Published: 05 June 2020

Improving the Visual Usability in SurreyLearn

Virtual learning environments (VLE) often function as a bridge between the online and offline/on-campus learning space. The University of Surrey’s VLE SurreyLearn (brightspace) has traditionally been used as a a repository of information rather than a learning space that stimulates, engages or motivates students to learn.

Student studying

In September 2019, the Centre for Management Education launched the Improving the Visual Usability in SurreyLearn (IVUS) project. The project aimed to transform the learning experience for Surrey Business School students. By using available SurreyLearn features, the project goal was to to create an active, student centred learning environment that accommodates both online and on-campus learning and modes of study. A goal which becomes more relevant in a time when educators must accommodate hybrid teaching.

The project focused on improving the visual usability for four FHEQ level 4 modules on Surrey Business School’s Business Management course. With the support of graphic designer Sam Farrow a number of cognitive module maps (overview and weekly maps) were produced to give each module a distinct personality. All maps were produced to increase visual consistency across modules. A set of of icons were created to support navigation and learning, as well as a prescribed module structure.

Academics were very engaged and creatively developed maps based on learning and teaching plans in alignment with learning materials and narratives. This allowed the academic voice to be present while working in a prescribed structure.

The project went live in February 2020 and has been thoroughly tested during the new working adaptations required due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In April 2020 a survey invited students to share their experience of the project outputs. 140 students (n = 700) responded very positively to the pilot project. 80% of those students said they would like to see this approach again in the next academic year.

“It makes it easier find which parts of the content is needed for exams and assessment because they are easy to spot is save time from reading through masses of information.”   

“Very simple yet effective - Colour coding helps”

“The visual aids act as a stimulus, when observing a certain icon, I can sometimes relate it to the given topic that was studied in class.”

“Make it easier to process and understand the information quickly. I am visual learner so often I will make diagrams with maps similar to the ones in this module myself in order to link content together more easily."

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