The increasing attention Moodle HQ has given to design began to reveal to attendees at MoodleMoot Australia 2016, which took place last September. A formerly sleeping cell of web designers is slowly waking up to know and embrace Moodle as a gateway for learning design. Winning the hearts and minds of the world’s top experience professionals is instrumental in guaranteeing long-term survival of tech, and in learning this no exception.
Small note: “Uni”, in Australian, refers to a higher education institution.
Macquarie University’s Senior Learning Designer Rebecca Ritchie presented her talk Managing Design Iteration for a Uni-Wide Initiative. Right off the bat she illustrates her interest on user attention spans, which she would not free from throughout the talk.
«I probably spent more time on how to make my presentation not boring than actually putting it together.»
Ritchie’s admission sounds, in fact, as a good omen for her talk, and her professionalism as a designer. She introduces her Kickstart project (no relation), an initiative to improve teachers’ lessons for better student engagement, and therefore retention. If a lesser user experience can impact higher education enrollment, I can only wonder how much direr it can be on less requisite educational offerings.
«We found that a lot of students would enroll in a unit and not really understand what the Uni was about, and drop out.»
Ritchie had the resolve to intervene not only on visual elements but on the content itself, something top media innovators live by. Professors would create welcoming videos, both to Uni and their courses. But this was not enough for Ritchie and Kickstart. Since the beginning, iteration would be a project tenet.
Kickstart began in 2014, as a pilot for Macquarie’s Business courses. Ritchie shares its original interface which almost looks like it predates the ’90s .com bust. It is only a testament to Kickstart’s success as it allows to compare the rapid evolution, which came along with an equally paced expansion across the institution.
For 2015, Kickstart was a highly customized, color-coded Moodle. It had the fortune to coincide with Macquarie’s rebranding campaign. While this saved some time by reducing potential do-overs, Ritchie’s team never stopped reworking on the design mock-ups, and requesting lots of feedback.
By the end of the year, Kickstart had amassed thousands of voluntary online poll and focus groups responses.
«Students shared some really insightful responses that we hadn’t even thought about. That really helped change the new design.»
This was complemented by accessibility specialists. A noticeable change was the replacement of a button on top of an image link, for a text banner under the image. This improved readability across screens. Ritchie goes into detail about the iterations, which not only strengthened design choices but opened hers and her team’s eyes.
«You get so used to your own sort of level of skills and level of thinking, that everyone else is thinking the same way you are. But it’s quite a revelation when they’re not.»
Navigation on second pages went a similar route of repeated feedback and learning. The focus changed on avoiding confusion about where to go next. By then, a method of user understanding and evaluating assumptions had matured among the team.
Ritchie’s talk now focuses on project management and juggling stakeholders. To address technical issues and configuration, the team developed a course right in Kickstart, including best practices for instructors, becoming itself a tour of the best Kickstart could offer. It even included some coding instructions.
Ritchie closes with what she considers the elements that made the project work:
A central team with defined authority and independent from other departments or faculties.
Independent funding and unconditional support from high-level management.
An effort on clear, timely and relevant communication.
A persevering search for user feedback.
And what is the role of learning through feedback and iterative development in your organization? What would you like it to be? Start the conversation in the comments!