The importance of good web design for e-learning courses

My wife is currently carrying out her AAT training, and this year has decided that it would be easier for her to study via distance learning rather than spending time at the local collage, due to the flexibility (especially as my work patterns means I am often away in the evenings, and the school run messes up half the afternoon) and cost wise it is very similar (if not cheaper).

So the other night she sat down with a computer to choose which provider to use (and there are lots of them) by doing the usual Google searches, and then trawling through the options. When choosing her course, she started with a simple criteria – if their web page isn’t very good then it would be fair to assume that their e-learning content won’t be very good so she will pass on that one and look at another. Unfortunately though she went through the list and subsequently removed all of the options from the list, so she had to go through again with slightly lower standards and expectations.

The next criteria was then cost – but again, the way that the different providers display their costings was completely different. Some give a total cost, others do it per unit (but don’t tell you how many units there are) others are clearly trying to hide some of the costs (e.g. books, exam fees etc.), which again eliminated them from the selection pool.

The third criteria was the location where exams could be sat, as she wants somewhere near home rather than having to travel to London or Birmingham to sit the exams, and again this simple information was not forth coming on most of the sites. All in all she spent 2 hours searching, getting very frustrated and still not being sure who to use.

So the question is, how much trade have these providers lost through their badly designed websites, and how many other educational providers are losing potential customers through badly designed or thought through sites. Especially for providers whose primary business is face to face learning, which in the case of FE colleges is within the local community – the main provider website, may not work if people do branch into other markets (such as online learning for overseas students). Big companies such as Amazon, Tescos, Ebay etc, spend millions of pounds constantly refining their websites in order to make the person accessing the site have a better experience, which in turns will hopefully lead to additional sales, and although education providers don’t have this sort of revenue, I think in this current economic climate, where competition will become more prevalent, there has to be merit in investing time into looking at your own marketing materials and websites and seeing if they are fit for purpose – and remembering that the purpose may be changing, and may need to do different things for different people.

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