Proper UX Design for an Engaging Educational Experience
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Proper UX Design for an Engaging Educational Experience

Originally published on LinkedIn on May 4, 2015:

I open my eyes to the sunny room around me, Elizabeth breathing deeply on my chest, and the mysterious task I was struggling to remember all day yesterday comes ironically skipping back into my mind now, almost tauntingly. Saturday marked the last day of classes for my senior year at ASU, and the umpteenth time I've forgotten to reply to my conversations on the school discussion boards which, after four years, still haven't managed to engage me.

How? Why?

It seems I'm not the only one struggling with this. The online platform known as Blackboard Learn is sluggishly out-of-date and unintuitive compared to modern social networks that excel at capturing attention. Given the fact that "Blackboard serves approximately 17,000 schools and organizations" (and "the highest share of the education market with 75 percent of colleges") this is utterly unacceptable. Let me paint the picture in greater detail.

Let's take Facebook as a comparison. When I first log on to the website, I'm greeted with a summary of my notifications, which take me directly to that particular conversation, photo, etc.

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Additionally, if there is new activity at any point while I'm browsing the website, it conveniently pops up on my screen in near-realtime.

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Facebook's strategy is simple: never more than 2 steps are needed for users to engage in any activity. As you can imagine, this makes it incredibly easy for us to stay engaged—the Facebook design team's most crucial task.

For young minds, the effect achieved here is called "notification dependency" — the inability (or extreme difficulty) to remember certain things because we are swimming in a sea of information that's being pushed to us at all moments of the day. And it's not just Facebook. Nearly every popular web application today uses push notifications to stay at the forefront of its users' minds.

Blackboard does not capitalize on this principle.

In fact, it moves in the opposite direction, offering no push notifications whatsoever for forum activity. I can set my own notification settings for each course, but I can't choose to get an email when someone replies to my thread.And it's not easily accessible within the web application. 

I'll illustrate the painstaking process at the end of the article. For now, it's important to realize that, so far, approximately half of the students surveyed are noticing this issue.

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Learning software must offer the same features as social media.

The bottom line is that, as the leading learning management system in 2015, Blackboard must update their software to include a push notification system among other things — it's essential to engaging Millennial minds, and I can guarantee that it will be equally beneficial to Generation Z. Offering intuitive features that give the end user options, such as when and how notifications are sent, and for what kinds of information, is of the utmost importance in today's educational system. A student must be able to log onto Blackboard, see who has replied to her comments, and click a button that takes her to that exact spot in the conversation. It's essential to our education. And simply put,

It's UX Design 101.

Universities will see higher engagement rates, and Blackboard will see higher profits. Now let's hope they see this article.

Note: We are currently in the process of collecting data to determine the most crucial updates Blackboard needs to address. The survey is still available, and if you are a university student who uses Blackboard (or if you know one), you can help us by filling out the survey right here.__________________________________________________________________

The Blackboard Process:

Step 1. I see I have four notifications. Clicking on my name opens this dropdown panel.

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Step 2. Clicking on either of the icons highlighted in red takes me to the exact same page.

Unbeknownst to the best of us, the double-tilde icon above the alarm clockis the one we are supposed to click to see replies to discussion threads.No red number indicated that I had a reply waiting.(above, right)

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Step 3. Click the double-tilde icon to see thread replies.

Step 4. Click on the reply details to navigate to a new page showing just the reply.

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Step 5. Click the thread name on the reply page to navigate to the full thread,and to see your reply in context.

3 steps too many.

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Blackboard must update their software to include a push notification system and offer intuitive features that give the end user options.

It's UX Design 101.

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