We are user friendly. Very easy to use.

Simple, easy to use. Our customers find our system user friendly and easy to use.

We never hear complaints. We have the highest repeat customers in the industry.

We are user oriented.

The number one reason people leave their current system or purchase a different e-learning product? Poor or non-existent user intuitiveness/interfaces.

Common complaints

  • Poor or difficult navigation on the front end – ala what the end user sees
  • UI is challenging, if not very difficult
  • Administration side is difficult to use, you need advanced technical skills
  • Admin side’s interface is non-user oriented
  • Authoring tools whose interface either looks like to was written in 1997 (thus outdated) or is so confusing, that the premise of rapid, just is not possible
  • Web Conferencing tools, requiring you to download plug-ins or other files before you can start  – one of the biggest pet peeves among end users, and the number one reason why people fail to get in, ending up calling your administrator, or you
  • Quiz assessment tools and systems, that assume everyone wants to do T/F and M/C  or Short Answer and T/F only

It is all about the Hype

Every time I see a product, two statements seem to be universal

  • Ease of Use – It is!
  • Our clients love it and no one every complains about it

If I am a potential customer, I would expect nothing less to come out of the vendor’s mouth on their product and user friendliness. Who is going to buy a product, where the salesperson says, “Well, our system is really difficult and we lose customers over it”?

Nobody, if they want to stay in business.

I have seen over 150 systems, 80 plus authoring tools, dozens of web conferencing products, mobile learning, quiz assessment tools, CMSs and learning portals, and not everyone of them meets those two statements.

Learning Management Systems, LCMS, Learning Portals

The worst of the offenders.  Baffling to understand how a space that needs to be 100% user focused, drops the ball at such a constant rate.

Some of the biggest problems

  • Buttons, menus and design that makes no sense, to anyone – with placement that is not even remotely logical or user driven
  • Navigation that is difficult, to the point of some products becoming frustrating
  • Multiple interfaces in the system that continue to get worse as you go deeper in, with some that have an appearance that unless you have a degrees in Classical Languages or know DOS, you are finished
  • Back end – the administration side
  • Not understanding that they are creating a product for people to use, rather creating what they feel people should use
  • Assumptions that administrators  either have extensive high technical skill sets or are IS/IT people or have an IT/IS resource on call, whenever they need them

Culprits

Some vendors who have failed to deliver, in my opinion, a user friendly system, due to front end or back end (admin side), or sometimes both

  • CourseMill 6 by Trivantis
  • Plateau Talent Management System
  • SumTotal
  • Melon Lite LMS
  • Totara LMS
  • Meridan KSI
  • NetSmart University
  • Operitel LearnFlex
  • SAP’s LMS
  • Avilar WebMentor LMS

This is just a very tiny list.  Learn.com?  Well, next month you can read my review  – for now, lets keep it a secret – between me and my keyboard.

If you know CSS or HTML…

Amazingly, there are systems whose lack of excellent user interface, is not because they do not have a good product, rather they need to do the following:

  • Complete customization of your system.  A few vendors (and not just on the above list), customize so much, that you really have no idea on what the system originally looked like.

In today’s market there is no reason to buy a product that requires you to do a full customization, either on the front end, back end or entire system, unless – you decided to go with an open source solution such as Moodle or Drupal, where you need that extensive customization.

If I am vendor, whose product is paid (i.e. not free, or not 100% open source) and I have to do 100% customization to land a client, I would worry about my cash on hand and debt load.

If I am customer, I am thinking “awesome”,  but, I should be thinking, “uh, if they are doing this me..are they doing it for everyone else and how financially sound are they really?”

We are Family, not every user

  • 1 vendor does an initial full customization, then if at a latter point you need to make a couple of standard changes, they need to come back and do more customization, which at that point is not free
  • Another vendor has it so you can make changes on the front end, (via your administrator side) but to do so, you need to know HTML, since you will be physically changing it
  • One vendor follows this approach, if you want to change the menu labels on the front end, at a latter point with your system. All you need is knowledge of CSS, and you are ready to go
  • Some vendors will say privately, that the administrator should have intermediate technical skill sets, or as one vendor said when asked upon, they really need to have someone from IT/IS with them
  • Another vendor told me, they recommended that their end users (aka customers) do not use their built in course authoring tool that exists in the system
  • A couple of vendors systems reporting works really well, if you output the data to your own database or onto Excel and do it yourself
  • Another vendor had some front end labels that could not be changed nor hidden from view, but yes, their system is very user friendly
  • One system, you really needed to have strong knowledge of Moodle 2.0, to utilize the system, since it was built on Moodle 2.0

Some people will say its because the system is inexpensive, it is going to lack user intuitiveness and a positive learning experience. With all due respect, that is just not accurate.

I have seen systems that are extremely low in price who are very good solutions and user friendliness exists. The same with smaller size vendors.

There are systems that are poor in user friendliness, but there are others who are excellent.

The same point can be made for the higher priced systems.

Many people assume because it costs a lot of money, it therefore must be a great product and user positive. In reality, it often is not the case.

