26 April 2007

Fluid Project - UX for elearning systems

Why is it so many learning management systems seem to be stuck in the tar pits when it comes to the user experience? Let's hear it for the folks at the Fluid project who are attempting to tackle this mammoth problem.

As any designer working with elearning software is keenly aware, as technically robust and feature-full a system may be, it always seems to be the interface design and usability that pose so many of the obstacles for task completion, satisfaction and adoption. In the open source arena, this can usually be explained by a project's origins within groups of excellent and willing, but usability clueless, software engineers. In the commercial arena (eg. WebCt and Blackboard) I still haven't figured out what their excuse is, but this equally represents a key challenge.

The Fluid project is a user experience development project spanning several educational systems, and seems an interesting approach to addressing "the precarious values of usability, accessibility, internationalization, quality assurance and security within academic software projects." It's specifically targeting "community source" projects. Community source projects differ slightly to open source projects in that they are more centralized, and are generally backed by a foundation and membership of contributing institutions. Currently, the quintessential community source project in education is Sakai, and the Sakai developers are a key driver of Fluid. Even if you never use the software to which Fluid will potentially contribute, their reusable architectural approach is worth having a look at.