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How your platform can help you deliver a great learner experience

Podcasts and Audio | 26.09.2018

We're back, and this month the Kineo team look into what is required from an LMS to deliver a great user experience.

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Paul Westlake  0:00  

Welcome to Kineo Stream of Thought, a monthly podcast that features informal chat from the Kineo team about all things learning. I'm Paul Westlake, Solutions Consultant at Kineo. And today, we're going to be speaking about how your platform can help you deliver a great learning experience. I'm pleased to say this time, I'm joined by

Emily Berry  0:22  

Emily Berry, Learning Consultant

David Shaw  0:24  

David Shaw, Lead Solution Architect

Steve Foy  0:26  

And I'm Steve Foy and I'm an Account Manager.

Paul Westlake  0:28  

So I thought we talk about this month is, there's a lot of buzz around next gen for LMS, and ecosystems, a lot of which we've spoke about before and on previous podcasts, I wonder if we're actually losing sight of what the learner actually wants and what a good experience looks like for that learner. So maybe we need to take a step back and think about what exactly it is that they want and need, and more importantly, how we design a system that can deliver that.

Steve Foy  0:57  

If I can, if I can kick off, just by kind of going through the easy stuff, I think there are some basics that we we would all expect as learners, to to get from a learning platform, whether it's an LMS, or any other kind of learning platform, I think we want it to, we want it to have content that we're interested in. And that's, that's good. We want it to work. So that means reliability, we want it to be fast enough to perform well. And we want it to be easy to navigate and easy to find the things that we want to do. I mean, there's a starter for ten.

David Shaw  1:27  

I think from a navigation point of view, you're always looking at different user experiences that people need, there's always the compliance side of things and induction that people need to do. So they're very structured ways of learning. But then you've got the wider general knowledge on trying to learn something new, or I want more from an LMS. I want some more content to learn things from. And so that journey of the wider looking for something needs to be tailored for as well.

Paul Westlake  1:57  

But do you think part of that problem comes from the fact that traditionally, it was a compliance platform. So compliance stuff sat on there, it wasn't somewhere I would go and browse for content, particularly and therefore maybe the site's weren't designed in that way originally?

David Shaw  2:14  

I think the technology wasn't designed that way. And I think a lot of sites weren't designed that way. I think over the years, it's become a bigger thing that people need to widen out from that compliance pathway. An LMS, at its basic level says, here's a bunch of stuff you need to do. Yeah, you need to go in, here's the thing I need to complete, you finish it, you go away. But actually, it's been now seen as a career, it's been seen as a way to further somebody's career, to help them in their current job to expand their knowledge. So having the ability to suggest content to people make it more personalised to their job role, or maybe to a job role that they're looking for, needs to be tailored for a lot more these days.

Paul Westlake  3:00  

So what's the real basics? I mean, Steve, you mentioned a couple there. But I mean, for me, if I go onto a website, navigations, obviously the first one, I need to be able to find what I want to find relatively quickly. And I think the second one for me, when we're talking about LMS is obviously we have all users of LMS, as well as people that design them is this idea of, you know, single sign on has got to be a must, right?

Steve Foy  3:24  

I think Single Sign On is a must it's it's one of those things that we probably most of us take for granted now. But, but not having Single Sign On means that you've presented an obstacle to the learner. So you've you've put one barrier in their place. And I think it's interesting that you were just referencing when you go on a website, and I think that that is kind of at the heart of, of what we're talking about here with user experience and learning management systems. With learning management systems, we've moved away from a sort of transactional piece of transactional interaction between the learner and mandatory content. And we're moving more to a sort of consumerist model, which is why learning management systems have to compete. And they have to show the same sorts of courtesy to a learner that a website would show to a to a consumer. So if it's, if it's not easy to get to, then people won't go there. If the contents no good, they won't go there. So you have to take away the obstacles, and you have to make things inviting, and you have to entice that learner.

Emily Berry  4:18  

I think that's really key in it. You know, it's not just the fact that we're frustrating people and potentially preventing them from coming back in the future. We're actually impeding the learning process, because if people are not at ease, they're not going to be open to acquiring new knowledge and new skills, which is obviously the complete opposite of what we want to achieve.

