LMS UX Design Rules: Why Corporate Training Is Broken and How to Fix It
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Once upon a time, getting a college degree was enough to secure a career. Now, if you can’t code a robot or prevent a cybercrime, will you have a job in 20 years? No one knows the answer to this question. But we all try to (a) pretend we do (b) stick our heads in the sand about it or (c) learn lifelong.
People are rightly anxious about their future, and corporate training plays perfectly into that pain point. People love to have growth opportunities.
China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work, believes businesses recognized as Fortune's 100 best companies to work for, year over year maintain a high employee satisfaction through a rich learning culture.
People like learning new stuff, but hate corporate training
That’s because corporate trainings are boring as a snail race or overloaded with information.
Science fiction promised us that one day, learning will come down to swallowing a pill to "know Chinese" or being fed an educational program straight into our brainstem, like in the Matrix.
But still, we have classroom lessons with PowerPoint presentations, “fun group exercises,” stale cookies and everyone staring at their phones. Online training is no better than that — only 5 to 15 percent of students who start free online courses end up earning a certificate.
Engagement is not only a problem of content. Even if we have no clue about the quality of Neo’s training materials, we can see that his user experience was designed pretty well, while our PowerPoint experience… Well, it can be improved.
We at the Eleken design agency know a thing or two about user experience in general and eLearning design in particular (check out our corporate LMS design). And we can definitely say: Bad user experience (UX) design is what turns people, who are looking for opportunities, to grow into people, who abandon nine online courses out of ten. For businesses, bad educational UX means their Learning & Development budgets go down the drain, as well as their employees' chances to upskill.
An overwhelming number of corporate learning management system software suffer from poor UX design. Weak usability is the number one reason why learning leaders give up their eLearning management system and seek better options.
The situation with bad UX became even more distinct since the year 2020 made us put aside classroom training in favor of remote lessons. Corporate learning management systems are mushrooming exponentially, but only a part of LMS platforms will succeed in the long term — the part that will manage to offer stellar learning experiences.
Not Neo's kind of experience, but the Matrix is a dystopia, after all.
What is LMS?
Learning Management System (LMS) is an educational technology that is now on fire due to the pandemics restrictions. And by the way, what is a learning management system?
Like any SaaS app, cloud LMS tools are cost-effective and easy to set up. All the companies need to start is to upload their training content, and the platform will turn docs and presentations into their corporate Coursera with the ability to develop interactive courses and quizzes, automatically assign learners, track their progress and send reminders.
Well, if it’s a well-designed LMS system.
Let’s figure out what is essential for LMS UX design to be considered a good design.
How to design eLearning: 5 rules you should consider
1. Orientation: where am I?
If learners wonder for even a second about where they are within a course and how to move forward, your UX has gone wrong.
When struggling to orient inside a course, LMS users waste their energy and cognitive capacity trying to figure out how the user interface works. This not only leads to confusion but also reduces the ability to learn due to cognitive overload — definitely not the kind of experience we’re looking for.
A course menu or outline is the main interface element for users to identify their position. You can see one such on the screenshot below. It is the interface of iSpring Learn, one of the leading corporate LMSs that knows how to inspire confidence in their users.
In the outline, you can see all the topics of the course and identify which topic you have opened. The additional navigation is located on the bottom of the screen, where you can see that you’re on slide 2 out of 14 and you have listened to 16 seconds out of 23 on that slide. There are also navigational buttons that allow the learner to start or stop, to move forward or backward, and to return to the main menu or top level of the course.
2. Progress tracking: how much is still left?
In the context of eLearning, progress tracking features deserve a special mention, because spinning wheels, rotating egg timers and moving progress bars that show how much work has been already done make people feel relieved.
This design principle can be also addressed through screen counters, as in the iSpring’s interface, or in a more minimalistic way. Look at the screens we’ve designed for PublishXI. Progress bars look pretty laconic but still help to track users’ position inside a quiz.
