A Public Restroom: Design Matters!

Ideas come in the strangest places. A reflection on learning design comes from, of all places, the ladies restroom at the public library. How would a visit to the ladies room at the public library translate into reflections on e-learning design, you might ask?

restroom sign.png

Consider this story for a moment. I was on my way out of the library, and decided to stop at the restroom first. As I got closer, I noticed a woman in a wheelchair trying to open the door to enter the restroom. She was maneuvering herself as best as she could but then started to wheel away.

“Can I open the door for you?” I asked. After making sure she made it to the stall, I started thinking, ‘well, now how is she going to get out?’ I asked the librarian to check on her to make sure she could get back out of the bathroom when needed.

As I left the library, a few key thoughts about how this scenario relates to e-learning were running through my mind.

It’s beautiful, but does it work for everyone?

The library referred to in the story is about 2 years old, and boasts sun panels and a gorgeous contemporary design, comfortable seating, and a large selection of books. However, the restroom does not have a handicapped accessible door that the woman in the wheelchair could reach.

How are we designing our programs to reach the audiences for which they are intended?When it comes to the library, what do we want our users to be able to do? You might answer: check out books, study at the tables, bring children to story time, use the computers for free, etc.

An important design consideration in this case, is also to reflect on the fact that we want people to spend time at the library; hence, an accessible bathroom is also important.

When it comes to designing learning courses, meeting this “basic need” could be as simple as providing a glossary link, links to printable handouts, and a searchable menu, so that the learner will spend time in your course and get their needs met with tools designed for them to use on the job.

Access is everything!

do not enter sign

How might your learner’s perceptions be colored if they couldn’t access or understand how to navigate your course the first time they try it?

What do you think the woman’s perception was of the library when it was difficult to fulfill a basic need? When it comes to designing courses, we have a plethora of tools from which to choose, and many fantastic graphic and interface options.

At the same time, one of the most common laments I have heard is “we have all this great learning, but nobody knows where or how to access it?” Other examples of where beautiful design doesn’t always succeed when the rubber meets the road include:

At the same time, one of the most common laments I have heard is “we have all this great learning, but nobody knows where or how to access it?” Other examples of where beautiful design doesn’t always succeed when the rubber meets the road include:

  • English-only options for a global audience;
  • No transcript printing availability for those who have English as a Second Language, or a hearing impairment;
  • Designs that are so labor intensive that it takes 6-9 months to build them, when the information is needed NOW;
  • Not available in multiple formats, such as iPad or mobile devices

They’re in, but can they get back out?

maze

Upon entering a public restroom, one expects to be able to exit at some point. Sometimes you need to go back the same way you entered; in others you need to exit through a separate doorway.

At the library, the woman was not going to be able to get back out, given that there was only one way to exit – a door handle she couldn’t reach. This is not helpful design for the user!

When it comes to designing learning programs, an important consideration has to do with navigation and “do-overs.”

  • What happens when the learner tries to go back and review an earlier section in the course? Can they do so; are the screens and animations reset so they can experience the content again, if needed?
  • What happens if the learner needs to leave the course in the middle? Will it track where the learner left off, or will he or she have to start over upon returning to the course?

Certainly there are more implications for design that you may think of, given ample time. I simply suggest that design “good learning” courses, where accessibility and applicability trump beauty and flashy tricks that don’t add to meeting the learner’s needs. Let’s try not to trap our learners –in or out -with our designs and processes for accessing needed information.

Let’s try not to trap our learners –in or out-with our designs and processes for accessing needed information.