Paul Westlake  4:35  

So how do we do that?

David Shaw  4:37  

I think there's a level of personalisation that's needed. Part of it is based on the data that we know about people and the experience that we give them so that when they come along, we know who they are, what they are, we don't necessarily have to ask them, or we find smart ways of asking them questions that will tailor the content for them to see we can make recommendations Those kinds of things, you know that the AI gets talked out about a lot. But it's, it's just different ways of doing that basic piece of work, which is saying, here's some things you might find interesting.

Paul Westlake  5:14  

Yeah, but from, I'll challenge that a little bit, because I think you're right, if it's done well, and it provides a good user experience. But I think we've all seen dumb AI as well, from thought of a better phrase, which was, you know, once you've seen through what it's actually trying to do and why it's, you know, you went here, therefore, your next logical step is here. Well, no, it's not. And, you know, once you've seen through that, that the sort of the belief in the system sort of falls over about I mean, we, in our industry, we're constantly being asked at the moment about, you know, the whole Netflix thing aren't we? Design it like Netflix, because Netflix is great. And it's got a load of content on there. Everyone liked browsing through it. But I don't know. How many of you actually have Netflix home, right, David, you said you didn't. But my experience of Netflix is, when you go into it, now you get a huge splash screen at the top displaying a trailer automatically, which is pushing the latest and greatest whatever they want to do. Below that you have maybe four or five recommendations based on stuff that I've watched before. So there's clearly an awful lot of content in there, that I've still never seen and never been aware of. So it does feel very much, because you watch Luther, therefore, the only thing is, you're going to be interested in other UK based crime thrillers, you know, and it's like, well, actually, no, I want to I want to find other things. So when I want to find that other stuff, it's got to be easy for me to navigate to it. But at the same time, if we do want something a bit like Luther again, then find that I know, I'm asking for the world there. But I think that's what our learners are asked for as well. Surely a good user experience would be able to cater for both of those worlds.

Steve Foy  6:48  

I think if you're if you're trying to improve or create a positive user experience, the bottom line is that there is some work to be done. And that that's that involves some kind of rigor and methodology involves some analysis of your target audience, you need to know your target audience, you need to know how they want to use the system. And it might be that your target audience is very diverse, and will want to use the system in a number of ways. So you have to, you have to build that into your into your design and your launch. And the way that you set the platform up, you need to be able to show Person A from finance, that this is where their content is you need to show Person B from marketing that this is where their content is. And then maybe there are some things that all of those people need to use. And so you need to kind of present that in a certain way as well. And you need to remove obstacles. So you need to find out from those learners, you know, what are the obstacles that you normally come across, and then you need to work your way through that list and get rid of them. You need to find out what content is successful and that everybody needs to do and then you need to make that content better. And you need to make it cover all the things that those people need need to cover.

Paul Westlake  7:54  

So maybe a bit of a... So if someone has already got an LMS in place, they're not going to start with a blank sheet of paper. How are you going to do that? So would you maybe suggest that we could look at some... mapping a user's journey, a traditional user journey through that, but from a number of different personas maybe so you know, here's a new starter, this is where they find the stuff they need his someone's established? And maybe and I'm sure we'll come on to this in a minute, we also need to consider what about people that you know, the admins of the system? And what about managers? Where do they get reports, etc. So how do we do that? Is that a, like a, a mapping exercise? Do we think?

Emily Berry  8:31  

Yep, absolutely. I think we should identify all of the audience groups, and then do that mapping exercise, look at their goals and ensure that the LMS is, you know, enabling people to meet those. I think crucially, though, you know, a lot of the time that is based on assumptions. So the key thing for me is that we would then validate those assumptions with the end users themselves. And I think actually talking about, you know, sort of reviewing an LMS, that's already in situ, there are some even simpler things that we can do to improve the user experience. Things like just consistency and accuracy of the copy that we have on the LMS. You know, has the person who's described the the course or the resource that people are accessing, even looked at that looked at that, you know, look to the content, do they understand it? Is the time that we've estimated it will take someone to complete accurate? I think it's those those small things that actually do contribute to that to the end user experience.

