Monthly Archives: January 2012

The UX of Learning and prospective students

I promised myself as part of my New Year’s resolutions to read more blogs, so this morning I’ve been catching up with some A List Apart articles. Taking a bit of a lucky dip approach I made some random navigation selections and happened upon The UX of Learning by Tyler Tate.

In, not a huge concidence, I attended Tyler’s talk on the same subject at the Content Strategy Forum 2011 in London. His ideas helped me to form some suggestions as to how we can help users within higher education websites learn as they browse – specifically prospective students.

Tyler Tate

Tyler Tate at CS Forum 2011, photograph by Rhiannan Walton

Tyler sets out seven learning-orientated tasks:

  • explore
  • re-find
  • organize
  • compare
  • annotate
  • monitor
  • collaborate

I won’t go into too much detail about each one, I’d recommend reading his article to find out more, but it’s interesting to think how these could be applied to improving user experience for prospective students.

Just like looking for a new car or phone, we don’t always have an exact idea of our needs and requirements when we first start searching. With so many different study choices available (thick and thin sandwiches, joint and foundation courses, part-time learning and distance programmes) we need to help new students to explore their options. Tate suggests that “browsing and flexible filtering options can expose users to serendiptious discovery”.

I know from experience that some courses appear in faculties or departments that you wouldn’t instinctively expect them to. Content is often organised in a fashion that is dictated by internal policy or structure.

Instead of forcing students to choose to browse courses by just department or faculty, perhaps we could widen the search to subjects of interest, length of course or availabilty of a placement year in industry. Would it be unreasonable to allow students to find courses depending on entry requirements or the courses they are studying at A Level?

How about being able to organise and save courses you are interested in? Would students appreciate being able to compare very similiar courses to find out what the key differences are?

I’d be interested to find out what kind of collaborative tools students use when it comes to deciding where and what to study. The Student Room and similiar sites have some excellent forums and these are pulled into the university profiles. What about ranking systems and allowing students to create bookmarks of courses they like and send them to friends and family to look at?

By engaging with information sources, students are making more informed choices Рlearning Рas they go along. By exploring  prospectuses, reading reviews, searching online and seeking advice they are educating themselves Рsomething we encourage them to do once they have arrived on campus.

If we help prospective students to learn more about their choices and options as they move through the myriad of information that we offer them, then chances are we’ll create better relationships with them. This might lead to some loyalty or leaning towards the university that encouraged them to learn long before they enrolled.

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New year, new content

So, here we are again. The first week of January and the majority of us have returned to work to clear away the remains of the mince pies and banish the boxes of chocolates from the office. It’s New Year’s resolution time, which means diets, exercise and giving up various temptations.

I started my diet early (last August) so I need to find a new resolution for this year. This morning whilst contemplating cleaning my dusty desk I began thinking about what resolutions I wanted to make about my work for 2012.

1. Be open to new content ideas

It’s hard when you work for the same client each day to not get used to writing in the same way, or using the same kind of content or layout for all the pages you work on. Formulaic content has to be the worst thing in the world. It’s easy to be lazy, but instead I want to spend time thinking about different ways in which I can get my message across, or present information in a better way for users. Currently we’ve been talking about info-graphics quite alot and I’ve seen some great examples. I love Apple’s pages about their environmental footprint.

2. Read more

I try to keep up to date with industry blogs and books but I know I’ve been slacking in the last few months. It’s so important to find out what other people are doing and thinking. I can’t profess to know everything – so how else will I learn? Will tidy up my Google reader and make an effort to read at least one blog article a day.

3. Engage with the community more

This year I’d like our team to be more involved with social media output. We’ve had some good successes in 2011 but it would be great to push that further. As a university it’s important that we communicate on common ground with all of our audiences. I think it’s time we explore further what that means for us. We need strategy and measurable goals, and to examine how we go about connecting our community.

I’m hoping that by starting small and giving myself a few achievable goals that I’ll get back into the January swing of things with a spring in my step and a glint in my eye. After all, it’s enjoying what we do that makes us all so passionate about doing it well.

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