Blog Post

5 Key Principles for a Learning Platform UX Refresh

Shannon Howard
June 7, 2023
illustration of a book with a secret compartment holding a key

To understand why a UX refresh might be necessary—and to get a feel for what level of effort is needed—it’s important to consider how you got to this point in the first place. 

When you’re building an education initiative, the focus tends to be on three things: creating content to put on your platform, getting users into your platform, and keeping those users coming back to your platform to consume more content. These aren’t bad things! In fact, they’re necessary components of building a thriving education program.

But what happens is, we start building haphazardly by solving for singular problems instead of strategically by looking at the experience as a whole. 

This one-off approach can create a disjointed and clunky environment for your learners. 

If you find yourself in this position, take a deep breath, you're not alone. Even Twitter Flight School, who had phenomenal content and a solid user base, still weren't seeing the enrollment numbers they were hoping for. Together, we took a step back, reevaluated their user experience, and applied some key principles. 

In this blog, you’ll learn five key principles we applied with Twitter Flight School that you can apply to your own UX refresh. (You can hear Nick Fabiano, Project Manager for Scaled Education at Twitter Flight School; Chi Johnson, Brand & Communications Manager at Intellum; and Katie Deninger, Director of Solution Architecture at Intellum talk about this in a previous Underscore.)

What is user experience design? defines user experience design as “shaping the experience of using a product” and learning experience design as “creating an experience that enables a learner to achieve a desired learning outcome.” In this blog, we’ll focus on the user experience—how you (successfully) structure the user journey of your learning platform.

To have a great learner experience, you need to consider the whole journey, not just a part of it.

With this in mind, let’s dive into those key principles for a great user experience.

Key Principle 1: Simplification

The key to a successful and engaging learning experience is simplification. When learners come to your platform, they should be able to quickly and easily navigate to the information they need. Important questions to ask yourself are:

  • Does my topic structure need to be simplified so that it makes sense to a new user?
  • Am I leveraging platform functionality to improve my search engine?
  • Is there a hierarchy to my homepage?
  • Is the homepage overwhelming for users?

Let’s dig into the homepage a little more… Most companies try to stuff the homepage with everything—every resource, webinar, workshop, certification, article, and course. It’s understandable to want to display all the amazing content your team has created. But that doesn’t guide or serve the learner—which means it also doesn’t serve your business. To quote Leonardo Da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Key Principle 2: Personalization

We live in the age of personalization where every application we use is altering our individual experiences based on our interactions and attributes, your learning experience should be the same. People want to be served information that’s relevant to them—not presented with a generic “copy and paste” feeling environment where they have to hunt for the content they need. So where do you begin?

The best place to get started with personalization is the first thing your users see when they log in: your homepage. You can think about this through the lens of goal-orientation: Why are they here? 

Typically, learning professionals display content with the company’s objectives driving the decision making. In order to achieve those business goals, we have to put the learner first and guide them to that information.  With a learner-first mindset, we prioritize the content that matters to them while nudging content that helps advance business goals.

On a practical level, this might look like:

Content above the fold is goal-oriented for the learner (i.e., what the learner wants to achieve). This includes displaying content that they have started but not yet completed, recommended or required content, or surfacing content that is relevant based on a specific attribute like role or group assignment. 

Content below the fold is goal-oriented for the business (i.e., what we want to encourage the learner to engage with). Examples of this would be highlighting new certifications or knowledge base articles, pointing learners to a specific topic, or showcasing a specific topic to increase enrollments.

Key Principle 3: Intuitiveness

When someone logs into your platform, is what they need to do and where they should go intuitive?

For example, do they know how to pick up where they left off? Is it clear where they should go to find the right content that provides answers to their questions or grows their expertise?

When you are thinking about structure and user flow, you want to approach it with “beginner brain” (i.e., how easy is it for a net-new user to navigate?).

Key Principle 4: Visual Organization

If content is king, Katie shared, then graphic design is queen.

Often, visual elements go on the back burner as attention is centered squarely on content development. But those visual components impact the user experience as well.

Is it easier to stick in stock photography? Sure. But you end up sacrificing the opportunity to streamline and organize your user experience through visual elements. There are a number of ways you can leverage artwork in the platform, from color-coding content cover art (some people refer to this as thumbnails) based on type of product to adding iconography to illustrate to your learners whether something is a video or certification. The goal is to assist learners in getting to the content as quickly and smoothly as possible and making sure that your approach aligns with your brand!

Key Principle 5: Branding

The final principle is about cohesion. First impressions matter and your brand matters. A consistent brand experience ensures users feel connected, secure, and TRUST your content. If the aesthetics of your environment don't match your brand or seem outdated, then learners start to doubt the validity of the information they’re reading and begin to disengage.

Think about it as a real-world scenario: Imagine you walk into a Starbucks, only to find everyone wearing an apron with pink and orange font (like you’d find at Dunkin’ Donuts). You’d be confused, right? Maybe second-guess yourself. “I thought I was walking into a Starbucks… but maybe not?”

Consider how similar Twitter Flight School’s branding looks to Twitter itself:

Whether we consciously realize it or not, we associate colors, visuals, fonts, even tone of voice with brands. When those elements are inconsistent, it creates a disjointed feeling.

Transitioning into your learning environment should feel natural and seamless—like an extension of your product. Even if it has its own brand, it should feel like part of the same family. You can “see” how the two are related. Make sense?

A great UX is key to engagement

At the end of the day, education is NOT required for customers—therefore, the journey must be simple, smooth, and overall enjoyable in order for you to see increased engagement. Taking the time to craft an impactful user experience can mean the difference between engagement and drop-off.

Looking for more resources on UX? Check out these great articles:

About the Author

Shannon Howard Speaker Headshot
Shannon Howard
Director of Content & Customer Marketing
Shannon Howard is an experienced Customer Marketer who’s had the unique experience of building an LMS, implementing and managing learning management platforms, creating curriculum and education strategy, and marketing customer education. She loves to share Customer Education best practices from this blended perspective.