How User-Friendly Is Your Certification Program?
Do you have to be a "computer person" to take an online course?
If you’re the kind of person who wants to launch an online certification program, it’s a fair bet you feel comfortable using computers and navigating the Internet. However, it would be a mistake to assume your users are as tech savvy as you are.
A 2016 Pew Research study on digital readiness grouped the US population into five groups, ranging from the digitally unprepared, who are not confident online users, to the digitally ready, who are perfectly at home online.
According to the study, 52% of Americans fell onto the “relatively unprepared” side of the spectrum, reporting hesitance with online technology, and low confidence in their ability to find trustworthy information online.
Only 17% of respondents fell into the highest level of online proficiency.
Now, it could be that you only want to target that last 17% for your online course. After all, people who feel comfortable online and trust online learning resources are a much easier sell than someone who still struggles to check their email.
But even if you expect this group to sign up for your certification program, you can only help yourself and your users if you take extra steps to ensure your course doesn’t turn anyone away because of a frustrating user interface. After all, courses that help build computer skills are some of the most popular online programs.
Fortunately, most online instructors care about how their learners interact with their course. If you’re looking for ways to improve yours, here are four ways to provide a more user-friendly certification program.
1. Provide clear instructions and use a clean, minimalist layout.
Your users should never find themselves wondering what to do next. In fact, the easier it is for users to progress through a lesson, the more likely they are to finish the course. If they need to click ahead in a slide or complete a short quiz to advance, make sure this is clearly indicated in your course design.
Keeping your layout clean and clutter-free can help. While help to keep users engaged, too many design elements can be disorienting—especially if they more or animate in unexpected ways.
Also, be careful about the amount of text you have on the page. Headers help break up large copy blocks and make text easier to scan. It also helps to use a large font size, and to pick a font style that provides enough contrast against the background to be easily readable. A small, ultra-thin font in dark grey against a light grey background will just give your readers a headache.
2. Report back to learners what’s happening with your system.
Have you ever clicked a button online only for nothing to happen? It’s disconcerting—and for good reason. Without feedback from the system, you don’t know if the action you intended to happen actually took place. For your learners, who are likely submitting important files and documents, this can add a lot of stress.
Your system should tell your students what it did. When they submitted their course work, did the messages send? Was their file upload successful? If a certain process takes a while to finish, is there a status bar informing them what’s going on?
This feedback can seem simple, but the lack of it leaves users confused—even those of us who use computers and know how they work.
3. Use plain, familiar language, and avoid jargon.
There are times when jargon is necessary. For instance, you may be teaching a technical subject, in which case it’s fine to teach your learners about industry terminology. But don’t expect them to understand it off the bat. Any time you introduce a new term in your course, you should take a moment to explain what it is.
Of course, the same applies to your program structure. Over time, it can be tempting to develop internal lingo to describe certain parts of your system. But your users can’t be expected to understand what these things are, so you should stick to conventional terms as much as possible.
Similarly, if something goes wrong, don’t display an error code that your user won’t understand. Tell them what happened, how to fix it, or where to go for help.
4. Be forgiving and make it easy to “undo.”
Imagine this scenario: your learners are taking a quiz on their phone. As they scroll down the multiple choice questions, they accidentally select an answer. They want to select a different answer, but the program has moved on and won’t let them go back. Their test score suffers, but it’s not actually their fault—it’s yours.
Furthermore, the most technologically capable of us have learned to use computers because we weren’t afraid to click around and search for information ourselves. You want to reward that behavior in your users—not punish them because they accidentally submitted a test they hadn’t completed or couldn’t find a way to go back after navigating to a certain page on your site.
Learners can and will make mistakes in all parts of your site, including on important forms, such as for their certificate. This is where a good certification tracking program can save you and your users a lot of headache. Your students might type their name incorrectly by mistake, choose the wrong title, or select the wrong date. It’s easy for these forms to become confusing, so it’s important for users to be able to submit edits and corrections if necessary.
Just because something works doesn’t mean it’s usable.
If all these requirements seem overwhelming, there’s good news. Most certification providers don’t have to design their user interfaces from bottom up. Instead, they’re working with LMSs and other content management tools that have already been rigorously tested for usability.
But not all aspects of a course come ready-made, and certification providers who have come to rely on other people for a good user experience can find themselves at risk of making a mistake if they don’t pay attention to these factors themselves.
If you ever catch yourself thinking “it’s good enough, my users will figure it out,” it’s time to go back and make it better. It’s possible that the top 17% of tech-ready Americans won’t have any problems, but that leaves 83% who could be turned off your course by a simple usability error.
Put your learners first by making a user-friendly certification course a priority. Your learners will have a better experience, and you’ll enjoy not having to answer so many user complaints.
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