An Improved User Experience Is Essential for Distance Education

As both a developer and educator, I am filled with great frustration as I write this. The pandemic has indelibly altered the education system’s trajectory, prompting the need for permanent changes. While we have made strides in e-learning, there is still a pressing need for further improvements in some aspects.

It is quite disheartening to contemplate the strides we have made in User Experience (UX) design that is specifically customised to match individual cognitive processes and worldviews, only for remote education to still be weighed down by archaic and complicated procedures.

A Tale of Three Users

When addressing distance education, it is vital to consider three key user categories of the virtual classroom which consist of teachers, students and administrators.

The bulk of users within the virtual classroom are students, who mostly utilise currently available material and sometimes generate their material. Their participation revolves typically around passive consumption of content, such as lectures and reading materials, or active involvement in just a few activities.

When it comes to online learning, educators play a pivotal role as key stakeholders. They are responsible for designing the learning environment, curating the content, devising lesson and assignment plans, and creating presentations, readings, and audio/video recordings. Moreover, the use of administrative and security technologies is integral to monitor student work and prevent instances of plagiarism.

Managers hold an invaluable position in supervising all facets of the educational process. Their responsibilities include classroom setup, instructor assignments, managing access, and collating student rosters. Their distinctive perspective on education is highly significant.

It is crucial for any learning platform to cater to the distinct needs of the three different user categories involved in this area, ensuring every user has adequate resources to engage in online class activities.

If only it were that simple…

The Lack of Virtuality in Online Education

Calculating a definite integral can be easily comprehended by searching for the topic on YouTube. Several educational sources and math enthusiasts have uploaded numerous videos that provide concise explanations on the subject.

To access course material in our college’s remote learning platform, students must first log in to the platform, locate the classroom, browse the resources list, and then select the appropriate video for viewing the explanation.

Undoubtedly, Wikipedia, TikTok, and Instagram have an edge in terms of user experience design when compared to other remote learning platforms. The creators of these platforms have a deep comprehension of how to direct users toward the relevant content efficiently.

Jing Jin, the primary architect of Outschool, a learning tool for children, has remarked that educational websites lack interactivity, which may be suitable for college students but can be arduous for children.

Online learning environments are intended to replicate the conventional classroom environment, offering a dedicated space for education and academic pursuits. However, there has been a growing inclination towards interconnectivity.

Incorporating a Twitter feed into a blog, even with a basic widget, is achievable. However, applications such as Discord and Slack offer more dynamic and captivating settings compared to websites like Coursera. The bulk of available conferencing software falls short of the advanced tools available to streamers for crafting and sharing their content with their viewers.

The idea is to investigate the possibilities of virtuality and the extent to which it can extend beyond traditional communication methods such as phone calls, online discussion boards, and private file-sharing groups. The aim is to develop interactive systems that enable students to access a wealth of resources that can enrich their learning experience while expanding the scope of the virtual classroom and its integration with the broader internet.

CodeCombat is an ingenious website that utilizes gamification and behavior engineering to make coding lessons enjoyable for both children and adults. It is a gaming environment that is constantly evolving.

Shifting Focus from End Users to Learners or Students.

It is commonly disregarded that the instructor bears the heaviest burden in a virtual classroom. Let me elaborate on this.

Gaining access to education in the Digital Age can be intimidating, especially if you lack confidence in your abilities. It can feel like receiving the necessary resources to build your dream home without the guidance of a certified engineer or architect.

Teachers are being assigned the responsibility of personalizing a virtual classroom, despite no background in software engineering. They are accountable for developing the course content and setting up the learning atmosphere.

Teachers are currently expected to possess a variety of skills, including IT, video editing, content creation, and website design, on top of their usual teaching and evaluation duties. While having a broad range of options is advantageous, it can be overwhelming for those who need to make decisions.

Here, we have adopted a Learner-centered design approach, as described in the book ‘Educational Technology’. An instance of a goal-driven statement that guides a user-centered design process is ‘teachers necessitate a module to evaluate their students’.

A user experience problem that emerges when using a learner-centered approach concerns the learners’ interests, such as their advancement and educational goals. Here, we develop our software with the aim of establishing a level playing field for both novices and experts.

As a result, teachers, a large number of whom are teaching online for the first time, should be able to benefit from these technologies. Simply providing training to instructors is insufficient; rather, the software should seamlessly guide them through the process.

They may require anything from a collection of course design templates to an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that offers suggestions based on similar course outcomes.

Recall the Significance of Diversity

A transgender student had to reach out to each of their instructors to clarify that their previous name was still being utilised by the system for numerous semesters. This inconvenience could have been avoided if our platform had included a straightforward settings page that permitted individual users to modify their personal information.

It is our responsibility to guarantee that all students, regardless of sensory disabilities, neurodiversity, or financial restraints, can avail themselves of our remote learning technologies. Consequently, we must consider the requirements of those who are underrepresented when creating these technologies.

Accessibility for users of all aptitudes is a fundamental aspect of the user experience, not only for individuals with cognitive or physical limitations. While it is not feasible to create an application that caters to everyone, we should endeavour to develop systems that account for the needs of users beyond our own.

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