To understand the landscape of online learning environments, we decided to start our design process with a comparative analysis of similar products. Our aim was to look at how these different systems addressed the key components that we wanted to include in our virtual training institute. In addition to this, we wanted to look at what common elements and themes existed between these systems that we should include in our design as well.
Typically, comparative analyses are done for existing products to see where gaps exist in your product that the market is already providing. Since we were creating a new system, our approach was a little different. We established a list of components that we would compare between the different systems. This list was informed by the project brief that we shared with our client, in which we agreed on the core components necessary. We targeted popular MOOCs (Coursera, KhanAcademy, FutureLearn, Udacity, edX, DuoLingo, etc.), content management systems (WordPress, CTools), and a few social systems centered around the activity of sharing and uploading videos (Youtube, DIY.org). Since our system was going to be used by both learners and teachers, we were hoping to evaluate both sides of the experience on these sites. However, we were only able to access the ‘teacher’ side of KhanAcademy and CTools due to restrictions on the other sites (we are still trying to gain access to the Coursera administrative interface).
We went through all of these systems and recorded the appearance and functionality of our target components. In addition, we took screenshots of each so that we could easily reference back to what we were discussing in future meetings. Taking these individual findings, we came back together as a group and discussed what the common themes that emerged from these systems were. We also shared interesting functions that we did not anticipate earlier that we thought would be useful for our system. We consolidated these findings into a list of core ‘design guidelines and principles’ that we wanted to follow for our system. We grouped these guidelines into 4 high-level ‘buckets’ of consideration:
Language and technological literacy
Pedagogy and supporting learning
Technology and interface considerations
Boiling these high-level categories into a short summary, we wanted an interface that was straightforward, easy to learn for varying literacy levels, supportive of adaptation to multiple languages, and sensitive to the cultural systems (religion, socio-economic factors) that it would be experienced in. We made a list of different ways that our ‘comparator’ systems addressed these issues, and we’ve used these examples as inspirations for our iterative rounds of design.