press continue? Imagine if they submit a message or save their settings, but the button to continue remains disabled, with no information on system status. Is it loading or is it broken? Do they leave or do they wait?

    The simple touches, like using a loading circle to let the user know to wait, can make all the difference.

  2. Match between the system and the real world

    Make all communication on the LMS simple to understand, like spoken language (but not too colloquial). Don’t overcomplicate things with words that your audience might not understand. Even corporate words that might sound obvious to you may not be understood by the user.

    For example, at Saffron, we use the word “Saffronite” to describe a member of the team. A user might not know what that means, and something like “Check out the Saffronites” might confuse them. Consider whether your user is able to interpret jargon. If not, cut it out entirely.

  3. User control and freedom

    Users often misclick, it’s a simple human error. To prevent such errors from progressing, you can make some sort of confirmation message for functions such as delete, remove, create, send, or cancel.

    For example, recently I accidentally deleted a bookmark folder in my Chrome. There’s no deletion confirmation, so I lost it. Not everyone will know how to restore deleted items, and sometimes it’s not even possible. I’ve been saved so many times by a simple confirmation preventing a deletion that would’ve made my day so much worse.

  4. Consistency and standards

    Keep your platform consistent. Don’t create different-looking “submit” buttons, for example. Ideally, you should follow naming standards and conventions that the learner will expect to see. For example, Google tried to create their own standard of +1 instead of “Like”. How did that go for them? I wonder how many people are saying “I +1’d that post” instead of “I liked that post.” Actually, I wonder if anyone’s even talking about Google+ at all.

  5. Error prevention

    Make sure to explore all possible avenues to prevent user error, from implementing a spellcheck feature to automating fields that ensure the user has entered a number or a string correctly. This is easier if your LMS has a clear user journey. By having all directions, actions, and options visible a user can interact without having to think much about it.

  6. Recognition rather than recall

    Create an LMS experience for the user where they don’t have to strain their memory too much (except for when you want them to)! It has to feel quick and easy.

    For example, whenever a user is typing a phrase, your engine can suggest the most common searches with this phrase and recommend them. Most search engines these days do it, and it’s about bringing the consumer experience that users expect to your LMS.

  7. Flexibility and efficiency of use

    Don’t expect all your learners to require the same level of explanation. That’s why you might split the interface between basic and advanced for efficiency and flexibility, dependent on pre-existing knowledge.

    How often do you see in a User Interface (UI) “Advanced Settings” with a drop down arrow or redirection to a new window? There’s a good reason this is there, and it’s because not everyone understands all the options.

  8. Aesthetic and minimalist design

    Don’t include irrelevant information.

  9. Help users recognise, diagnose, and recover from errors

    Errors often happen. Be it wrong text input (usernames, passwords) or an element failing to work or respond. No matter what the problem is, there needs to be an easy to understand message for the user and a way they can fix that error. And by that, I don’t mean coded gibberish that a general user would have no idea what to do with.

    For example, if somebody enters the wrong username or password, say that in the error message instead of displaying something like “NotFoundException” or an unclear direction like “enter different password.” Or even worse, not showing anything.

  10. Help and documentation

    Finally, if all else fails, a user always falls back on help and documentation. Usually if a user is forced to come here, something went wrong in the steps above. Nevertheless, you need to make sure that the user can easily find your help page, one that focuses on frequent user tasks and categories, and access an FAQ.

These are the 10 most commonly used heuristic evaluation rules for design. Whilst these won’t necessarily set the heart racing or add that “wow” factor, they will stop your hardware from being accidentally dropped and will create less friction to “pull learning”. And that’s a valuable outcome in itself!

Though they’ve been around for a while, and might seem obvious, they seem to be surprisingly under used and I’ve often looked at proprietary platforms and thought, “how could they not have considered that!?” Don’t let your users think the same.

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Georgi Damyanov - Developer

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