In an earlier post, I compared instructional design to training a marathon runner. When training a runner, I said, we would never make her stop in the middle of a run and read a map in order to figure out where to run next.
We’d have a route planned in advance. We’d probably take her somewhere she’s already been, or maybe we’d run along and lead the way. We’d probably have her run the same route over and over. After all, the purpose of the training is for her to become a better runner, not a better navigator.
If only LMS designers understood that.
Let’s be honest: the typical learning management system is about as easy to navigate as King Minos’ labyrinth—complete with Minotaur. I’m kind of a techno-geek, but I still find most LMSs incredibly frustrating to use. I can only imagine how hard it is for folks who don’t share my peculiar fondness for computers. Sure, students can find their way around if they search hard enough, but unless “dogged perseverance” is actually the topic of your course, it’s a colossal waste of their mental effort.
Much as we might like to junk the entire LMS and build one of our own, few of us have the resources for such an effort. Fortunately, there are some things we can do within the constraints of the typical LMS, and even small changes can make a huge difference.
- Use the main course menu to your advantage. For example, instead of one big folder called Content, consider creating separate menu items for each segment of the course. Say your course is divided into weeks. At the very least, the menu should have direct links to the week 1 content, the week 1 assignments, the week 2 content, the week 2 assignments, and so forth. Learners will likely need to access each of these links several times, so fight back against the LMS’ tendency to bury them.
- Create boilerplate directions that explain how to submit papers or post to discussion boards, and copy-paste them every time you create an assignment of that type. Use the same directions each time. You can highlight these directions by indenting them or using a different font face or color, so that students a) know where to look, and b) can skip them if they no longer need them.
- If you use a syllabus, use the syllabus. We already know that few students bother to read the syllabus; even fewer to go back and refer to it again and again, especially if it’s buried somewhere in the bowels of the LMS. At the beginning of each segment, copy-paste the bit from the syllabus that covers that segment. There’s nothing wrong with reminding learners what they’ll need to complete by the end of that time span. It might even encourage them to find the full syllabus and look ahead.
- Some LMSs have the ability to show the learner how far she’s come in the course and how far she has to go. That simple milestone can be very gratifying. Progress trackers are far from ubiquitous, however. Consider putting a note at the bottom of each page of your course, telling students how much progress they’ve made.
Uncomfortable with modifying the default layout for a course? Most of us have access to experienced instructional designers and educational technologists who can help us organize our courses and modify the LMS for better, more intuitive navigation. Will it be perfect? Not likely, LMSs being what they are. But it can be better.
(by Rissa Karpoff)