Paul Westlake  9:24  

Yeah, and that's a good point. I mean, going back in the day, I remember an LMS system I used to work with and search was on there, but it was search in the loosest terms unless you put in the exact spelling and to your point, if someone's very wrong, you've got no chance. But you know, there was a lot of acronyms flying about so if you put in shift management, for example, and yet the course was called SM, whatever it may be, isn't it it was never going to find it. And the second you put anything I know it's there. I can actually see it. It's like when you search through email, isn't it and he can't find anything? Well, I can see it in the list. It just becomes so frustrating that he just almost lose.. the system lose any credibility, they had. So whether that's through keywording, or whatever, but what about if we've already got a system? And maybe David is something you want to pick up? How do we continue to expand that system, if you'd like to make the experience better and better?

David Shaw  10:14  

I think it's a, they're a continuous cycle of looking at how people are using the site, what people are using it, whether they can find particular bits of information, you can do that through, you know, analytics, Google Analytics, for example, is a really simple one. So you can tell what people are using where they're going, do they stop using it at a particular place, you know, those simple user journeys, you can map, and actually, then you look at it, and you go, Well, we need to change that bit. So it's not a static experience, the worst thing that can happen is that they somebody comes along, they start a new job, they see the LMS, they do their compliance training. And then, you know, in a year's time they come back because they're a bit bored, or you know, they know what they're doing, they want to further their career, and it looks exactly the same, yeah, nothing has changed, there's no reason to go back to it, I've done that. And then there's UX can be a big pull to actually make it usable in some way that people want to go and make it easy to go and have interesting information on there. That doesn't come from the platform itself, that comes from the content that's been put in and the people that look after it. And you need people to curate content, put the right content in there, make things obvious to people that there are things that they can do internal communications about actually using it, or why people should be using it. And the benefits of going in are all things that can be done. But if you end up on a site that's unusable, and not any good, nobody's going to go back to it. So UX is really important to make it simple and interesting and relevant content that people can find on making it easy. You're talking about search just now, you can go the other way search can be rubbish, but it can also be over the top and it can return 1000s of results. You know, Google is a good example, you search for something I know, it's got a big thing to search for the whole of the internet. But nobody ever goes on to the second page, you click on the first four links. So you have to..

Paul Westlake  12:15  

avoid the adverts first, avoid the three or four sponsored ones first . And the fourth link from...

David Shaw  12:20  

... but you know, you go to the fourth proper, but you never click on the second page. So your content, the search has to be relevant for what you're looking for. And actually, that is, again, incredibly difficult to do

Emily Berry  12:32  

Really like what you're saying there, David. And also, like the point that you said, around, you know, the user experience actually begins sort of way before the LMS with those internal communications. So you know, it's how we market the learning in the first place to get them onto the LMS. And I think quite often, particularly in the sort of compliance space, we're still saying things like, Oh, you know, we have a zero tolerance approach to bribery and corruption, that's not really going to motivate me as a you know, as an individual.

Paul Westlake  13:02  

The team's goal, not yours? Yeah. No, absolutely. Right. And I think part of that is getting back to the idea of what's right for the learner, isn't it? So, you know, try and try to keep the learner in mind, which is, I think, where we're going with that. I mean, the other thing, David, you said earlier about? personalisation. So is this the idea of, you know, if I come in, and I'm a new starter, I need to know exactly what I need to do right now. make that easy. For me, I think, I think it also needs to be simple for me to then go and browse if I want to, but as you say, Fine stuff. So how to actually do those two things.

David Shaw  13:38  

There's a good analogy you can use, you can compare them to your journey through an airport or going to visit a museum. Compliance as an airport, you go in, there's a queue, there is a set order of things you need to do, you queue up your hand your ticket in you queue up again, to go through passport, you queue up to get onto the plane, you sit down and you go somewhere...

Paul Westlake  13:56  

In the seat you've been allocated!

David Shaw  13:58  

... and you've done it and that's brilliant. And that's compliance training. And that's your induction training 

Steve Foy  14:02  

except you don't get a holiday at the end of your compliance training!

David Shaw  14:05  

It would be nice if you did!

Paul Westlake  14:07  

there are work trips as well!

