Web-Based Training: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
As an all-American basketball player at Princeton, Bill Bradley was once asked how he was able to pass and shoot with such ease. His famous reply was that after enough practice, you develop "a sense of where you are."
It may seem like a stretch to connect Bradley's basketball talents to quality course design, but his underlying point , that competent performance depends on knowing where you are , relates to ActiveEducation's recent update of its Microsoft Office 2000 product line.
When we first looked at these courses six months ago, our impressions were mixed. On the plus side, the designers had anticipated the needs of learners using corporate workstations. Most of these users had speedy LAN connections, but corporate firewalls prevented them from installing plug-ins.
The same could not be said, however, for the navigation structure that tied the elements of each lesson together. The lessons presented more than an hour's worth of material on a single page, with only the browser scroll-bar to help users monitor their progress. As if that wasn't disorienting enough, the lessons didn't support bookmarks. Users who were interrupted in mid-lesson had to relaunch the course and scroll down until they found something familiar.
That's why the changes to ActiveEducation's new courses go beyond the cosmetic. Gone are the epic page lengths and user vertigo, and in their place are a series of short numbered pages and a handy pull-down menu that lets you jump between lessons without backing up to the index page. The result is a tidy navigation scheme that provides a great example of how basic design elements can improve the overall user experience. Swish!
-Mike Flanagan (email@example.com) is director of research and consulting at Lguide.com, an independent e-learning research and consulting firm in Tacoma, Wash.
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