By Kathleen Waid, Senior Director of Client Services, Expertus
October 10, 2014
Have you ever been spellbound by a jaw-dropping software demonstration? Guided tours of new technology sometimes seem like pure magic. So why does the magic often fade when we fire-up that software back at the office?
Poor usability is likely to blame. Lack of attention to key usability principles can create a sharp disconnect between the intuitive simplicity we expect, and the complicated realities of an awkward interface.
LMS platforms aren’t immune. Today, there are 600+ learning management systems on the market. Many of these vendors deliver dazzling demos. Many also claim that usability is a hallmark of their product. But LMS users tell a different story.
And today, if you’re among the 60% of companies actively seeking a new learning platform, you can’t afford to choose a usability dud. So, how do you get past the razzle-dazzle and make an informed decision?
5 Ways To Evaluate LMS Usability
Don’t invest in your next LMS until you consider at least these 5 factors:
1) Look at visual design as only one dimension of usability
Many old-guard LMS vendors have recently given their products a facelift. There’s a trend toward flat interfaces, thin san-serif fonts, more white space, and brightly colored square buttons with fewer gradients, shadows and 3D effects. Visual updates like these clearly make an LMS more pleasing to the eye. However, cosmetic updates are not the full story. True transformation requires a more comprehensive design approach.
2) Focus on key learning workflows
It’s important to identify and understand the tasks that users regularly perform — not just in the early stages of adoption — but also over time, after everyone is set-up and courses are live. Different segments of your learning population (employees, business partners, customers) have distinctive goals, motivations and habits. How flexible will your new LMS be in adapting to these diverse learning needs? Can you offer a context that feels intuitive, streamlined and relevant for each user’s profile and purpose — rather than imposing a “one-size-fits-all” experience across the board?
3) Recognize that usability is more about editing features than adding them
As learners move through a process, “next steps” should seem obvious and easy to complete. Ideally, an LMS works intelligently on the fly — analyzing what it “knows” about the user to remove wasted steps, hide extraneous information and reduce the number of choices presented on a screen. This “profile-based” or “heuristic-based” approach to interface design minimizes information overload by focusing a user’s attention on whatever needs to be accomplished at the appropriate time.
For example, let’s say an employee is required to complete four courses for compliance. When the employee logs into the LMS and browses the catalog or searches for specific courses, the interface should display those “must have” courses first — preferably with an alert indicating that completion is required by a particular date.
4) Don’t lean on user training as a band-aid for bad design
If there are deficiencies in your LMS interface, don’t expect training to compensate. Training can help people overcome UI design quirks when products are used regularly — but most people don’t use an LMS daily, or even weekly. Instead, they tend to engage in intense, sporadic bursts — whenever they need to find a course, register, complete training activities and update their record. Any application-related training is likely to be forgotten between sessions. This places more responsibility on LMS vendors to create interfaces that make interaction seem easy, coherent and satisfying. Vendors must be relentless about streamlining workflows, correcting logic errors and displaying only essential information at the moment of need.
5) Don’t neglect training administrators
The LMS has rapidly expanded beyond its original role as a tool to organize course listings, process registrations, host e-learning content and track training completions. Administration tools now represent less than 10% of a typical LMS feature set, even though admin functions are still the backbone of learning organizations. Modern LMS platforms can add value to learning operations by improving admin usability. A backend interface that is easy to understand, customize and enhance ensures that training administrators will support learners more efficiently and effectively. This adds value to learning initiatives.
Other LMS Selection Factors
Of course, usability isn’t the only issue to consider when buying a next-generation LMS. To learn about other common missteps in the LMS selection process — and how to avoid them — read our free white paper, “Choosing an LMS? Avoid These Four Deadly Traps.”
Image Credit: Turner Entertainment and Warner Brothers Inc.