Initial satisfacion vs. end results in e-learning.
Designing e-learning interfaces is always a challenge. Users seems to dislike long scrolling pages as much as they do large chunks of text. They also seems to want access to the content in a flexible learner centered manner. Yet, studies seem to indicate that users do not perform well when given a chance to rearrange and resize screens at will (see study quoted at the end of this posting).
The results from that study seem to have been confirmed by products created by this author where screen resizing was available but hardly ever used by users. Also parallel paths to content were said to be preferred but users seemed to often follow established sequences after searching for desired topics.
Another set of issues was found when providing bookmarking, note taking, and highlighting capabilities. While product designers asked for full featured note taking, with storage, note searching, and color coding, most users seem to have used the notes only in their basic form.
In conclusion, when designing e-learning products, start with the basic functionality. Test it with users and add enhancements only if used often and fully. Remember added functionality often results in an increased learning curve for the user. Also remember that as was found in the 2004 study quoted below, “satisfaction and user performance do not always correlate” as learners preformed better with interfaces that they stated were less desirable. It is not inconceivable that you will have to weigh whether you are shooting for initial perceived satisfaction or end goal achievement and results oriented satisfaction.
When it comes to paths to content, do provide a stated clear path, but do complement it with searching and the ability to jump forward and back without losing track of the reference to the suggested sequence. Remember learners that do start with independent tailoring often rejoin the suggested sequences.
A comparison of parallelism in interface design for computer-based learning environments, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Vol. 20, No. 5, October, pp. 360–367