When you land on the first page of most online courses, you are generally greeted with an overwhelming number of options that compete for your attention. You can typically expect to be greeted by various links to other parts of the site, complicated navigation boxes, and options that add customisation to your page. These are not necessarily bad additions, but when these elements distract you from your initial purpose when landing on the page, which was to delve into learning, I would argue that they are more distraction than handy addition. Most of these options could be tucked one click away to provide a distraction free, content focused learning space.
One of my favourite design books, The Universal Principles of Design, flags interference effects as a major factor in understanding and making sense of information on a page (or screen). Taken mainly from research in the field of psychology, it states that interference effects are, ‘A phenomenon in which mental processing is made slower and less accurate by competing mental processes’. It appears that in trying to be helpful to students, by making extra information handy and accessible on the landing page of their course, this may actually be detracting from the learning experience. Similar principles have been taught in design schools around the world, distilled into one simple phrase, ‘Less is More’.
With this in mind, I’ve mocked up a very simple static prototype of an online course that incorporates only the bare essentials (see link and screenshots below), which demonstrates in a visual way how simple and clean a learning space could be. This mockup also includes a very standard left hand navigation system to jump directly into the section of the course that the student would need to go. There would be some extra functionality that could be added by developers to make the experience even more seamless, for example, remembering which week the student had progressed to and changing that page to be the new landing page. The left hand menu could also be developed to always appear to the left as the student scrolls down the page so that it is always accessible at the moment it is needed.