David Shaw  14:10  

But from a museum point of view, I don't know if you've been to the Natural History Museum but you go in and it's a massive hallway with loads of arches around and you've got titles over each one of those arches for the areas that you want to go look at to I want to go and study rocks or dinosaurs or birds. And so actually it's making my life easier to go in, find what I want to learn, I go into a room that's about a particular subject. I can go in and I can browse through that room of ...

Paul Westlake  14:39  

Yeah, even taking that step further. Are you right you walk into that room and you can browse the the cases just by looking at things but if you're wanting to really go into it, you can start reading more detail about things and...

David Shaw  14:48  

absolutely or buy the book in the in the shop and not on the way out.

Paul Westlake  14:52  

But yeah, if I follow your analogy and one of the most frustrating things I think I find with the way some LMS' is designed is he If we follow that through, you get into that room and you've read that last piece. And that's it. Now everyone turns out the lights, no idea how to how to get anywhere else, or how to get back, or how do I navigate? Or where do I go next? Yeah. So I think it's that that learner journey has got to be right. I've done that. I finished that bit of learning what happens next? And I think in a lot of cases, that's even when we do testing, people forget to say, yeah, it works. It's fine. It's done. And it's tracked, it's SCORM tracked, produce a report, everything's fine. So it's that, going beyond that learning journey, what people do next, isn't it and how do they get back and how to navigate if they do go in the wrong direction.

David Shaw  15:35  

Part of it is curation, that you're going to museum rooms are curated, things are relevant, there's a journey, there's a story within that room, that's told. And you can do that with learning and training and those sorts of things. But you don't have to finish it, you can go in and go, you know what, this isn't, for me, this isn't what I'm interested in, I'll walk back into the main lobby and go and look at something else. Or I'm just going to browse, or they've got a big blackout up that says, hey, here's a new exhibition, let's go and have a look at that. So you know, there were always... They're always signposts to take you to interesting things, things that you might not have thought about that maybe might interest you, and you can ignore them if you want to. But you know, they're there. If it's something new and something people are talking about,

Paul Westlake  16:20  

Yeah. And I guess you could potentially make a note on your on your map and say what we're going to come back to that later on, if you've got time, which, again, from a user experience perspective, that's what I do every time I mean, Apple Music, for example, you know, I'll add something to a play, I don't listen to it now. But I like that album, I want to listen to that next week or, or tomorrow, whatever the chances are, it might not come around again. So I guess people have got sort of these behaviours they're used to doing, whether that be pin something for watching it later in Netflix, or, as I say, you know, sort of marking a tune for me to listen later. So are we trying to introduce those sort of behaviours? Or are we trying to cater for those behaviours in LMS systems that we design?

Emily Berry  17:02  

I think we have to don't we have we're trying to compete with those consumers, great platforms that are out there and mimicking the, you know, the kind of experience learners are getting in their day to day world.

David Shaw  17:14  

I think it's an important item to have, because people don't have lots of time at work that you can put, you can set aside a certain amount of time for training. But the reality is, you're not going to have two hours a day, you're going to have an hour, once a week. And so actually finding something and saying that's something I want to come back to is a useful thing to have.

Paul Westlake  17:36  

And I think it's one of those things where if we don't have it there, it would be glaringly obvious. We don't have it there. I think there's more and more of these things where there's a process in place to be able to mark something and come back to it. And that's what you want to do with your learning isn't it? You want to pause it right here and pick it up later on. I mean, Sky TV at home, you know, you can stop watching in one room and pick it up in another room, for example. You know, I think people are used to doing this sort of stuff. I mean, that that's all fine from a learner's perspective. But what if we want to go a little bit further, Steve? Oh, chatting earlier in the greenroom about managers and managers using LMS for reporting and stuff. So what do we think they're expecting?