3. Design for different screens: can I use it on the go?
As you’ve probably noticed on the screenshot above, for PublishXi we designed both mobile and web apps. In the educational market, a design that gives the users flexibility to learn on the move from every possible device is no longer seen as an optional aspect. It’s a necessity.
When users can assess their lessons beyond a desktop, the adoption rate increases significantly. Like, when Booking.com switched from their old LMS to Udemy Business, the average learner started to spend five-plus hours on the platform.
Here’s feedback from one employee that explains such a shift:
“Using Udemy’s iPhone app, I managed to download an amazing course just moments before boarding the London Underground and ended my 45 minute train journey (quite boring usually) feeling so empowered.”
4. Minimize distractions: can I focus on content, please?
A well-designed LMS is like a well-oiled machine. All nuts and bolts work as intended, and you enjoy the learning process forgetting the mechanics. But if something's loose up there, you start to get distracted by irrelevant information.
A great LMS user experience increases the capacity to learn by reducing distractions. 360Learning, for instance, trying really hard to minimize all the information which is not related to the lesson. The room for comments on the right can be minimized, the course menu, as well as the toolbar on the top of the screen, are minimized by default — they show up only when you hover your mouse over the dots or pictograms.
In the rush for a clear interface, let’s not forget about the necessity of understandable orientation and navigation elements. An overloaded interface distracts users, but the interface that is not obvious at a glance distracts users as well.
5. Engagement triggers: how LMS can breathe life into training
Learning management systems can impact students’ experience & engagement stacking some psychological triggers as a course goes. Like, procrastinating learners can benefit from built-in countdown timers and other LMS features that give a sense of urgency and inspire them to take action fast.
Most people are highly competitive, but any online learning platform makes us feel isolated. So another engagement triggers are those that make students see how they measure up compared to others. It can be a rating list, or statistical pop-ups, like the ones Coursera uses, that make users feel they are not alone.
A super-effective way to show students they matter is to connect with each learner sending, for instance, personalized notifications to reinforce the behavior you want to see more, or retain users that haven’t logged in for a while.
Ready to design an online learning system?
These were five rules that turn any overwhelming course into Experience. And we need more eLearning experience because LMSs are not going anywhere in the post-pandemic. Looking ahead at organizations’ plans, the majority say they plan to return to some classroom learning while maintaining some of the remote training instituted during the crisis.
If you’re thinking of creating some LMS software and need more user experience tips, you might be interested in UX design patterns — they make UX designer’s work simpler and your product more intuitive.
Or just call Eleken to discuss your idea with design professionals. Have we mentioned that we provide a one-week trial free of charge?
How to Сonduct a UX Audit: 5 Essential Steps
Do you know that feeling of disappointment when your website users walked all the way through to the checkout and...didn’t convert? What did stop them from pushing a “purchase” button? Or, probably, you used to have stable and predictable sales, and then your growth slowed down, and your engagement level decreased. How can you find out the reason for this digital decay? A thorough UX audit helps you determine your product’s weaknesses and provide recommendations on addressing the issues and improving user experience.
This article will shed light on how to conduct a UX audit - when to do it, what outcome to expect, and what steps to take.
And to start with, let’s refresh what we know about the UX audit.
What is a UX audit?
First and foremost, a user experience or UX audit is a process aimed to uncover usability problems by research and analysis. The ultimate goal of the UX audit is to pinpoint critical gaps in the user journey that prevents customers from executing the target actions they’re supposed to take.
Besides spotlighting the issues, the effective user experience audit provides businesses with recommendations on building a more seamless user journey that will positively impact customer engagement and increase conversions.
The UX audit is an irreplaceable tool for both mature companies and growing startups. If you feel that your product doesn’t deliver to customers the expected experience, don’t expect the problem will magically evaporate the other day. The more time you’re doing nothing to find out the issue, the bigger your lost profit amount is.
The user experience audit gives companies the possibility to unveil even minor usability issues, which can severely impact customer satisfaction.
A website UX review helps answer crucial questions like:
- What are the frictions users experience in their customer journey?
- How do these frictions influence customers’ behavior?
