Learning Outcomes in Web Design

Recently, I was sitting with a client in her cubical, working on their website, hunched over my laptop in a nose-to-the-grindstone position, when I sensed a shadow looming over me. I looked over my shoulder and a well-dressed, management-type man inquired, "What are you both working on so diligently?" I told him we were designing systematic change in the buyer’s desires. His face went blank.

I hesitated, and said, "It's about managing change in the buyer’s perception."

He instantly started laughing and sneered, "Why don't you design a site to manage the weather?"

I took a deep breath and asked, "Have there been any changes in your market lately?”

He sighed, sat down, and said, "Of course. Change is the only constant. Customers, suppliers, employees, stockholders, technol­ogy, demographics, governmental regulations, public opinion; they all change constantly. But you can't control change; all you can do is react to it."

The purpose of this article is to provide readers with a strategy-driven approach to the "real-life" practice of website design. If websites don’t invoke change in the user’s behavior, then what is the business objective of the site? If you are wanting more out of your website than a business card, then this article is for you.

In this article we'll discuss the following topics:

  • The importance of outlining learning outcomes
  • Ideal website structure
  • Resources and activities selection
  • Effective assessment strategies

Learning Outcomes 

One of the best ways to start planning your site is by thinking about what you'd like your visitors to be able to do when they leave it. At the same time, it is good to envision how they should demonstrate their new knowledge or skill. What your visitors are able to do as a result of the site are the learning outcomes of the site. Both terms refer to the notion of a site, that is, focuses not just on the content to be covered, but also on the skills, abilities, beliefs, and attitudes that result upon completion of the visit.

Learning outcomes encompass the knowledge, skills, and abilities that the visitors should gain after visiting your site. Learning outcomes are known by other terms as well, commonly used in the education industry. They are often referred to as course outcomes, course objectives, learning objectives, and student learning outcomes. In all cases, they are important in Social Marketing, and website design because they shape every aspect of your website, and Social Marketing campaigns, from selecting content and activities to creating experiences that determine whether or not the website or learning program was effective.

Writing Learning Outcomes

Because the website designer is focusing on visitor performance and bearing in mind what you'd like your visitors to do and how they should be able to demonstrate their new knowledge, skills, and abilities, your outcomes need to be written with the plan of action in mind.

So, as you go through the process of determining what the learning outcomes should be for your website, jot them down. You may come up with a long list, but later, make sure that you select the ones that best reflect what you'd like your visitors to achieve. We'd like to follow best practices for instructional design, so we recommend that your final list should contain not more than six or seven outcomes.

To transform your informal list of desired outcomes to formal learning outcomes statements, you may benefit from using the S. M. A. R. T. approach, which was first developed by George T. Doran. Since it was first published, it has become very popular in many applications that need to measure goals and outcomes. The criteria are very handy for making sure your statements are complete. Here are the S. M. A. R. T. guidelines, where your outcomes should be as follows:

Specific: Make sure that the desired outcomes are not too broad

Measurable: Include a quantity or a way to measure progress

Attainable: Your desired outcomes need to be achievable

Relevant: Make sure that the desired outcomes relate to your website

Time bound: Make it clear by when the objective should be achieved

As you write your S. M.A. R. T. outcomes, be sure to avoid verbs or phrases such as 'understand", "appreciate", "know about", "familiarize yourself with", and "develop an awareness of". Instead, use active verbs and phrases that connote measurable results, such as "identify", "describe", "analyze", "evaluate", and "create". Look back at the guidelines, and you'll see that they may not be measurable and may also have other deficiencies.

Bloom's Taxonomy

As you start to shape your learning outcomes, many teachers and site designers find it very useful to use Bloom's Taxonomy as a guide. Benjamin Bloom was an educational psychologist who helped develop a classification scheme for learning objectives that reflects how to show mastery in different skills, knowledge areas, and abilities.

Today there are six levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, which ascend from the lowest to the highest cognitive skills as follows:

  • Knowledge/Remembering
  • Comprehension/Understanding
  • Application/Applying
  • Analysis/Analyzing
  • Evaluation/Evaluating
  • Synthesis/Creating

You can use Bloom's Taxonomy to create your learning outcomes using verbs that describe student learning. Bloom's Taxonomy can help you take a building block approach to website design by starting with the least complex cognitive skill category (Knowledge/remembering) and then moving up through the levels so that by the end of the visit, your visitors are able to synthesize and create new concepts about their needs and wants.

After you have created the six or seven learning outcomes for your site, keep in mind that you're aiming for outcomes at a variety of different levels. Then, you will need to assemble them in ascending order of complexity. Doing so will help you organize the way you present the material and select your resources and activities. It will also create scaffolding in which your visitors use the material they've just learned to ascend to the next level, ultimately participating in the buying cycle, and purchasing your products or services.

Selecting Resources and Activities

Now that you can write effective learning outcomes and have used them to build your framework, which is structured around topics, you are ready to start adding resources and activities.

Keep in mind that each of your topics will contain the following items:

  • A summary of your topic as it relates to the website as a whole and the specific content within that topic
  • A discussion forum where your visitors will interact with each other and you as they explain, discuss, and debate subjects that relate to the learning outcomes
  • Resources, such as blogs, audio lectures, videos, maps, papers, and more, that comprise the website content
  • Activities that provide an opportunity to rehearse the skills, reinforce knowledge, and practice the abilities needed for the sales and marketing assessments.