UI and UX in learning — How they differ and 7 tips to improve both

Graphical representation of UI and UX with the design features contained within the letters

While User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) are sometimes confused with one another, they’re actually separate concepts, albeit with overlapping considerations. To craft really successful learning, it’s important to consider both and design programmes that are suited for the audience, subtly adding to the learning experience. Once you understand how UI and UX in learning differ from each other and relate to the user, you’ll be better able to use them consciously in your design.

UI focuses on the learning’s look and feel. It’s the learning’s visual presentation. UI design is a digital activity that generally doesn’t require coding, depending on the tools used and if the distinction between design and development is blurred.

Learners often judge a system by its interface rather than its functionality. A poorly designed interface can cause a user to make catastrophic errors or never engage with the content or platform at all. Poor user interface design is the reason why so many learning management systems are never used.

UX is what the learning does… what gives it life. UX design is not about coding or any other digital techniques. Its focus is on learner satisfaction and usability, and it covers everything from the instructional design, to how it responds when users interact with it, to the way it fits into people’s daily lives. UX involves a sprinkling of market research, a dash of great writing, and a broad knowledge of company culture and target audience.

How to level up your learning’s UI and UX design

As learners are also consumers used to consumer websites and apps, they expect better experiences than the traditional learning environment generally provides. That’s why we at Saffron have seen so many organisations wanting bespoke platforms and content over generic solutions. In some cases, we’ve been able to provide an overlay UI/UX experience so that wholescale removal of a platform is unnecessary, instead refreshing the learning and engaging users to place it at the centre of their work life, at little cost and no disruption. However, you might be able to avoid the necessity of this kind of overhaul by following our insights into improving both UI and UX to meet learners’ raised expectations. In brief, customisation, flexibility, and thinking about the user journey are vital for success!

1. Keep it simple

Great user interfaces are invisible, or nearly so. They are not flashy, overly decorated, or loaded with unnecessary elements. They contain only the essential elements presented logically and concisely. Don’t add things to be clever, or feed your ego.

The purpose of your user interface isn’t to show off your design skills (though if fashioned correctly, it will). Its purpose is to help users interact with your system. If they have trouble doing so, they’re likely to engage poorly with the learning.

Clear, concise labels for buttons and actions is the key. You need to keep your message simple. The easier a page is to follow, the easier it is for the user to know what to do next.

2. Make the interactions efficient

Make it easy for users to complete a learning task smoothly and efficiently, and never lose track of where they are or work they have accomplished. Designing powerful, branched, innovative learning is a positive – as long as you keep it functional. Hiding options that are not critical to everyday use will benefit the user.

3. Be consistent in your design

Since users quickly develop usage patterns, it’s important to maintain consistency throughout the user experience. Consistent interfaces allow your users to find, and stay in, their comfort zone throughout a session. People crave consistency, so give it to them to keep their concentration on the content — not how to get to it!

4. Use familiar design patterns

We like seeing things that are familiar and easy to fathom, yet some designers insist on making everything they design an artistic creation. It’s great when the learning is memorable, but only when it’s for the right reason. Don’t make your UI a brain-twister.

5. Understand how UI and UX interact

While an ideal UI should be both simple and intuitive, designing one is not as simple as you would think. It should rely on the perspective of the user.

This valuable data can be gathered by user testing and analytics to help determine the nature of the user flow, and can determine key learning and hierarchical information. If possible, this information should be gathered before mock-ups or prototyping efforts are initiated.

6. Implement a visual hierarchy

Make it a point to highlight the most important interface elements to help users find and focus on them. There are many different design approaches that you can use to make this happen. A simple example would be to make a key button larger or brightly coloured to make it stand out.

7. Consider the platform

When designing the UI and UX, make sure to bear in mind the different devices that the learners can use to access it. Simple, flexible content management in an LMS can allow this, especially when supplemented with responsive LMS design that plays well with mobile. The best learning systems also contain social engagement, or integrate with organisational social media, so consider how this will affect your design.

Conclusion

Often confused with one another, UI and UX are two distinct concepts, and their design practices differ. For the former, you need to consider your learning’s presentation, and its look and feel. For the UX aspect, designing presciently with the user in mind, combined with user-testing your creation to ensure their satisfaction, is key. By following the tips we’ve laid out above, combined with our elearning design hacks, you can take your UI and UX from good to great and craft a learning journey that lives long in the memory, and more importantly, in its application.

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About the author

Suvidha Kadulkar - Quality Assurance

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