- Where is that point users leave a website?
The variety of methods used during the UX audit allows one to view problems from different angles and find their most likely reasons.
How does a UX audit go?
As I’ve just mentioned, there are a bunch of different methods at UX audit’s disposal to identify the cause of your product’s underperformance.
Here are some tools and metrics often used during the UX audit:
- traffic and conversion metrics
- sales and customer engagement data
- UX conventional standards
- business and product
- usability heuristics
- mental modeling, wireframing, and prototyping
Being very close to usability testing, the UX audit has its specific direction. Whereas testing derives usability issues from user actions, the UX audit is guided by business goals, product requirements, and user experience standards.
Usability testing can be a part of an audit when there is no access to factual information and metrics. In this case, for fairness, it’s vital to combine gathered over a long time usability testing results with industry standards and business goals.
When should you conduct a UX audit?
Usually, marketing experts advise conducting the UX audit when a website or an application has been live for a while. As the primary purpose of the UI/UX audit is to find out why users don’t convert and where the weak point from the design perspective is, there should have already been some data to walk back and conduct the retrospective analysis. The data-driven analysis will help reveal gaps in a user flow and eliminate bottlenecks your users encounter on their customer journey.
Also, it’s worth doing the design audit when you plan to implement new functionality and understand if customers face any problems while navigating through your website or app. However, a user experience audit is beneficial not only for existing products. It may be a good move to validate your design idea before the product development stage.
If, having read these lines, you feel a UX audit is what you need, think about hiring outside consultants to conduct the audit. In case you aren’t on a tight budget, it would be much more efficient to have a fresh eye on your project. First of all, you can avoid biased opinions as it’s pretty hard for the internal teams to stay objective, evaluating the project they’re involved in. The second thing is to find gaps in user experience, you should be in a user’s shoes, walking through the customer journey for the first time, clueless about what to expect from a product at the next step. Quite a challenging task for internal stuff, right?
Whether you delegate a UX audit or decide to conduct it on your own, you should know what questions the auditing of a digital product will help you answer.
What is a UX audit outcome?
A correctly done UX audit covers a wide range of areas, including:
- product value
- visual attractiveness
- action stimulation
While not being a magic wand designed to heal all UX issues, the UX audit can help to answer the vital questions.
Here are the main ones:
- What difficulties do users face interacting with your product?
- Do they have complications with functionality or navigation?
- Where is that point in customers’ journey when users abandon your website?
- What do metrics tell you about users’ behavior?
- What changes can you implement to make your website or app perform better?
The UX audit findings are usually gathered in a report covering both behavioral, quantitative, and qualitative data. The report may include information derived from traffic and heat map analysis, A/B and usability testing, customer journey mapping, and heuristic evaluation. We’ll talk more about the latter further in this article.
There is no “one size fits all” report as its format depends much on the audit business goals and information complexity.
It would be a bit of an overstatement to say your conversion will immediately go up once a UX audit reveals the issues. However, based on the website or app usability audit’s findings and recommendations, you can build a follow-up plan and implement changes that will eventually lead to ROI increase.
Let’s see what may turn around after the UX audit.
- Your website or app will have clear and easy-to-follow from users’ point of view flow
- You will use wordings, images, and CTAs that resonate with customers’ needs
- More users will take expected actions (leave contact data, subscribe, or purchase)
- You will better understand your users, enhance customer personas, and tailor your marketing communications accordingly
A smooth customer journey and improved functionality entail customer satisfaction level growth. And from the business perspective, satisfied customers mean higher sales.
This graph shows the benefits of the improved user experience.
And now, let’s clarify what essential steps of the UX audit you should follow to make the most out of it.
Step 1: Identify your goals, resources, and budget
Like any other project, a UX audit must have clear goals written to determine what we want to achieve and what we need to get things done. Doing the audit just for putting a tick in a checkbox is a bad idea as it won’t make you any closer to your true business objectives.
Before getting started with the audit itself, make sure you have defined:
- What are the UX audit ultimate goals?
