8 Best Practices for E-Learning User Interface Design in 2023
A well-designed UI is the cornerstone of any successful e-learning platform, shaping the way learners engage with the material and achieve their learning objectives. A well-crafted UI design has the power to elevate user experience, fuel engagement, and drive learning outcomes to soaring heights.
What is UI Design?
Although UX, UI, and graphic design are typically considered separate roles, in some cases, a UI designer may cover all three areas of expertise. This means that the designer is responsible for creating wireframes that map out the overall user experience, designing the interface elements, and creating visually appealing designs. In such cases, the designer would work closely with stakeholders to understand the user needs and design interfaces that are easy to use and visually appealing. They would also create prototypes to test user interaction and ensure that the design meets accessibility standards. Additionally, they would develop visual assets such as icons, images, and banners that enhance the visual appeal and support visual learning. By combining these skills, the UI designer can create a cohesive user experience that meets the needs of learners while also aligning with the branding and design goals of the e-learning platform.
Best Practice 1: Consider the Learners and the Learning Goals
When it comes to e-learning UI design, one of the most critical factors to consider is the learners themselves. A one-size-fits-all approach is rarely effective, as learners have unique needs, preferences, and learning styles. In a study by Gkatzidou et al. (2021), the authors emphasize the importance of understanding the diverse learning styles of the target audience when designing e-learning platforms. For instance, in the case of professional development for K-12 teachers and school leaders, it's essential to consider that these learners may have limited time available to complete the training. Therefore, the UI design should be intuitive, easy to navigate, and allow learners to progress at their own pace.
Similarly, in the case of a postsecondary bridge program for high school seniors, the e-learning platform must consider the learners' context and learning goals. As noted by Kuo et al. (2021), such a program must help learners develop academic and social skills that will prepare them for college life. The UI design must, therefore, incorporate features such as interactive assignments, personalized feedback, and social support to enhance learners' motivation and engagement. In the case of the workforce development curriculum for adults who have been involved in the justice system, the UI design must be sensitive to the unique challenges these learners face, such as stigmatization and lack of access to resources. Therefore, the e-learning platform should be accessible, inclusive, and promote learners' self-efficacy.
In conclusion, designing an e-learning UI that considers the diverse learners and their learning goals can significantly impact learners' engagement, satisfaction, and success. Therefore, e-learning providers must invest time and resources in conducting user research and developing learner personas to inform UI design decisions. By doing so, they can tailor the e-learning experience to meet the needs of their target audience effectively.
Best Practice 2: Use the Web Accessibility Guidelines
Web Accessibility Guidelines, developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), are critical for ensuring that e-learning platforms are accessible to all users, regardless of their disabilities. In order to comply with these guidelines, e-learning platforms must adhere to certain design standards, such as ensuring that color contrast ratios meet a minimum standard to ensure readability, using font sizes and weights that are legible, and selecting fonts that are easily readable by those with visual impairments. Additionally, all images should have alt text descriptions so that screen readers can provide a description of the visual content for those with visual impairments.
Another crucial aspect of web accessibility, especially for e-learning platforms aimed at children with disabilities such as dyslexia, is the use of appropriate design and accessibility features. A study by Zhang and colleagues (2019) found that children with dyslexia benefit from text that is presented in larger font sizes and with higher contrast ratios. Furthermore, they found that using a sans-serif font such as Arial or Verdana, as opposed to a serif font like Times New Roman, improved readability for these learners. E-learning platforms should take into account the needs of specific groups of learners, like those with dyslexia, when designing their UI, and ensure that they are using best practices that are inclusive and accessible to all learners.
In order to ensure that e-learning platforms are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust, UI designers should also provide clear and concise instructions, and ensure that the UI is able to function in different environments and on different devices, including mobile devices and assistive technologies such as screen readers. By implementing these best practices, e-learning platforms can ensure that their content is accessible to all learners, including those with disabilities.