Steve Foy  18:22  

It's a good point, Paul, I think the the learners obviously come first when we're talking about experience, but but the admins... those poor admins, they're, they're often overlooked. And, and, you know, they've got, they've got an important job to do. And by admins, we might be talking about the system administrator, we might be talking about people who look after courses or kind of cohorts of learners. And they need to get certain things from the LMS as well, I mean, they are learners to obviously, but as admins, they need to know who's doing what, how much of it, they've done, whether it's working, they need to get feedback, if people are giving feedback. And they need to be able to do that really quickly and efficiently in much the same way that we're saying, you know, if you're browsing content, it's got to be easy. If you want some some key kind of data, top line figures, then that also needs to be easy. And you and you want, presumably to be able to visualize that, or have somebody visualize it for you, so that you don't have to go through a lengthy CSV file. So I think, you know, we're all used to seeing data visualisation all the time now. So whether you're, you know, a Fitbit user or Garmin user or any of those other fitness apps, you know, they're all about data visualisation, they're all about seeing where you are on your way to achieving your goals. And that's the kind of thing that I think admins will really benefit from, from having to and you know, we're seeing a lot of that now in our work and you know, out there in the wider marketplace.

Paul Westlake  19:45  

So how do we design for those admins in at least it seems a bit of an odd one, doesn't it? Because obviously, someone's having to pay us to sort of really go to town with the design of something that maybe one or two people are going to see I guess I will caveat that by saying the flip side maybe that, in a lot of cases, those are the actual decision makers in the first place for purchasing the systems. And maybe we do want to keep those people happy. But David, how can we tidy up those admin systems and make that easier? What sort of things are people asking us for?

David Shaw  20:15  

It tends to be dashboards. So summarised data at a high level, the reality is, nobody really knows exactly what they want to see. And so you need to leave it to be flexible. So we can put some example reports in, you know, how many people have completed something, what compliance rates you've got. But the reality is that when people start using it, they see new use cases, they say, actually, we need this extra piece of data. Or actually, this isn't giving us anything meaningful, let's take this off. And so like the rest of the system, it's actually something that's always evolving. You use it, you see if it works for you, if it doesn't work for you, you change it. And so the flexibility, again, is an important thing. It's not having a set, defined set of reports, it's being able to say, Well, here's a starting place with my reports, do these work for me? Do I need to change them? What do other people in the business need? Now I've started distributing this data.

Paul Westlake  21:15  

So it's without going off on a tangent here. From what I'm picking up, what you're saying there is what we might design on day one might not necessarily be where we end up in six nine, twelve, eighteen months time, or whatever it may be. So is there a potential school of thought to say? We want to start pretty basic and find out what learners are actually asking us for or what users, sorry, let's not call them learners, because we're talking about managers here. We're talking about system admins as well. And then helping the system grow and around what they're actually asking for?

David Shaw  21:47  

Absolutely. I mean, as Emily said earlier, we're looking at real people with real use cases, asking them actually how they want to use the system and what's useful for them. But the reality is that when people think about it, when they start using it, it's not what they thought they wanted. And so you need to continually evolve these things. So you can ask them the questions to begin with, you can build it to do that. But then every now and then you need to go back and you need to look at how it's being used. Is it meeting people's needs?

Paul Westlake  22:16  

And how do we do that? That's surely we don't want to start again, do we don't want to play why we need new LMS. Now, based on your requirements today, I mean, is there things we can bolt on? Or how does that work?

David Shaw  22:26  

Yeah, I mean, a lot of these things, we, you know, we use plugins a lot. The flexibility of an LMS allows you to move things around. So if something isn't working on a particular page, for instance, you move it somewhere else, you redesign, so you're not going through and starting again, you've got the same content, you've got the same base system, but you can change the journeys through it, and where things are on the site to make it more usable by people to meet actually how they're really using it as opposed to how they thought they were going to use it.

Paul Westlake  22:54  

And Emily, you focus probably as much on designing content as you do on designing LMS systems if you like so how do you go about almost blurring that line between okay  now and the LMS. Now stop that I've gone off to the learning, and I'm going to come back again, is that something that our learners are expecting sort of like feel like a just an overall web experience?

Emily Berry  23:16  

I think it feels very jarring when you don't get that kind of seamless journey from one to the other. I think it'd be really interesting to know actually, how many sort of instructional designers out there do have accessibility to the LMS. Or, or let me phrase that differently, you know, whether they asked for accessibility. Because, you know, visibility of that can alter the design decisions that you make, through the learning that you know, that you access through the LMS. So it could be that you find out that actually a learner has to take 10 clicks to get to a piece of learning in the first place. Therefore, you might design your learning so that it doesn't have a menu so that once you are through that journey on the LMS, you can go straight into the content. And I think that visibility as well of the LMS can influence other design choices you make within the learning. So you might want to mirror the navigation, for example that's used even the branding, you know, bring some of the, you know, the color palette through. So I think there's lots to be had from just joining everything up.