Usually, conversion increase is considered as the principal goal. However, you can target other metrics, which correspond to your business specifics.
- Who will be involved in the audit?
It’s necessary to make sure that all participants involved in the UX audit have a strong understanding of what you expect customers to experience using your product. Ask every UX audit team member to walk the path a user typically goes through and track every point that can potentially hinder a seamless customer journey.
- What are the budget and the timeline set for the audit?
Parkinson’s law says: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” Whether your internal team is doing the audit or you decided to outsource this task, establish a project timeline and break it into milestones. Being an analytical process, however, the audit shouldn’t stretch endlessly.
Also, be aware of the budget you’re ready to spend. In the ballpark, a freelancer can make a quick one-two day audit for $1500 with a short design checklist as a result. If you want a profound analysis, it could cost around $7000 and more depending on the project scope, complexity, and timeframes.
Step 2: Gather all data or “50 shades of analysis”
This step is probably the most difficult one. If you took Step One seriously, you already know the audit goals and imagine what information you need to achieve them. The next step is to find out how and where to retrieve the necessary data. Below I’m going to name the major sources of information you can refer to during the UX audit.
Business analysis: stakeholders interviews and product requirements
Whereas UX research aims to better understand the potential users of a product or service (by the way, we have UX research dedicated article on our blog), the UX audit should primarily focus on understanding the audited product’s business goals. It’s hard to imagine a more reliable source of such information than stakeholders and business owners. A quick survey with general questions asking about the product purpose, the problems, and how management wants them to be fixed can be a good starting point of business analysis.
For deeper insights, one-on-one interviews with stakeholders and product managers, developers, marketers, sales, and customer service people would work better.
It’s also helpful to dig into product requirements and analyze if any of them could lead to usability issues. Understanding why a particular design decision was made will help elaborate on actionable recommendations of user experience improvements.
User analysis: user personas and user flow
Who can tell you better about user experience than if not users themselves? Doing the UX audit, you should gather as much information about customers who use the audited product as possible. Usually, businesses create so-called user or buyer personas, a generalized image of target customers’ groups that you can utilize for getting to know the digital product’s audience. We have a dedicated article about SaaS buyer personas, so I encourage you to take a look to learn more about this marketing concept.
Besides user personas, you may also extract valuable information about customers from stakeholder interviews if C-levels have good knowledge of their customers.
The best though the most time-consuming way is to conduct interviews directly with end-users putting from five to ten questions about their experience with the product.
Based on the insights you receive from user interviews, you can imagine a flow each user follows to meet their objectives, all the possible difficulties they may face, and wrong paths they may be heading.
Quantitative analysis: traffic analytics and heatmap analysis
Analytical tools are irreplaceable assistants in useful information gathering. Traffic analytics and heatmap analysis would be the most insightful data sources for the UX audit. For sure, you are familiar with Google Analytics that provides “diagnostic” metrics like bounce rate and on-page (or dwell) time, showing how much time users spend on your website. I called them diagnostics as these metrics can objectively tell us whether users engage with your content or abandon the site soon after they get there, puzzled and frustrated.
Heatmap analysis is a crucial tool to use during the UX audit. Heatmaps represent the way users interact with your website interface. Some heatmaps track clicks and scrolls; some of them document cursor movements.
Regardless of heatmaps mechanics, their main goal is to better understand users’ on-site behavior and unveil potential flaws in a customer journey.
We’ll talk more in detail about the UX audit tools in a separate article.
Qualitative analysis: heuristic evaluation aka common sense
When creating a design for digital products, UX designers follow usability heuristics to make websites or apps user-friendly. Jacob Nielsen, a co-founder of Nielsen Norman Group, a world leader in research-based user experience, worked out ten general principles for interaction design.
These principles aren’t some specific guidelines but more rules of thumb based on common sense. Generally speaking, Nielsen’s heuristics is nothing more than a cognitive walkthrough of a product as if you were a user. To make the heuristic evaluation, you should just document every obstacle you encounter when following a customer journey trying to see the product from the user’s point of view.
