An Improved User Experience Is Essential for Distance Education

As a developer and lecturer, I write this with great frustration. The effects of the pandemic have meant that the education system will be forever changed. Despite the progress we have made in many aspects of e-learning, there is still a need for improvement in some areas.

It is disheartening to reflect on the advancements that have been made in User Experience (UX), specifically how we are designing software that is tailored to people’s cognitive processes and worldviews. Unfortunately, remote education is still hampered by outdated and complex procedures.

Three Users and a Tale

The three user categories of the virtual classroom that must be taken into account when discussing distance education are teachers, students and administrators.

The vast majority of users are students who primarily utilize existing material and occasionally generate their own. Their involvement predominantly involves passively accessing content such as lectures and reading material, or actively engaging in a few activities.

Educators are key stakeholders when it comes to writing, as they are responsible for creating the online learning environment, managing content, planning lessons and assignments, as well as producing presentations, readings and audio/video recordings. Furthermore, the use of administrative and security technologies is essential for monitoring student work and avoiding instances of plagiarism.

Managers have an invaluable role in overseeing all aspects of the educational process. They are responsible for setting up classrooms, assigning instructors, managing access and compiling student rosters. Their unique perspective on education is invaluable.

It is essential that a learning platform caters to the needs of the three distinct user categories present in this area, providing each user with the necessary resources to take part in online class activities.

Ah, if only it were that easy…

There Is Not Enough Virtuality in Online Education

One can easily gain an understanding of how to calculate a definite integral by searching the topic on YouTube. There are numerous videos available from educational sources and math enthusiasts which explain the process concisely.

Students are required to log in to the remote learning platform used in our college, access the classroom, search for the relevant module, review the list of resources and then click the appropriate video to view the explanation.

It is undeniable that Wikipedia, TikTok, and Instagram have a distinct advantage in terms of user experience design when compared to other remote learning platforms. The creators of these platforms have a clear understanding of how to effectively direct users to the content they require.

Jing Jin, the primary creator of the children-focused learning tool Outschool, has commented that educational sites lack interactivity. Whilst this may suit college students, it can be challenging for children.

These online learning environments are designed to emulate the traditional classroom setting, providing a dedicated area for instruction and study. However, there has been an increasing trend towards interconnectivity.

Adding a Twitter feed to a blog, no matter how basic, can be done with a widget. Applications such as Discord and Slack offer more interactive and engaging settings than websites like Coursera. The majority of conferencing software available cannot compare to the sophisticated tools that streamers have access to for creating movies and sharing them with their audience.

The concept is to explore the potential of vitality and how it can facilitate further than the traditional modes of communication such as phone calls, online discussion boards and private file-sharing groups. The challenge is to design interactive systems that can provide students with the necessary resources to enhance their learning experience, whilst extending the reach of the virtual classroom and its integration with the wider web.

CodeCombat is an innovative website which uses gamification and behavior engineering to make learning to code an enjoyable experience for both children and adults alike. It is a game-like environment which is continually developing.

Changing Focus from the End User to the Student, or Learner.

It is often overlooked that the instructor has the greatest workload in a digital classroom. Allow me to explain this further.

Accessing Education in the Digital Age can be daunting if you don’t feel confident in your abilities. It can be like being given the resources to construct your dream home, without the expertise of a qualified engineer or architect.

Teachers are being tasked with personalizing a digital classroom, even though they do not have a software engineering background. They are responsible for creating the materials and establishing the learning environment.

Educators are now required to have a range of IT, video editing, content creation and website design skills, in addition to the usual teaching and assessment processes. Whilst having a wide range of choice is beneficial, it can become overwhelming for those who need to make decisions.

Learner-centered design, as outlined in the book ‘Educational Technology’, is employed here. An example of a goal-oriented statement driving a user-centered design process is ‘instructors require a module to grade their pupils’.

There is a user experience issue that arises when designing with a learner-centered approach, which relates to the interests of learners themselves, including their progress and learning objectives. In this context, we design our software with the intention of creating an equal footing between experts and beginners.

Therefore, educators, many of whom are encountering teaching online for the first time, should be able to take advantage of these technologies. It is not sufficient to simply provide training to the instructors; instead, the software should guide them through the process smoothly.

They may require anything from a compilation of course design templates to an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that provides recommendations based on the results of comparable courses.

Remember the Importance of Diversity

A trans student had to contact each of their professors to explain that their deadname was still being used by the system for a number of semesters. This would not have been necessary if our platform had featured a user-friendly settings page that allowed individual users to make changes.

We have a duty to ensure that all students, regardless of sensory impairments, neurodiversity or financial constraints, are able to access our remote learning technologies. Therefore, we must take into account the needs of those who are underrepresented when developing these technologies.

Accessibility for users of all abilities is an integral part of the user experience, not just for those with physical or cognitive impairments. Although it is not possible to create an application that is suitable for everyone, we should strive to design systems that consider the needs of users beyond our own.

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