Best Practice 3: Use Negative Space, Layouts, and Affordances Effectively
Negative space refers to the empty spaces surrounding design elements, and it can help guide visual processing, making it easier for learners to scan content and understand the hierarchy of information presented. According to a study by Khoi Vinh (2010), negative space is crucial for creating a strong visual hierarchy that can aid in learning, as it allows the eye to focus on key elements, such as headlines or images, without distractions. Proper use of negative space can also create a sense of balance and calmness in the UI design, which can enhance the learner's experience and reduce cognitive load.
Affordances are visual cues that suggest how a user can interact with an object or interface element. In e-learning, affordances can be buttons, links, dropdown menus, or any other visual element that prompts a user to take a specific action. According to a study by Norman (1999), affordances are critical for effective design, as they help users understand the intended function of the UI elements and navigate the platform more intuitively. It is important to design affordances that are consistent with current UI design trends so that users can recognize them and use them effectively. Inconsistencies in affordances across different parts of the platform or across platforms can lead to confusion and frustration for learners, negatively impacting their learning experience.
Best Practice 4: Keep the Colors, Typography, and Style Consistent
Colors, typography, and style can play a significant role in creating a visually appealing e-learning interface. It's important to use a consistent color scheme and typography throughout the interface to create a cohesive visual experience for the learner. This not only makes the interface more visually appealing but also helps to reinforce brand identity.
According to a study conducted by Marín, Sanz-Martínez, and Catalán (2016), user interface design elements such as color, typography, and style have a significant impact on user satisfaction and engagement with the system. In their study, the authors found that learners were more satisfied with the system when the colors, typography, and style were consistent and visually appealing.
In addition to creating a cohesive visual experience, consistent colors, typography, and style also help to make the interface more readable and accessible. For example, using a consistent font size and style makes it easier for learners to read text and reduces cognitive load.
Best Practice 5: Incorporate Multimedia Elements and Interactive Features
Multimedia elements and interactive features such as animations, videos, simulations, and interactive quizzes can enhance the e-learning experience and engage learners. According to Corbeil and Valdes-Corbeil (2007), multimedia elements can help learners visualize complex concepts, create memorable experiences, and support self-paced learning.
Hsieh and Cho (2016) found that well-designed multimedia elements can have a positive impact on learning outcomes. However, it is important to use multimedia elements judiciously and ensure they align with the learning objectives. Too many multimedia elements can be distracting and overwhelming, leading to reduced learning outcomes (Gómez-Pérez et al., 2015).
In addition, interactive features such as discussion forums, social media integration, and gamification can promote collaboration, social learning, and motivation (Nussbaumer et al., 2018). These features can also provide learners with opportunities for self-reflection and self-assessment, which can enhance their learning experience (Marín et al., 2016).
Best Practice 6: Provide Learner Feedback
Providing learners with timely and constructive feedback is essential for their learning process. Feedback can help learners identify areas where they need improvement and reinforce their learning (Zaphiris et al., 2008). It is important to provide feedback that is clear, specific, and relevant to the learning objectives (Al-Qudah and Alsmadi, 2019).
According to Tu and McIsaac (2002), providing learners with control over their learning experience can enhance their motivation and engagement. This includes allowing learners to track their progress, review their performance, and provide feedback on the course design and content. This feedback can be used to improve the course and enhance the learning experience for future learners.
Best Practice 7: Opt for Responsive Designs that work on Multiple Devices
Access to technology can vary greatly among learners. While some learners may wish to engage with the learning on multiple devices, others may only have access to a single device, such as a smartphone. Therefore, it is important to design e-learning interfaces that are responsive and work seamlessly across multiple devices, including smartphones, desktops, laptops, and tablets, to ensure that all learners have equal access to the content in a format that works for them.
Responsive design is a design approach that allows web pages to adapt to different screen sizes and resolutions. It is based on a flexible grid system and uses cascading style sheets (CSS) to adjust the layout, content, and functionality of a website based on the device being used. Responsive design can provide learners with a consistent experience across multiple devices, enhance usability, and reduce development time and costs (Lim et al., 2006).