Even though heuristic evaluation sounds very simple, it is quite tough to perform it doing the audit internally as it’s pretty difficult to stay unbiased and act as a clueless user that came to your website for the first time. Due to this reason, it’s recommended that you involve several people to participate in the audit to form an objective opinion.
Step 3: Organize your findings
At the moment, humanity didn’t invent something more convenient to aggregate findings for further analysis than old good Google spreadsheets. Don’t forget to upload the spreadsheets to the cloud to make them accessible to all the participants for collaboration.
Step 4: Elaborate on actionable advice
Once the analysis is complete, the audit results should be compiled into a comprehensive report providing insights and recommendations on user experience improvement. The report may be up to 50 pages long and contain a quantitative data analysis, screenshots, customer interview recordings, and similar helpful information received during the UX audit.
When doing the UX audit for clients, Eleken designers create a screen-by-screen comparison of the existing design issues and advice on enhancing them. Below are the screenshots from the UI/UX audit we accomplished for TextMagic, who became our long-term client afterward.
Step 5: Implement recommendations
Needless to say that whatever valuable insights a UX audit brings to light, they won’t have any sense unless the recommendations are properly followed up. As user experience is built by joint work and effective collaboration of different departments, it’s crucial to make sure that all people engaged know what to do to create a smooth and hassle-free customer journey.
You should also take care of the correct UX audit results interpretation to make them clear to all the teams, from product managers to sales and support.
A final word
Being a time-consuming and relatively expensive process, yet the UX audit can drastically change your product’s performance by identifying the weak points in user experience that prevent customers from taking the expected actions. Powerful insights and thorough recommendations’ implementation may literally take your business to the next level. If you ever need help with auditing the UI/UX of your SaaS, just drop us a line. Also, take a look at our another article talking about how to create a successful product from the design perspective.
Need User Feedback for Better UX? Customer Support Can Help
As the name suggests, user experience design starts from understanding user expectations.
For UX specialists, the most common way to understand what users feel is to run UX research, like a user interview or a usability test. Conducting user research means building an algorithm to figure out an answer to the questions the designer has. Any research is a big job that requires money, time, and effort...
… that could have been spent in a more productive way, like designing actual products.
At the same time when UX designers leave no stone unturned looking for problems that users want them to solve, somewhere nearby a customer support agent is sitting on a pile of shiny free-of-charge insights.
Support agents are people who are working at the frontline. They are the first to listen to users who find a bug or complain about the last update. They already know all the problems people want technical UX to solve. So why don't we just draw insights from customer support?
Why even run UX research if support knows all the answers?
In some cases, asking support officers for help is not an option. Like, when you’re designing a product from scratch, it rarely has good end-user support and customer service — the company is just building a technical support team. And even if you are doing research for working products, getting to the truth through support tickets can be challenging.
The role of technical support services is initially one-sided — to solve the customer problem. Help Center may burst with information, but it is usable only when structured, discoverable, and tailored to answer the designer’s questions. In practice, the customer support database usually looks like a barrage of useless tickets design teams prefer to ignore.
Think of a service desk that handles an average of 200 tickets a day. It makes 4,400 tickets per month and 52,800 tickets per year. Conducting a specific UX research would be faster and cheaper than digging through thousands of conversations seeking an answer to one specific question.
The support communication flow can be made two-sided, tailored to solve both customers’ and products problems, but it will require some modifications.
Let’s see how top SaaS companies learned to use their user support to improve customer experience.
How to talk to support specialists and shadow them
The simplest thing you can do is to talk to support officers. When our designers from Eleken agency start working on product redesigns, they always try to interview support people. Thus, they obtain first-hand information on issues that users face.
Setting up interviews with frontline staff works for internal products as well. For example, Shopify designers asked their support colleagues to review the existing buyer personas and explain how they would interact with each persona.
Another way to deepen the general understanding of the product and the users is to spend a day on the frontline, alongside the customer service support team. GitLab, for instance, has a shadowing program available to all team members outside of support to learn, collaborate, and work together with the GitLab support team.
