Information Architecture and Cognitive User Experience in Distributed, Asynchronous Learning: A Case Design of a Modularized Online Systems Engineering Learning Environment
Systems engineering (SE) is an increasingly relevant domain in an increasingly interconnected world, but the demand for SE education is impeded by the challenges of effectively teaching interdisciplinary material that emphasizes the development of a mentality over specific skills. A modularized, asynchronous, distributed course configuration may provide an advantageous alternative to more traditional hybrid course designs. Online courses have been a topic in the educational field since the establishment of the internet. However, the widespread disruptions to higher education due to the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the demand for and difficulty of developing deliberate and robust learning environments designs that consider a variety of traditional and non-traditional students. This thesis presents a case design of a learning environment for an interdisciplinary-focused, introductory graduate-level systems course that has previously been designed for, and taught in, a hybrid environment. The case design will emphasize the information architecture (IA) and user experience (UX) prototype design of the learning environment as informed by user-centric principles, cognitive theories and analyses, the IA literature, and existing course content. This focus on learner knowledge development (“beyond-the-screen”) factors rather than the direct user interface (“at-the-screen”) provides design recommendations and insights that are robust to changing user interface trends and preferences. A distribution of learners with varying backgrounds, learning needs, and goals associated with the material will be identified. These individual differences can dramatically impact the effectiveness of potential interventions, particularly when different types of learners have directly conflicting needs. Thus, the online learning environment will utilize adaptable interfaces to move away from a “one-size-fits-all” design approach. Content modularization and non-sequential, tag-based navigation were utilized to address the challenges of teaching highly interdisciplinary material. This thesis emphasizes a learning environment design that aims to teach highly interdisciplinary systems subject matter to a variety of learners with a variety of characteristics in an asynchronous, online format while making use of existing course material.