Authoring Tools (Rapid E-Learning)

For those of us who can remember, back in early 2000, products like Authorware were essential to building courses. Authorware was a great product, but its learning curve was extremely difficult and user friendliness was debatable.

As other products hit the market, more people became involved with e-learning (for itself was growing), a change started to exist in the authoring tools market.

Rapid e-learning tools, or as I prefer to call them – rapid content authoring tools (course builders, even sims) exploded onto the scene.

Their premise was simple: create courses quickly and easily.  I repeat “easily”.

So, what happened?

Programming Skills need not apply

Creating a rapid content authoring product should not be difficult. The products are designed for people who have limited to no real technical skills, such as programming skills or writing HTML, javascript, etc.  So while you can have these skill sets and still use the products, they are not designed as such.

There are a few who offer capabilities for advanced tech skill folks, as well as instructional technology people (or ID) (u can have advanced tech skill sets and not be an inst. technologist nor instructional designer nor have a degree in anything comp or ID related).

That said, if your product does not target advanced tech skills folks, and you stress that your product is perfect for people who have no tech skills or limited, why do you make it so difficult to use?

A Simple Test

Download a trial or see it via SAAS. Without looking at the user guide, manual or tutorial, jump right in.  Look at the icons (if they exist), the menu path and try to create a course. Doesn’t have to be great, just a couple of pages, with a quiz (if it has that feature).

Add some graphics, place in a .avi clip, a mp3 audio clip, try to toss in a couple of external links and write some content. Add a PDF or attachment.  Then save it and export it – either to the web, or on a media product or in your LMS (if you are using one).

See how it takes. Can you do it in under 60 minutes? What about 30 minutes?  If you cannot accomplish this in 60 minutes or get stuck in trying to even get far enough for output, ask yourself this -  do I really want this product?

Any rapid content authoring tool in the market, should enable you to create something so basic (as my items are listed above) in 60 minutes or less.  There should be no issue in saving it – and output should be simple.

Here’s why

  • What if you are sick or out that day OR the person you have hired to create these courses is terminated, laidoff or quits.  Do you have someone who can jump in quickly, and create some type of course?
  • Most people these days do not view nor read a user guide/manual Nor watch the tutorial, they jump right in
  • Vendors nowadays provide training early on after you get the product, and then assume that the person will remember everything weeks later.  If not, they have a user guide – which is sometimes so lengthy or missing key information, that the person is left guessing
  • FAQs or Knowledge Bases often lack information or confusing.  Ever had issues with a computer or electronic product and go online to the vendor’s site and use their KB?

How often do you get frustrated, cursing and departing the site?  What about using the help feature in your software? 99% of the time, they need help in creating the help section.

  • Most people who create courses these days, do not have any instructional design or even training background
  • People today get frustrated quicker than in the past, especially when you have a product whose menu or features are confusing
  • Companies today are less likely then they were years ago, to send someone to training at the vendor’s location or have somebody come from the vendor to their company on-site to train
  • Vendors webinars typically include other end users and they have scheduled times, so if you have questions, they may not get answered or you may not want to ask them – because of the other callers with you

A couple of key notes here

  • Just because people have PowerPoint on their computer or something similar, does not automatically make them an expert on the solution.

People tend to use the same features and components over and over again, so they are experts in one sense, but they may not know how to do such advanced features as “macros”.

  • Research has found that people tend to rate their technical skill set one level higher than it actually is, sure many are very honest, but again, you may be an expert in Word. but cannot figure out what the “url address bar’ means or is located OR you are an expert in numerous SAP modules, but cannot figure out how to use formulas in Excel

Three is the magic number

While there are plenty of products out there, that fail to meet the “test”, I will identify three that just in the past year have multiple problems, including user interface issues. One product, ITWorx – I do not recommend.

  • QuickLessons
  • SoftChalk 6
  • ITWorx – AuthorExpert

Bonus Sim Tool “Its so easy” – they said to me at a trade show

  • NexLearn’s new Sim tool Simplicity – yes it is to create simulations, but the folks at NexLearn claim that anyone, even those without any tech skills can create them. Trust me, the easy angle for someone with no technical skill sets, isn’t there

Bottom Line

Vendors love to push the high percentage of repeat customers. They love to tell you that nobody complains, thus it must be a great product and their are no user interface issues.

Yet, they are wrong.

Just because people do not call or email and complain about user interface issues, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

How many times do you go and complain to the manager of a restaurant about the meal or staff issues?  How often do you call that 800 number or go to product’s web site and complain about it?

When you are looking for a certain food item at your supermarket and cannot locate it, how often do you tell the cashier, “no, I didn’t find everything I was looking for”.

When you attended a seminar or some type of instructor led training, how many of you have gone up afterwards to complain to the instructor about whatever?  Most people don’t.  Why?

It is not part of the “acceptable” thing to do. Rather, we just walk away.

Well, we no longer have to walk away. We can Tweet about it. We can go to Linkedin and talk about it.

We can visit their social media sites and post about it.

We have a voice. Now, is the time to start using it.

Otherwise, they will never know and in the end maybe that is really what they want.

Your silence.

E-Learning 24/7