How to detect a problem in a haystack of user feedback
Even the best professionals sometimes deliver designs that are less-than-perfect. Results that make people less-then-happy. When something goes wrong with the product, users vent their frustration to support, and the most natural thing for UX teams is to seek feedback from the support team.
Sure, you can run a survey instead, that may be an easier and more controlled way to find the truth, but would it be accurate enough?
Sabrina Gordon, former Customer Support Manager at Intercom, explains the difference between survey feedback and support feedback in one precise metaphor. Imagine you own a restaurant. A few days after guests visited your place you send them an email wondering how they liked the soup. Compare such feedback to the situation when somebody was eating in your restaurant and then tapped a waiter on the shoulder saying the soup was a bit salty.
So, Intercom prefers to gather feedback from support. Besides, Intercom is a multi-million dollar SaaS company with a customer support team of 55 people running astonishing 22,000 conversations every month. How do they make such an overwhelming information flow actionable for their product team?
One thing that helps Intercom to manage client interface experience is tagging each ticket. A team tag means the product team that owns the feature, and a category tag means a type of request that the user had. Thus, Intercom turns a barrage of qualitative data into data that can be displaуed on a dashboard to track the dynamic and sudden spikes in user activity.
Here's an example to show how it works. Once the Intercom team noticed that the volume in conversations tagged “team acquisition” is consistently high. That meant the customers consistently stuck on something within the onboarding UI and were forced to write to support. Intercom examined those complaints in greater detail to figure out people who are trying to get started couldn’t make a messenger appear.
For the Intercom messenger to show up, users need to take two steps:
- and sign up for one of Intercom’s products.
If you miss either of the two, you’d see nothing. That’s where a lot of users got confused.
The solution was to make a popup telling users when one step was a success and another step is yet to be completed.
How to turn qualitative comments into quantitative data
Shopify offers another way of turning unmanageable feedback piles into actionable dashboards — they made users tag their feedback for them.
It all started from a technical support website content with a feedback form that looked like this:
It consisted of a five-point scale measuring user sentiment and an open-ended field for comments. While the five-point scale worked well enough, free-form comments were hard to translate into actionable insight. Parsing all written comments was fully manual, labor-intensive and time-consuming.
The solution was to turn an open-ended question into a multiple-choice question. The new form proved to map exactly the same trends as those recorded by manual analysis of past results but in automatic mode.
How to be proactive with users’ requests
Users contact technical customer support not only to complain. People who love the product often write to help it become better.
Kate, Eleken’s marketing guru, has been using GatherContent, an app for content management. Once she realized that the app lacked one little feature, like the ability to assign people to workflow steps. Luckily the app had a feature request platform specifically for Kate to share her idea.
Kate’s suggestion has received many upvotes from other users, and a product team started working on the feature soon. Kate could monitor progress on the public roadmap and felt excited when her brainchild went live. Since then, she has shared many other ideas with GatherContent.
Letting users suggest and vote on feature requests is the most sophisticated way to turn user feedback into actionable insights:
- It gives you an instant look at the top feature requests in priority order;
- It shows which customers care about which feature requests;
- It gives you a ton of ideas ready to implement;
- You don’t even have to lift a finger to get those ideas.
Most successful SaaS apps have already adopted such an approach in one form or another.
Salesforce took feature requests to a whole new level with its Trailblazer community of millions of users who team up to learn, connect and share their ideas with the company.
Product designers are ferociously focused on two things: the product and the customers. Customer support is what keeps a strong bond between these two parts of the business. So why don’t we make customer support help UX?
“Data from customer support often indicates low-level issues, like buttons that are hard to find or popup that is hard to read. There’s an obvious solution in making buttons brighter and fonts larger, but let’s not forget about the big picture. Probably we can eliminate the need for a popup at all.”
That’s all for now. If you want to start a project with designers who can see the big picture, let’s make a short introductory call. If your project is something we can help you with, we'll provide you with a designer and a one-week trial free of charge.