Wednesday, January 20, 2016

3 mysterious "features" of the LMS experience that ruin them for me

I've been working with LMSs for a long time and with everyone there are some common moans. Here are a couple that leapt out at me today. Remember, my experience is in large corporate LMSs, often from big global providers. Yours might be different. I hope that it is - I've certainly heard good things about some companies' offers. By all means enlighten me in the comments.

1. "Timing out"

A perennial problem, my LMS booting me out after a period, usually unknown, seems to afflict me on whatever LMS I'm working on. I've fiddled with settings and tried to get to grips with this, but it seems a standard feature. Security is often invoked as a justification, but what exactly is being secured is beyond me. In a couple of cases, where the LMS is bolted on to a HRIS (HR Information System) you often find the parent HRIS timing out while you are in the LMS. Data is often okay, but it's annoying anyway, especially since this is usually ignored in the interface.

2. Launching content in a new window

One of the bread and butter calls to LMS support, new users are always caught out when the pop-up blocker kicks in and stops content open in a new window. Why? Because almost nowhere else in the Internet user experience do pop-ups feature (I can only think of one - banking. Oh, and the pop-out radio iPlayer. That's it). Scorm seems to be the reason for it. Hateful. In a world of content consumed on pages like YouTube, this just seems an anachronism.

3. Lack of customisation, general ugliness

More an outcome of my experience working with large corporate LMSs, I suspect, but there's always something odd about interacting with LMSs that takes me back several years. I think it's perhaps because UI designers were rarely a part of early LMS development and the way in which the systems were originally structured, leaving them look like clumsy VBasic front ends to Access. Having since worked with very customisable CMSs like WordPress or even Moodle, I find the way in which elements on a page are rigidly applied, and even the fonts imposed, takes me back to 1999.

Aw, so I promised 3. I thought of two more while I was at it...

4. Dreadful labels appearing in the user's view

Codes, labels, filenames. These are all things the user rarely seems to know, but which often crop up somewhere in the user's view as they navigate around. I appreciate sometimes it's useful to have a definitive reference to what you are looking at, but this kind of thing should be hidden until needed. If you do need to foreground some peice of information that is important, make sure it's user intelligible.

5. Mystery navigation

In almost every LMS I've worked in, I've found myself stumbling across user features that I'd not known were there months or even years after I started working with it. That's partly because as a learning designer most of my interaction is with the back-end, but if we're honest that's probably only slightly less often than most end users, so they are probably in a similar situation. It's an element of feature creep, I suspect because most LMS companies are reactive in developing features, rather than proactive, so it's incremental changes to the underlying system rather than thinking up something entirely new. I fear if it had been up to them, LMS developers would have delivered us somewhat bigger, somewhat quicker technicolour horses before thinking up the Model T Ford, if you catch my drift.

In this day and age, would I ever buy an LMS? I'm not sure I would. At least, I'd have a very long list of hygiene features I'd be looking at before I considered one.

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