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Monday, February 26, 2007

Design: A Friendly Human/Computer Interface

One important thing we need to remember as designers of instruction or people who create "learner experiences" is to consider how to create an engaging user interface. Most interfaces are un-intuitive, unimaginative and confusing (thus the reason for so much software the submit button to...)

Designers often end up creating page-turning e-learning and not focusing on the experience for the learner. However, pundits always point to interfaces like Google and call it the "e-learning" of the future that nano-learning is the way to go. While I see Google as a clean, easy-to-use software, I do not see it as creating any kind of learner experience, in fact, it is rather COLD. Efficient but cold.

But what are the alternatives to that cold interface? Well, you could check out the search engine known as Ms Dewey for an alternative. Much more friendly and interactive than Google. It brought a smile to my face the first few times I interacted with the program.
Do I have some issues with the display of results and the overall functionality...some...but the interface is much more friendly than Google and should serve as a model for thinking about creating learner experiences and not just instruction.

Next time you sit down to create an e-learning course, think instead about creating a learner experience.

For more information and ideas on creating an effective learner/computer interface, check out the Jack Principles created by the makers of You Don't Know Jack, the folks over at Jellyvision.
Check out any of their "Jack" games to see how you can create a real sense of relationship between the learner and the computer program. A great way think about the design of learner experience. Also, you can play You Don't Know Jack online.(not appropriate for work)


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1 comment:

Unknown said...

I don't associate Google with a "Cold" UI, but I think I get what you are trying to say. Google, for good or bad, seems to be the defacto starting point for all our students here. Even if they are looking for something at our university website (, they immediately go to the google search feature of the seems that no one actually works down the nav structure these least not many students.

The #1 requested feature in our online courseware for the last two years has been a search. Students don't want to sit and turn pages, they want to search for relevant information within the course when they need it to complete a lab, a problem, study for a test, etc.

Good UI design, at least in my experience, takes a LOT of time and effort, and requires an eye for layout and design in addition to all the HIC literature out there. Usability testing, watching intently over someone's shoulder while they use an application, mimicing other good UIs...a lot goes into a good UI.

The example you listed reminds me of a site we created and used to disseminate information to our students a while back. Our Dean decided it had to be 'flashy', so we put together a short flash introduction (similar to Ms. Dewey). The verdict was the students hated the flash intro, and since it couldn't be skipped (that was our fault) or bypassed with a different URL, students abondoned the site and we had to shift strategies.

I think there's a generational gap here too we need to keep in mind. If you send my dad, for example, to a site and ask him to find a certain piece of information, I'm almost positive he's going to drill down through the menu and try and find it. If I gave the same query to my niece, I can almost guarantee she will go to the site, immediately look for a search field, and go about it that way.

RE: Google and learning. Google is slowly but surely releasing betas of so many different services, some of which have a lot of educational merit. Google Docs, Google Maps, Google Earth, etc. With a decent facilitator, a kid could probably get a competitive education from the google-verse.