Best Practice 8: Conduct Usability Testing Early and Often
Usability testing is a crucial step in evaluating the usability and user experience of an e-learning product. The process involves observing and gathering feedback from actual users, which can help identify usability issues and areas for improvement in the e-learning interface. For instance, when developing e-learning for schools, partnering with a school or a few teachers to run a pilot can provide an opportunity to observe and gather feedback from real users. Similarly, when developing e-learning for a national workforce development organization, it's best to start with a pilot at one specific program site, gather feedback, make revisions, and then run a second pilot at multiple sites before finalizing the e-learning.
According to Gómez-Pérez et al. (2015), conducting usability testing early in the design process can lead to significant improvements in the user interface and ultimately, better learning outcomes. Usability testing should involve actual learners who can provide feedback and suggestions for improvement. By engaging learners early and often in the usability testing process, e-learning designers can identify usability issues and address them before the product is finalized, leading to a more user-friendly and effective e-learning interface.
Including UI Design in E-Learning Teams and Workflows
Incorporating UI design into your e-learning development team and workflow can be a challenging task, but it can significantly enhance the learning experience for your learners. Here are some tips on how to include UI design in your e-learning development team and workflow:
User interface design plays a crucial role in e-learning, as it directly impacts learner engagement, satisfaction, and learning outcomes. By following the eight best practices outlined in this article, e-learning developers can create user-friendly, accessible, and effective e-learning experiences that meet the diverse needs of learners.
To successfully incorporate UI design in your e-learning development team and workflow, consider the following tips:
Hire a skilled UI designer: A UI designer with experience in e-learning can bring a unique perspective and expertise to your team. They can help you create designs that are tailored to your learners' needs, are visually appealing, and enhance learning outcomes.
Collaborate with other stakeholders: Collaboration is essential to ensure that UI design is aligned with the learning objectives, branding guidelines, and accessibility requirements. Involve other stakeholders, such as subject matter experts, instructional designers, and accessibility experts, in the design process.
Prioritize usability testing: Conducting usability testing early and often can help you identify design flaws and usability issues that can negatively impact learner engagement and learning outcomes. Consider testing your designs with a diverse group of learners, including those with different abilities and learning styles.
Invest in e-learning authoring tools: E-learning authoring tools can help you create interactive, multimedia-rich e-learning experiences with ease. Look for authoring tools that offer UI design templates, accessibility features, and multimedia support.
Stay up-to-date with UI design trends: UI design is constantly evolving, and it's important to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and best practices. Attend conferences, read industry blogs and publications, and collaborate with other UI designers to stay informed and inspired.
By incorporating UI design principles into your e-learning development process, you can create learning experiences that are engaging, effective, and accessible for all learners. With a focus on user-centered design and usability testing, you can design e-learning experiences that enhance learner engagement, satisfaction, and learning outcomes. These improvements can have a significant impact on your organization's training and development efforts, leading to better retention rates, improved performance, and increased productivity. By committing to best practices and collaborating with experienced UI designers, you can ensure that your e-learning content meets the diverse needs of your learners and helps your organization achieve its training and development goals.
Gkatzidou, S., Ozcelik, E., & Huguet, G. (2021). Understanding user diversity in e-learning: The impact of learning styles on user experience. Behaviour & Information Technology, 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1080/0144929X.2021.1917583
Khoi Vinh. (2010). White space and simplicity in user interface design. Smashing Magazine. https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/01/white-space-and-simplicity-an-overview/
Kuo, Y.-C., Belland, B. R., & Schroder, K. E. E. (2021). Designing an online postsecondary bridge program for high school seniors: A social cognitive perspective. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 24(1), 21-33. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26914077
Norman, D. A. (1999). Affordance, conventions, and design. Interactions, 6(3), 38-43. https://doi.org/10.1145/301153.301168
Zhang, J., Song, H., Li, H., & Huang, S. (2019). Improving readability for children with dyslexia: An experimental study of sans-serif and serif fonts. Applied Ergonomics, 81, 102882. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apergo.2019.102882