The Laws Of User/Learner Experience
When you understand the way people think and process information, you then can design and develop learning experiences that have an impactful outcome and result in the desired change. As Instructional Designers, we focus on structuring content that’s conducive to learning. Centering the content around the learners opens the door to other considerations such as how they behave online and interact with certain interfaces. This allows us to integrate the psychology of design with Instructional Design principles to design learning that is not only structurally sound but aesthetically aligned with internal triggers that incite specific actions. There are several laws of user experience to consider and we will review a few from the book Laws of UX by Jon Yablonski that we can apply to the next online learning experience we develop.
We aim to minimize the cognitive load for learners by providing bite-sized learning, also known as microlearning, and breaking down content so that complex information is more digestible. Also, aesthetically, we want the learner to easily understand how to navigate and flow throughout the experience without any confusion or strain on their thinking.
A principle of design that correlates with this Instructional Design approach is Hick’s law, which basically focuses on simplifying the process for the end user in order to decrease the possibility of overloading their memory with too much information (Yablonski, 54). When providing learners the option to view short modules at their own pace instead of requiring them to complete a 30-minute or an hour course with a menu of multiple topics, the learner can direct their focus on learning one thing at a time which they can retain better in their memory. Also, the design experience would provide fewer options to pick from and allow the learner to think less about where to navigate and focus their learning.
For the same reasons we would develop microlearning, we would consider the capacity of human short-term memory. Our goal when designing learning is that a learner could take their new information and enhance their existing skill, utilize a new skill, or apply a new attitude or approach to the workplace. If a learner is overloaded with information and resources, the probability of them remembering the information and applying it decreases greatly.
In order to assist learners in effectively retaining information, we can provide the content in impactful chunks at different times in their learning paths. For a new employee training, the content could be small topic-specific chunks within their first 90 days of employment. A small amount of information is easier to remember thus making it easier to apply. This is where Miller’s law comes into play and can be applied to remind us that humans have a limited capacity in short-term memory. When designing online courses, we should consider our learner’s career journey and span of their learning and provide an appropriate, small amount of information that will be easy enough to apply immediately while considering the allotted time frame and workspace.
When building out a catalog of online courses, most companies ensure there is consistency in branding and style, and possibly use templates throughout to provide a uniform look to the learning. Imagine if that was not the case and a learner would have to get familiar with how to navigate the course every time and valuable time was spent understanding the layout and format of the course instead of learning the content.
When learners create specific expectations and systemize their thinking, mental models are created and applied to different environments, especially where learning takes place. A learner will bring their experiences on other digital interfaces, such as YouTube, Facebook, or their favorite website, to their learning experience and wonder why they are not able to turn on the closed caption on their video or do not have the ability to like and share it or wonder why there isn’t a search bar in the top menu to easily find topics they are looking for.
When learners expect the same functionality across platforms and experiences, this connects to Jacob’s law. According to Yablonski, Jacob’s law basically utilizes mental models and in our case, it allows learners to transfer their experience expectancy over to their learning experience and want the same functionality and style. We can apply this by designing the pages of an eLearning course similar to a modern website with a menu bar in the top right corner or a similar way that allows for free-form and seamless navigation features that allow the learner to contact support; and, even keeping the variations of button elements similar to buttons they might have used on the company’s site or other sites.
When designing for the modern learner who may use their mobile device first to navigate their online course, we have to consider the usability and ease of use of the course design. The experience a learner has on their desktop may differ on their phone, so considerations such as the placement and size of hot spot buttons in an interaction and the appropriate spacing and location of navigation buttons should be implemented.
A course design with easily recognizable distinctions for buttons, interactions, and navigation allows the learner to maximize their learning time, lessen the time they would need to use to make decisions, and move throughout the course. This approach is aligned with Fitts’s law, which when translated to learning, focuses on targeting the movements of the learner and ensuring the time it takes for them to engage with the interactions or touchpoints of the course isn’t a pain point for them.
As Learning and Development professionals, we tend to focus on the many learning theories and principles when designing learning experiences. Modern learners are influenced by many different factors, and the psychology of design plays an integral role in approaching the learning experience holistically.
To avoid being overwhelmed with so many new approaches, we can focus on applying:
- Hick’s law, which focuses on minimizing the cognitive load;
- Miller’s law, which allows us to consider short-term memory and the need to chunk information;
- Jacob’s law, which allows us to consider possible mental models learners could apply; and,
- Fitts’ law, which directs us to the movement of the learner and how they would engage with a course.
The correlation between the science of learning and the science of design is practically a mirror of one another but is usually not considered. By taking this holistic approach, our learning experiences will yield incomparable results and change the way learners approach learning.
- Yablonski, Jon. Laws of UX: Using Psychology to Design Better Products Et Services. O’Reilly Media, 2020.