Quick Thought About Bringing External Websites into the LMS

Many modern LMS’s allow instructors and designers to bring external websites wholly into the learning environment, either by embedding them in an iframe or a windowed frame. I often wonder if doing this works for students, or is a hindrance. Should I link out and be explicit about where the student is going, or bring the content to the learning environment. The benefits of both are obvious to me.

An explicit statement of where students are going gives them a resource to draw on later – if they no longer are allowed to login to the LMS, they still have access to the learning resource. They can bookmark it and share it. Serendipity allows students to find new and different perspectives. The downfall is that it can be chaotic – too many open windows, too fragmented a learning experience, too much content can overwhelm. It doesn’t provide context, or context isn’t as immediate. Meaning can be fragmented.

Keeping links internal to the LMS provides a better guided road. Some students will be comforted with the idea that they don’t have to go all over the web to get information. The context of the information is a stronger connection. The user experience is more uniform, leading to less cognitive load. The downfall is that it can be too restrictive, too constraining and too much like school. Also, what happens when you can’t login? You’ve lost all your resources.

I think the way one works will put forth the way they design courses, and how the LMS is used. I’m fighting through this issue, and will struggle on as always.

Open/Shut Tabs?

Mozilla’s study of how people use the web recently released the results of the tab open/close study. Some interesting things here related to user experience and how people use the web. The study concludes that most people have 5 or less tabs open at a time. Which means that we probably are multitasking when we are online. Sourcing information and producing content will require a couple of tabs at least (and if you’re like me, probably upwards of 20).¬† Another interesting finding from the data:

If the default tab is a different site from the closed tab, the user is around 77% likely to stay on the default tab for at least 5 seconds; but if the default tab is on the same site, this probability climbs to about 85%.

Which speaks to stickiness, a concept that web designers and marketers are well aware of – keeping people at your site is key. It would be interesting to see how this relates to e-learning sites alone – what people are leaving LMS’s for (mostly resources like Google I suspect)?

User Experience (UX) and LMS Systems

I was actually searching for something else, but found this Prezi presentation about User Experience and LMSs in a mobile environment. While the presentation suffers from what a lot of Prezi presentations suffer from, a motion sickness induced ala Blair Witch Project, and I’m still wondering what the hell Banksy has anything to do with it, the presentation is a good one content-wise. I’m left with one of the few things about PowerPoint that I do like, annotation in the notes panel.

Either way, the presentation brings up a couple of ideas that maybe one might take into consideration when designing spaces for mobile learning. While North America as a whole, and Canada in particular is lagging far behind other countries in cellphone use and 3G networking, LMSs seem to be even slower to ensure that their spaces are mobile friendly. Desire2Learn does a good job of this, and browsing our D2L based site through my mobile browser generally works pretty well. I can’t say the same for WebCT or Blackboard CE. I don’t know how much work I’d want¬† to do in a mobile platform, but a quick check of some areas and I’m happy enough. Which is where the presentation falls a bit short – it seems that it expects users to act as if they are in front of a laptop or desktop computer… which to state the obvious they aren’t. I certainly suspect that while they’ll have similar habits, their experience being different will dictate that they act differently in a mobile platform. I think this is an area that needs further investigation, but I’m glad some people are at least looking into the idea.

Repeatedly the presentation suggests that scrolling is bad. One of web designs enduring myths is that of the page fold, where people won’t scroll down or past the bottom barrier of the page. There’s a couple of articles that debunk this idea, coming down to the idea that you must have compelling content to get users to scroll. By default, even sometimes despite the content that is presented, e-learning sites have content that has a built in scroll factor for users. They may not read it, or learn from it, but they will scroll.