In just a short span of a few weeks, we have seen many things being shifted online as life as we know it slows to almost a halt. But if you are expecting to move all your interactions online and still get the same outcome, maybe you should rethink again. I don’t think you can.

One example is online learning.

Online lectures

If you want to gather people together just to give a lecture, maybe it’s better to make a recording rather than schedule a Zoom meeting. That way, I can listen to you at 1.5x the speed if I want to. Or else, I can pause the video when I need the time to take down some notes. Technology can make lectures better – if you rethink the way you deliver them.

Oh, and lectures aren’t PowerPoint slides embedded with audio recordings on each slide either. What’s worse is when you simply read off what’s written on the slides. If you want me to read the slides, then just send a well-written document. If you want me to listen to an audio recording, then record the entire lecture as an audio file.

Designing for online learning

Does it have to be a regular lecture at the whiteboard? Does the power of video editing software help you to enhance aspects that can aid in teaching? How do you know when to use a video recording and when to use a Zoom meeting to teach?

I spent slightly more than a year between 2018 and 2019 helping to kickstart a new kind of online learning for Singaporean primary and secondary school students. It’s finally launched and you may want to check out the courses here.

Sample lesson of primary school math (Credit: City College, Singapore)

It’s not perfect. But what I think is important is that as we shift towards online learning and more, we don’t just replicate what we usually do in person.

Designing for the digital medium

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be doing things online. Digital and technological innovations have literally changed the world over the past few decades. But I think it’s naive to think that simply moving what we had been doing before the Covid-19 outbreak online will allow us to achieve the same outcomes.

I don’t think we can.

For example, the written word can be published both online (like this article) or printed out on a piece of paper. While both can contain the exact same words, how you interact with them can be completely different.

One simple example is the inclusion of links to other webpages. You can’t exactly do that on a printed page and allow others to access the webpages quickly and easily. You also can’t embed videos on a printed article.

With the same content, you can then have 2 completely different way of designing. One for the digital medium, and another for the printed medium.

Shifting things online

The speed of the shift towards online interactions might be unprecedented. And we might all need some time to rethink how we do our work online.

As we do that, let us not forget that the nature of digital interaction is very, very different from interactions in-person. Can digital replace in-person interactions? I don’t think so.

But some things can be done better online. Some of the advantages are convenience and speed. However, if you don’t plan it properly, it can be overwhelming and make it harder for your target user. Like how I’m drowning in forum messages because somebody decided it was wise to put all students into a single group.

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