Improving the online training experience
Improving the online training experience
By Sam Nice, Online Training, Marketing and Product Specialist
With our online training service now well and truly launched we have been constantly looking at ways to improve the user experience of our virtual learning environment.
A big part of this has been improving the look of the UI provided by the Moodle environment that we use. With this being a new piece of technology for us the initial instance of our virtual learning environment used an out of the box theme with almost no customisation, it was clean & crisp but very…. well…. white.
Being the forward thinking technology house that we are, we of course had a test environment set up that I could tinker with behind the scenes with no risk to the live client facing environment.
I started by heading out into the Moodle community to see what there was in the way of themes that would add a more contemporary look to the learning environment. For those of you not familiar with Moodle an “out of the box” installation looks very much like a plain website of the mid 1990’s.
Thankfully the Moodle community is a thriving hub of activity where quality themes and plug-ins to enhance the system are released all the time. With having spent a couple of hours looking into themes & what changes any of them may make to the environment once installed I settled on something that I felt really fit the bill.
Installing additional themes and plug-ins to your Moodle environment is a very simple and painless process (providing you pay attention to which version of Moodle they are for). Having installed the new theme it was time to switch it on!
At this stage it was time to start experimenting with additional customisation of the site. This was going to be done via the custom CSS functions available in Moodle. Up until now we had not pushed the CSS with any sort of vigour, but I can now say with confidence that the custom CSS functions of Moodle are robust indeed.
With the new theme we now had a custom log in page, and a customised front page for the learning environment that is responsive and looks good at no cost to functionality.
Custom Log In
Custom Front Page
During a project to develop a bespoke online training course for one of our clients we were looking at ways to further improve the user experience.
One of the main points raised was that by default Moodle lesson activities do not remember where you are within a session. For example one of the big issues faced by our clients are demands on their time & being able to dip in out of lessons is highly important. The default situation is that if you leave a lesson before completing it, when you next return it will start you at the beginning of the lesson. Our solution was user bookmarking inside the environment.
With a little searching & minimal installation and configuration effort we got a highly recommended plug-in available in the community & put it to work. Now with a couple of clicks you can bookmark your position within a lesson activity & return to that exact point. You can configure the User Bookmarks block to be available site wide which means you won’t even have to navigate to the course in question when you log back in.
With Sparx Systems Enterprise Architect being a popular subject at Dunstan Thomas there was interest in the possibility of interactivity with EA in the environment so that users could better understand the functions being explained.
While Moodle does support the integration of external tools, Enterprise Architect does not lend itself to this use. The solution we came to was to write further function into the CSS & create call out functions from highlighted areas of interest on the EA screenshots displayed in the on page content.
The next most requested function were tool tips that would explain certain phrases within the site content further to those unfamiliar with the terminology and for that to form a glossary of terms.
Thankfully this is something that Moodle can do out of the box, really well (with a little configuration of course). The Glossary activity module allows you to create a glossary of terms that can be auto-linked site wide to create tool tips within the site content. You allow students access to submit additional terms to the glossary but we only allow the admins access to edit. The glossary activity enables you to add keywords to your entries which take into account alternative spellings or phrases that mean the same thing.
We are constantly updating our content and are looking at language support for the future so stay tuned to the blog for further developments.