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7 Post-Secondary Online Learning Traps to Avoid

The trajectory of online learning has been greatly altered by the Covid-19 crisis. Today, significant portions of the world's learning now occurring remotely.

Never before have institutional open education learning management systems (LMSs) been tested in this way. Some post-secondary learners now taking all of their courses online, are disappointed by course sites that unfortunately have the following deficits:

  • Outdated web-design techniques (e.g. excessive use of hyperlinks and text),

  • A lack of awareness of usability from the student perspective,

  • Only as strong as a professor's non-professional level web design literacy, and,

  • Unnecessarily complex due to outdated ideas of education having to be a reflective struggle or because specialists fail to simplify their content enough for comprehensibility for the learner.

This enormous shift of attention from online learning as a supplementary or nice to have function of university catalogues, to the main or only offering for students is dramatic.

In this post lets look at 7 common missteps commonly made in post-secondary online learning design (according to an instructional designer):

  1. Ignoring User Experience: Frequently, user experience is overlooked due to the limited web development skills of professors and university learning professionals, who were not prepared for such a rapid shift in their teaching environments. To circumvent this it is critical that institutions consult with computer science specialists and web design groups, rather than deferring simply to professor training and maintaining the status quo.

  2. Print Heavy: Many modern post-secondary websites are unnecessarily print-heavy which weighs down the design, a relic of behaviourist training design.

  3. Using Outdated Web Techniques: Also a relic of print-heavy web design is the over usage of web design techniques from the 2000s: hyperlinks, breadcrumbs, unnecessarily complex navigation, over usage of sub-pages, lack of visual cohesion, etc.

  4. No Maintenance Planning: As any professional designer knows, content creation, and interface design require regular maintenance which needs to be a consideration from the beginning and greatly impacts what techniques should be recommended in the design.

  5. Limited Bug Testing: Ideally web features need to be carefully tested before broad implementation, which due to the sudden nature of Covid-19. This has led to less robustness and reliability as compared to a professionally created and supported product, which greatly impacts learner confidence in their university.

  6. Institutional HTML Lock down: Each institution carefully assesses who and how the code of their LMS (commonly an Open Education format). Without access for professional designers, there is little that can be done to repair flaws and bugs (which can be rampant), by even the most gifted professor, instructional designer, or web developer.

  7. Lack of CSS Optimisation: Once HTML is off the table, your designers can look at optimising some aspects of the CSS as per the affordances and limitations of the LMS, if done thoughtfully, this can result in a more successful design ecosystem.

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