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.
Click here to view basic prototype.
One of Moodle’s core elements are the activities and resources that users can add to topic sections for students to complete. These resources can be books, text, interactive lessons and many more (interestingly, there is no option to add a video as a specific Moodle activity or resource). As a graphic designer with a focus on readability, I have never felt comfortable with the alignment or hierarchy of these resources. I don’t think they have been revised in many years and I have finally decided to redesign them! I’m not saying this is a perfect solution, but I’m hoping to visually show what’s possible.
I will let the visual BEFORE and AFTER graphics below speak for themselves, but the basic overview is that these adjustments solve issues I raised in a previous post by:
- Increasing the size of the label and decreasing the distance from its own description – this brings in a clear hierarchy of label and description with the viewer clearly reading the label first and then the description. This will also allow users to scan down a list of labels without interference from the descriptions.
- Adding a modern icon that begins initially in a grey colour and then once the user has spent a certain amount of time in this resource changes to a green colour to indicate completion – this allows the user to see at a glance what they have completed in their course.
- Adding an automatic sub-label and time frame to the resource – this allows the user to get a better feel for what is required at a glance. Many articles on the web now use this method (Medium.com)
I hope that this layout feels a lot more visually comfortable and makes the experience of browsing through tasks much more enjoyable with no readability barriers. The addition of the completed resource/activity indicator and time frame indicators also put the user at ease because they will know what is required at a glance. I would hope that there would be customisable options when creating these resources which would allow even more flexibility, but in its default state, it is neat, orderly and readable.
As well as a complete visual redesign, I have also supplied some basic CSS to improve purely the readability of the Moodle Resources (see screenshot below). So please feel free to use this quick fix. I created these adjustments using the Stylish extension within Chrome, so if you’d like to trial the CSS changes on your own site before you implement them, add the Stylish extension to Chrome and paste the CSS into the extension to see the results on your Moodle page. Below are the results when applied to the basic Moodle Demo site.