5 proven ways to level up your learning platform’s UX

By Billy Roberts

5 minute read

As treating employees as customers becomes more and more essential, learners are expecting more from the platforms L&D give them. If those expectations are for services like YouTube, Instagram or Amazon, learning platforms are a long way from meeting them. In most ways that’s a bad thing. A streaming giant’s relentless focus on user satisfaction is sorely missed in learning platforms. Like it or not, we’re competing for the same attention.

But, learning providers shouldn’t fall into the trap of trying to make them identical. Making the much-maligned “Netflix for learning” doesn’t mean just remaking Netflix. Lots of LXPs make the mistake of chasing after engagement without direction; choosing to be just there rather than gaining attention for a reason. Which is an understandable objective for an entertainment provider but not for a platform that wants its users to achieve something.

Instead, learning user experience (UX) should be tied to learning goals and achieving sustained engagement with the right material, not just a big launch. Here are 5 ways you can make that happen.

1) Make it theirs

Learning is a more rewarding, repeatable experience if you feel ownership of the experience. All platforms that rely on users coming back to them personalise content; this guarantees immediate value for the user. But learning platforms need to do this better than Netflix. You’re probably not going to miss much if you don’t watch a film - but missed learning can hurt your job performance. Which means users are far more likely to waste their time on an irrelevant article if it’s put in their path - and then lose interest in the platform. Recommendations need to be top quality.

The key is to build a learner persona as soon as possible, (before the rest of onboarding) serve up content that fits their needs, and keep on improving your picture of that person. This is best achieved through a balance of direction and autonomy. YouTube doesn’t give you just one list of recommended videos, it suggests an array of genres and providers. By expanding the scope of recommendations on offer you: 1) give your learner a sense of control; 2) gather more data to widen the breadth of your recommendations while you hone in on the specifics; and 3) keep learning fresh through increasing the available options.

Making a site feel like home is an underappreciated quality. People are more likely to come back to something if they think of it as theirs because they’ve invested in it; think profile pictures, or even just personalisable colour schemes.

2) Use other people

People trust other people’s opinions - it’s called social proof. That’s why Amazon has reviews, Tripadvisor’s a thing, and YouTube has likes. It also makes your life easier if you can see what’s worked for people like you because, more likely than not, it’ll work for you too. This applies in a slightly different way in learning. If people can get a gauge of how content has worked for other users, it’ll inform their decision to use it, and make their experience of the platform that much easier.

You can do this through actual ratings of the content (which also provides good data for higher level back end analysis) and by allowing comments on pieces of content. Especially within a company, the latter will help users tell each other whether a learning asset is actually useful for work in that business or department.

And, as much as algorithms work, don’t undervalue the UX benefit of peer recommended content. Learners are more likely to trust assets recommended by colleagues and they’ll feel more socially obliged to complete them. A platform with a streamlined internal recommendations system can benefit from these social dynamics.

3) Let the user know where they are

Before you began this article, you probably scanned the little bit of information on the top right telling you how long you were going to be reading. As you went through, you also probably checked the scroll bar on the right to see how much longer you had to go, maybe alongside the clock on your screen. People get more out of an experience if they know where they’re located within it. This works for the same reason that people are far more likely to finish endurance races if they can see the finish line.

Learning, as both a challenge and, sometimes necessarily, a chore, should use these tools for all they’re worth. If your user knows how long a piece of learning is going to take and how far through they are at all times, they’re far more likely to complete it. They’ll also feel more fulfilled by the experience because the reality of doing it matched the commitment they tacitly agreed to make.

Time is a better way to track progress than percentages or numbers of tasks completed because it’s the metric learners use to plan their days. Following that metric in your learning means users don’t have any uncertainty about how they’re spending their limited learning time - the average employee has just 24 minutes a week to learn. It’s especially important to let learners know where they are at difficult or confusing moments, because these are the points at which you’re most likely to lose them.

4) Don't let the user do any work

When a learner uses an LXP, they’ve committed to expending effort into learning, but nothing else. This means that any sort of extra work they might have to do will be disproportionately taxing. For the same kind of reasons that you might give up on an £50 online order because of a £4 delivery fee.

The way to get round this is to search for any point at which a user might have to put in effort and eliminate it. This, of course, refers to site speed and design. However, any instance a user has to waste their energy/time waiting for something to load, sorting through clutter, trying to find the right bit of information, signing in multiple times, or even just clicking, is a step closer to them deciding the learning’s not worth it. Learning pathways are a good example of effort streamlining - they stop the user from even having to make the decision: “what should I learn next?”

There’s a lot of value in keeping as much on-site as possible. This, firstly, eliminates the loading and clicking time inherent in launching a different host. But there’s also a comfort and trust issue. Having to experience multiple UIs and platforms right next to each other is inevitably jarring and, although you might trust your company’s internal learning site, third party hosts often have adverts and pop-ups. This pulls you out of the learning moment; similarly to when you read a book stop-start over a series of months, it’s a lot harder to fully engage.

5) Pick the right medium for the moment 

Just as different people learn in different ways, an individual can get a lot more out of a mix of learning if it’s timed right. In fact, some of our data analysis has shown that people prefer to learn through different means at different points of the day or week in different organisations. The key to a fully engaging user experience is often in knowing what medium works best for what circumstance.

Our clients have talked about the benefits of in-person teaching supplemented by pre and post class individual content (especially for onboarding). Similarly, a well timed sequence can help a learner get the most out of a platform. Video content is more immediately immersive, requiring less user effort, whereas written content needs more engagement but is better suited to impressing specifics onto the learner.

Drawing a learner through the right channels at the right time is a way to guarantee sustained and in-depth engagement with your designated material.

What's next

In the very near future (arguably one that’s already here) it won’t be enough to have a user-oriented learning platform; user experience will be tied to how a platform fits into the process of work. This doesn’t mean that LXPs will cease to exist, but that clients will expect learning to coexist in online working spaces (Slack, MS Teams etc).

The quality of a platform’s UX, then, will expand beyond the confines of the platform itself. It will be just as important for a platform to integrate with as many existing processes as possible in a fully realised, not ‘lite-version’ way. Similarly, the way it communicates with learners off the platform will play a much larger role.

The space between learning and work is thinning. These ways to improve user experience will soon have to bridge the gap.

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