it's:learning™ is terrible!

It's Learning, the "Virtual Learning Environment" by it:solutions, is a usability nightmare. It's notoriously difficult and frustrating to use, and it:solutions has done nothing to remedy it for half a decade. I beg anyone who is planning to deploy or use it to please reconsider!

For a quick introduction to this system, try the article aptly titled "It's Learning is a disaster" (or the Original Norwegian version) published in the Trondheim student paper, January 2007.

Update: In the four year since this page was originally created (2005), user dissatisfaction and outrage has only continued to grow. For a list of up-to-date usability disasters, see the May 2009 Norwegian article titled "We don't have to care about what the users think, as long as we make money" (a quotation from an it:solution employee)

Updated update: Even in 2010, it just keeps coming

More updated update: In celebration of the ten year anniversary of this site, here's a Norwegian story about a student who cancelled school after It's Learning's security was thwarted by a Google search. This comes a few years after the platform was found to leak sensitive student information.

I have personally used this system during a year of highschool, and on and off (mostly off) at NTNU, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, so consider this a review. It's a cumbersome system that appears to have been designed by the "oh, let's do that"-strategy, not taking need or usability into account. Here are some more tangible reasons for why this system should be avoided:

It's awkward and cumbersome.

The by far worst thing about It's learning is that the smallest tasks require large effort; I wanted to find the date of the exam in a subject on it's learning: In comparison, I wanted to check another subject that does not use It's learning:

Even if all the other problems I'm going to mention were fixed, this is what makes it's learning horrible.

It prevents people from reading about courses

You have to be registered in a course to be able to get course information, read course descriptions or look at assignments, old exams or related articles. This is incredibly frustrating when trying to choose subjects, or when you've chosen one but you don't yet have access to see where/when the first lecture starts. This is simply unacceptable for a university.

It also prevents courses from showing up in search engines and web archives. When It's learning tried to update to version 3.2 in September 2007, you were not able to see any course pages or material for about a day (this was actually the first sight that met me when I was forced to use It's learning that semester), and when they subsequently botched it and had to roll back to 3.1, they were unavailable for yet longer.

And all this so they can update the text editor and messaging systems. Shees.

A proper system would have not only let me work on what I want, when I want it (instead of when itsolutions are able to get their system running), but if by strange circumstances the pages were to disappear briefly, the contents would still be available with for example Google and Yahoo's cache feature.

It focuses on what it wants you to do, not what you want to do.

And it has plenty of things it wants you to do!
Its-learning screenshot
Its-learning screenshot
The subjects are updated, but who cares, the important thing is that I have no current projects and no activities today! I have never had a project nor an activity, so this is not news. Instead I have to go click and inspect every subject to see what has been updated. It's learning tries to be everything – except useful. Seriously, I don't want calendars, messaging, netmeeting, chat rooms or web search. I don't want a weekend trip to itslearningville every time I try to look up something!

Also, I don't know if I want a report generator or not, because it does nothing and I have no idea what it's supposed to do. I tried looking it up in the online help, and here's what it says:
empty box, saying nothing but 'x'
No wonder the help search function was so unhelpful that I had to browse through all the subjects. The help pages are half english, half norwegian, but I guess entries such as this transcend language.
And if you're unlucky enough to be spanish, all the help is in norwegian(!).

In early 2007, I also had the pleasure of trying It's learning in project work, and it lasted for about five minutes because we were unable to upload files. It's learning graciously provides no less than two pop-ups for uploading files, none of which works! And before you ask, this was performed on Internet Explorer 6 on Windows. It's dazzling that it's learning is able to fail its primary function on its primary platform.

It's built on "lasting Microsoft technology"

In a sense, It's learning doesn't really discriminate against browsers; it doesn't work in any of them, not even Internet Explorer (as seen in the previous section).

Unlike all other course pages, it fails partially with my favorite browser konqueror and firefox (as well as totally for links and w3m). If they want to host on Microsoft technology, that's understandable and great for them. But if they're going to use this as an argument, wouldn't it make sense to actually make the site work in Internet Explorer?

To be fair, one can choose if one wants plain, ActiveX or applet editors, so if they'd just bother to test their javascript and web pages with Firefox or Internet Explorer, this wouldn't be an issue. You can't select a date in a popup window for example. On the other hand, having a help button that does nothing when clicked is equally useful to one that works, considering the help system...

I have netmeeting compatible software, but the "Call" button on the netmeeting page does nothing, so if I want to call someone, I have to go to the netmeeting page, view source, find the name I want and copy the IP into my app. Internet Explorer/Netmeeting specific objects and javascript makes sure of that. (If you're wondering if you inferred correctly, then yes, it's:learning does list the ip address of all the people in all the courses you take.)

Fortunately, these are design-by-commitee features that few people would use in The first place.

After many years of use, it still has silly bugs

The help tree bug (one/two), the only one its:learning considered a bug of everything I listed when we mailed, has been fixed. They even added actual text to some (but still not all) entries. "##" and "xx" are still all you get for a number of topics.

When submitting an assignment, one selects names on the group from a list of "first, last" names sorted by last, rendinger the browser's search function somewhat useless.

Dates are listed in a norwegian format no matter which language you choose.

As commented by a reader, if you have chosen to receive alerts on email, you get emails with the subject "it's learning alerts". This is frustrating when trying when trying to find a specific message, the least they could is to include the subject name.

Alert: You must close your browser window to log out
So you're done, and you hit the Log off button and....oh my god, is this for real?

Superficially translated, if at all. Web pages are declared as norwegian, with norwegian frame titles and similar, regardless of the chosen language. Hope you're not differently-abled and non-norwegian.

Torstein Saltvedt mailed to comment on the cross site scripting attacks that it's:learning is vulnerable to by default. Read the norwegian text here, or look at the forum posts (also norwegian). One can apparently send messages with subjects full of script tags to unsuspecting victims, which will show up on the front page(!)

And of course, it claims to be XHTML while failing miserably with 202 errors on the main page. They're not even trying.

These things are annoyances at most, nothing you'd put in your suicide note like the others, but it does teach the value of testing and to put a password on the screen saver if you share the building with a monkey habitat.

I am not the only one feeling this way

This is anecdotal evidence of course, but I have never met someone who likes It's learning or prefers it over a non-it's learning course page, students and lecturers alike. You don't have to take my word for it though.

The 2007 article titled "It's Learning is a disaster" (Norwegian version) tells how the only ones who accept the system are the ones who aren't going to use it, and a woeful tale of futility from those who are.

In 2009, when queried about the countless outstanding usability issue, an it:solution employee replied: "We don't have to care about what the users think, as long as we make money" (Norwegian article, with screenshots and links).

Norwegian quotes and links regarding its:learning.

It's learning makes me procrastinate and hesitate before using.

I know, it doesn't sound so bad in theory, and this was probably the mistake it:solutions made. In practice, though, every time I need some information available on it's learning, I groan dejectedly and think "I'll do it later". It's not a tool, it's a chore. A system should not be like this. Please, don't use It's learning.

Final words

There might be a possible end to the madness on NTNU; one employee who did "not particularly care for its:learnings for a number of reason" said they were going to reinstall BSCW, a collaboration system of similar functionality, which they used "before [they] were told to use it`s:learning".

In the mean time, there's a contributed script – itsdownloaded.rb – to fetch the available downloadable files.

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