Visual Learning Journeys

13 Jan 2015

Recently, I was talking with a client who was keen to show me why she was so frustrated with her organisation’s LMS. First she showed me the login screen and homepage and both were beautifully designed and ‘on brand’. It’s worth noting that this organisation has a very modern visual identity, with lots of high quality images, good typography and plenty of white space - all very modern, uncluttered and clear.                                            

But then we delved deeper, and every category and course was presented the same way - long lists of densely packed text hyperlinks. There was no variation in the presentation of each course, even though the content ranged from IT training to leadership development. I’ve seen this so many times. Great organisations, with great learning materials, poorly presented through this LMS .

In previous posts I’ve made the point that despite the naysayers, I believe that the LMS has a key part to play in supporting organisational learning and development if it is used well. Presenting learners with something that looks like a glorified spreadsheet is not using it well. The solution isn’t just about slapping on some pretty graphics and making it look nice. It’s about using good design to create compelling visual learning journeys. I’ve mentioned learning journeys here before, mainly in the context of topics like induction and onboarding, but it’s worth recapping on their benefits.

  • They aren’t just fixed paths, they encourage exploration and customisation on the part of the learner in how they approach their learning
  • They provide context. No matter how good your learning materials are, they will be less effective if they are presented out of context
  • It’s not just about formal learning materials. A learning journey should also present access to resources and information at the point the learner needs them. Those resources could be documents, links to social networks (internal or external), people’s contact details - whatever is helpful in supporting the learning

Learning journeys do take effort to design. Although they encourage learner exploration, they should still be moving each learner towards a performance or development goal. This means extending the instructional design process beyond the ‘content’ and including how and where the content is accessed.

What about the visual aspect of ‘visual learning journeys’? Although you could create a learning journey just using text links, that doesn’t make the best use of the available technology - and it’s very unlikely to meet people’s expectations. Instead of thinking of the LMS as just being a big database full of links, we should be creating a much richer experience - something akin to modern mobile apps and web apps.

Take a look at this screenshot of the BBC News website from 1999.

Screenshot of the BBC News website from 1999

Now take a look at this screenshot of the Nasa App for iPad.

Screenshot of the Nasa App for iPad

Which one looks most like your LMS? I’m pretty certain I can guess the answer. Imagine the difference if a learner logged into your LMS and was presented with something more like the Nasa app. They’d see topics presented through rich graphics, have links to additional resources and easy access to supporting materials and social networks - everything that a visual learning journey should be.

People often say that LMS is a ‘push’ technology in a ‘pull’ world, but good visual design combined with good instructional design, supported by access to the right resources could turn your LMS into something learners want to use.

About the author
Barry Samson

Barry Sampson is a consultant focusing on the use of technology to improve workplace performance. In 2009 he co-founded Onlignment, a consultancy specialising in organisational communication and learning. Previously he worked in a range of delivery and management roles in HR and Learning & Development before becoming Learning Technology Manager at B&Q where he led a number of award-winning elearning and blended learning programmes.

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