College may be as popular an option as ever, but it isn't the only way to learn these days. Through eLearning, the practice of learning through the use of electronic systems and digital resources, anyone can develop their skills in almost any way they desire. It doesn't matter whether they're 18 or 80, only that they have internet access and a computer.
And if you've missed the rise of online education, then you may have been living under a rock which itself was covered by a bigger rock. Udemy, Codecademy, the Khan Academy, general YouTube tutorials, niche courses offered by specific industry experts — there's so much out there. Factor in the need for conventional schooling to embrace digital technology and you have a recipe for incredible convenience and practicality.
But as with traditional education, eLearning can be great, good, bad, or outright terrible. And because it's still a nascent market, there's a lot of steady improvement yet to be made. How can we speed this up? Why not take inspiration from other fields?
Well, despite the distinct goals they pursue, I see a lot of takeaways to be drawn from the ecommerce world. Let's review the ways in which an eLearning environment can benefit from resembling an ecommerce ecosystem.
Context is essential at all times
In ecommerce, even if a customer's journey is as short as seeing a product and buying it, there are steps to be followed during the checkout. When there isn't an existing user account, there will be a need to provide some details — the payment type, the shipping type, the shipping address, the billing address, etc. Sometimes these can be done on one page, but not always.
When they're not, the shopper needs context to remind them where they are in the process. After all, they might get distracted, or make a mistake and need to go back, or simply get confused about the checkout process. This is why good checkouts provide clear and straightforward navigational breadcrumbs, both for checkouts and for websites in general.
A navigational breadcrumb shows you at a glance where you are on a website: which page you're viewing, which category that page is in, and how that category fits into the site as a whole. This is something that's also very important for eLearning, as it can also provide numerous types of page in complex arrangements.
Think about the internal signposting of a school. Each student, not matter their level of knowledge, needs to be able to find their way to any required location without being personally directed. Implement an excellent internal navigation (complete with an in-depth search function) and you can create an eLearning environment that works for everyone.
Personalization increases investment
Personalized recommendations are huge for ecommerce. Amazon brought them into the mainstream (as it did many elements of online retail), and rapidly showed how much more compelling it can be as a shopper to be presented with product ideas specifically for you. You can see new ranges of products you might like, or even products known (or specifically designed) to work well with those you've already purchased.
When generic product ideas come along, you don't have the same sense of engagement. You might not even bother to spend the time reviewing them. In an eLearning course, materials tie together and support one another, so it's not only a problem to see them ignored because they're valuable but also because Guide X might be massively less useful without Resource Y.
The course creator, then, needs to ensure that materials are suitably bundled together, and that further recommendations are provided to learners who want to deviate from their main courses to expand their skills. The better those recommendations suit their previous learning experiences, the more belief the learner will have in the quality of the system.
Language needs to be chosen carefully
Each one of us has a vocabulary that is, at the very least, slightly different from any other. And while that element of variation isn't something you can practically account for, the significant difference between two generations, or two regions, most likely is. The language used in a system must always suit the audience (and the environment) for which it is intended, which means knowing all about it.
This is something the ecommerce world has become fairly good at. Keyword research is a must for any aspiring seller seeking to understand how their prospective customers phrase things. Using that data, they can then refine their product and website copy to perform better. And there's an obvious overlap with education in the form of industry blogs — they directly address common queries to bring in those curious for answers.
In an eLearning environment, every term used must make sense to the reader. This calls for an extensive educational glossary (ideally linked to throughout the course) to explain what certain things mean. Those who already know can carry on, while those who don't can get the information they need. Also, the tone needs to be right: if you don't come across as professional and accessible, you're going to push learners away.
At every stage of the learning process, use language that is appropriate for the knowledge level required. The first stage should be simple, while the last can be complex, showing how far the learner has come to understand it.
Progress can be gamified
Gamification is very popular these days, largely because today's adults grew up with video games and remain hooked on myriad attention-grabbing smartphone games. The idea of gamification is to take the underlying principles of gaming (chiefly the promise of incremental rewards) and apply them to other systems. Think about fitness apps, for instance.
By gamifying a system, you can motivate the users to keep coming back for whatever the system offers plus the undeniable satisfaction of completing a task and getting a reward, whether it's a pleasing sound, a congratulatory animation, or some kind of upgrade. Ecommerce has drawn from traditional retail loyalty schemes and turned them into tiered paths — even though you know you're being manipulated, you can't help but want to spend just a little more to reach the next tier and start earning fractionally more loyalty points.
This kind of gamification can be used for good in eLearning environments, serving to keep learners from getting distracted and losing their progress. Look at how something like Duolingo incentivizes people to keep returning through daily tasks and reminder emails. By implementing something similar, you can create an eLearning environment that pushes learners to complete their courses and not let all their work go to waste.
It's actually quite fascinating to think about how much gaming principles have affected this generation of online sellers, because it extends beyond the gamification of UX to the rise of digital asset trading. With a finance sim as a primer, and the internet making it possible from any location and at any age, a budding entrepreneur can try out selling a business from their childhood bedroom. Think about carrying this over to eLearning by setting complex real-world assignments that go beyond basic tests. You'll find that learners will rise to the challenge.
Wrapping up, for all the reasons I've mentioned (and no doubt many more), eLearning environments should take after ecommerce ecosystems in various ways. It shouldn't come as that much of a surprise if you really think about it. After all, the huge amount of money in the online retail world has ensured that a lot of time and effort has gone into perfecting ecommerce UX standards. Why not take advantage of that effort for your eLearning system?
This is a guest post by Victoria Greene. Victoria is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who's passionate about digital technology adding to the world of self-improvement. You can read more of her work at her blog Victoria Ecommerce.