Paul Westlake  24:18  

Yeah, and I think that's gonna become more and more relevant when we start going further down the ecosystems route if you like, because you just used the word jarring and that's what it feels like to me. You know, it's I've done I clearly going off in a different direction here. How do I get back? to the learner, I think it's got to feel sort of seamless. I don't know how we do that. To be fair, you know, as a learner, I'm not sure  that's my concern. That's just what I want. I think it's quite important. We sort of hide all the working away somewhere, isn't it?

David Shaw  24:49  

Absolutely. I mean, it's, that's the challenge that we have. And that's our problem is that we you know, we work with our clients to make these journeys as seamless as we can: single sign on, as you mentioned at the beginning is a really good example. You're not asking people to log in, over and over again. But making sure that everything looks similar if it needs to, there are definite use cases where you want two systems to look completely different.

Paul Westlake  25:13  

Are you thinking about maybe learners and managers or that sort of thing?

David Shaw  25:17  

When you're doing two completely different things, if you've got a social site, and you've got an LMS, you might want the two merged together. And if that's the user journey you're looking for, then you make them look the same. But there are examples where you can say, We want this social site to be a separate thing from what we see as a compliance training site. Therefore, we will brand it up differently, people aren't confused, that this is where I go and chat and share. And this is where I get my compliance. And that comes up sometimes, but most of the time, it's making them look the same. But you always have to make sure that you're making that definition between systems... clear, absolutely. And it can be smooth to jump between them. So it's an easy transition. But there's there's a mind, there's a mindset that you have to have to say even...

Paul Westlake  26:04  

But even at that point, it feels like different areas of the site or going back to your Museum, it's a different, you've moved into a different area or different region or whatever it maybe, but ultimately, you're still within the same building.

David Shaw  26:17  

Absolutely. There's nothing wrong with going into a different room and looking different because it's doing something different. But keeping those, that consistency across different areas. Being able, making it easy to jump between them is a really important good UX thing to do.

Paul Westlake  26:34  

As well as designers of systems. I think it's fair to say that we're all users as well, aren't we? So maybe just have a quick round robin to tie up and say, what what is it that you look for? What's the one or a couple of user experience nuggets you absolutely must have in a site that you go to?

Steve Foy  26:54  

...I want to be able to get to the content quickly. And I don't want to see anything that I don't have access to.

David Shaw  27:00  

... Personalisation. Make the content relevant to me.

Emily Berry  27:05  

I think for me, it's a cluster of words that sums things up. Really, it's, you know, is it useful? Is it usable? Is it efficient? Seamless! That seems to have been you know, the word of the day, today, really.

Paul Westlake  27:17  

Yeah, and even further with seamless, because we haven't alluded to this yet, but I need it to be seamless to irrespective of which device I'm using it on. So I want a good experience when I'm on the train on my phone looking at the site I need to you know, when I'm on the iPad, and I have a little more space that's fine. When I'm a desktop, you know what, go to town and make it easy for.... But ultimately, it's got to feel joined up, and it's got to feel like I know where I'm going and I can find what I need where I need and quickly.

If you want to continue the conversation with us, you can reach out to us on Twitter, where we're at @Kineo or visit

Your speakers are

David designs technical solutions that are fit for purpose and function effectively in the client’s target environment. Working closely with the client, he gathers and analyses client requirements and documents the LMS solution to ensure the solution has impact.
Having worked in the learning technology industry for over 20 years, Emily is an experienced and talented Learning Consultant. Providing learning consultancy to clients and internal teams, Emily conducts learner and needs based analysis, as well as advising and designing creative solutions for digital, blended and campaign-based projects. She also delivers capability training on learning design and its effective implementation.
Paul was previously a Solutions Consultant at Kineo.
Stephen has over 15 years’ experience in the elearning and LMS sector and is currently a Solutions Consultant at Kineo, establishing organisational business requirements and looking after clients' best interests. He is particularly interested in Learning Management Systems, and how they can be leveraged to improve business results.