E-learning online: Learning management systems and their designs

5th September 2022
Sam Holland

The role of e-learning (electronic learning), particularly in the context of engineering education, is becoming more and more clear as technological progress allows STEM students the chance to engage with their university materials anywhere on the Internet. Electronic Specifier’s Sam Holland discusses learning management systems and how implementing their designs are key to e-learning in engineering.

This article originally appeared in the August '22 magazine issue of Electronic Specifier Design – see ES's Magazine Archives for more featured publications.

Online learning, a (and perhaps the) core subset of e-learning, offers students the chance to interact with their curriculum in ways that sometimes challenge the role of the traditional seminar and lecture theatre. Here are three key points of online learning: the user experience (UX), the user interface (UI), and – tying both of these concepts together – the learning management system (LMS).

Learning management systems embody forms of e-learning (often training and test materials, as we’ll cover later) that are uploaded to, and delivered by, a type of dedicated educational software. Again, such software is often online (particularly Cloud-based), so this article will look at Cloud-based LMSs and how their UX and UI designs are vital to online e learning.

The next section will go over the role of such design concepts.

The user experience and user interface in LMSs

Especially in the context of creating LMSs, software designers will benefit from acting on the importance of the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI). As covered on Electronic Specifier before, the UX covers the question of how intuitive (or counter-intuitive) the user finds their interaction with a product; and the UI is the means by which the user makes their interaction with a product (as such, the UI is often used in the context of software design, and covers such elements as the application’s menus and control inputs).

The ideal design of any software is therefore a design that offers a seamless blend between the UI and UX, and it’s with this in mind that the next section covers the user interface and user experience as a means to ensure successful e-learning in engineering education.

Bringing the UI and UX to engineering education

Any designer of engineering e-learning software would benefit from considering engineering education, not just as a means to test students’ industry knowledge – but as a trade. Consider the value of learning management systems whose user interfaces offer students the ability to navigate digital, 3D models of a prototype (and all from the comfort of their laptop or PC). Just one example of 3D modelling is a fully rotatable, realistic depiction of a motorcycle engine to help engineering students understand its components.

Nevertheless, there is currently no LMS, even if it were to be used in conjunction with the most enhanced virtual reality applications, that will be a full replacement for in-person training and engineering practices. But the benefits of well-designed e-learning software remain clear, particularly when they are used as part of an education programme that joins both online and in-person training and teaching. (This is an approach to e-learning that’s often called ‘blended learning’.)

Reinforcing memory and cognition

A well-equipped learning management system invites a thorough level of engagement from the student in both their user interface and their user experience. Such an LMS allows that user to appreciate the engaging nature of the engineering industry while also placing further educational tools at their fingertips. For instance, think of the application of an LMS that offers further tools within the interface, such as online bookmarks and note taking apps.

Such applications will offer the student, not only a means to engage with 3D models and engineering competence tests, but also reinforce their knowledge with a whole suite of software tools that can reinforce their memory, cognition, and overall engagement with their syllabus. This is especially as Cloud-based learning management systems offer on-the-go training and education, so a student’s storage of their own notes and links may be re-visited and utilised anywhere with an Internet connection.

This is, again, vital: it is, by their very nature of being online e-learning platforms, that learning management systems offer a customisable, interactive, and easily accessible set of educational materials in engineering. By offering such a level of ‘always-on’ engagement, those LMSs’ user experiences and user interfaces offer engineering students a means to reinforce their memory and ability to comprehend their syllabus. And this is wherever – and whenever – they have the time to log in, learn, and practice.

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