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Problem Statement

It is common to allow a user to compare two or more products in a matrix that lists features/benefits down one axis and the selected products along the other. But how do you represent difference in date/time between the products?

Specifically, how would an an academic institution let a user compare programs that can be offered in more than one location at different times, or online, which can be done anytime via the web?

Say the institution offers a program in Project Management.

The program can be taken online, in class, or an online/in-class hybrid where some of the sessions are online and some meet in a classroom.

Each quarter, there are multiple instances of the program.

Here is a sample schedule to show the possible permutations:

  • PM Section A, In Class, On Campus, Mon, Wed 6-9PM, Sept 24 - Oct 29
  • PM Section B, Online, Web, Anytime, Sept 27 - Dec 7
  • PM Section C, Hybrid, Web/Downtown, Every Other Saturday 12-3PM, Sept 24-Dec 7

The same variable schedule could apply to another program, like Business Analysis for example.

If a user selected Project Management and Business Analysis, what is the best way to allow for side-by-side comparisons of products where the properties include date/time ranges?

My Current Solution

I have faceted search which allows a user to use check box lists tied to segment, delivery method (online, in-class, hybrid), and days of week/time of day.

The idea is that from the result set, the user would be able to check one or more of the summarized results and then compare them side-by-side in a matrix:

Faceted Search

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Feature Comparison

mockup

download bmml source

The comparison matrix seems like it has a high cognitive load because the user has to build a calendar in their memory and input all the data in the table and then compare.

How to create that comparison visually however isn't immediately obvious.

How should that comparison be displayed?

share|improve this question
    
Out of interest, why does the user need to compare programs in that way? Does it help them choose between programs? –  Matt Obee Dec 17 '12 at 17:16
    
The prospective students are working professionals so just offering a compelling program is only part of the equation. A big selling point is that there are programs of interest at a time/place that suits them. If a working professional with a young family can only realistically make it to a class if it is close to downtown starting after 5PM but not on Tuesdays, then they would only "buy" the product if it met that requirement in addition to being compelling material. –  Charles Wesley Dec 17 '12 at 17:22
    
Trying to cater to these types of students is much harder than at traditional full time student, which is why there are so many options. The "hybrid" approach is an effort to allow a student to benefit from in-person interaction, but at a lower frequency with the balance in the online "asynchronous" mode where you can logon to an LMS and view screencast of lectures and participate in class discussion via message board whenever you have the free time. It's great because it means almost any schedule can be accommodated. It's how to tell the user which works for THEM that makes the UX complex –  Charles Wesley Dec 17 '12 at 17:25
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Have you considered splitting between comparing features on the one hand, and comparing schedules on the other? It may simply be semantics, but then you remove day/time from the feature comparison matrix, include the option to "compare schedules" (on the same screen that shows the comparison matrix) and then present something similar to a Google Calendar with multiple shared calendars (single calendar rendering, with overlaying of appointment blocks). –  CJ Franken Dec 18 '12 at 7:51
    
We have and that very well might be the best way to go. –  Charles Wesley Dec 18 '12 at 11:43

1 Answer 1

My guess is that presenting users with two detailed tables off the bat could overwhelm them.

How about a hybrid approach that lists a main table much as you have above, but rather than show the specific days/times, have a general "schedule" row:

Schedule: Anytime | Two 3-hour classes a week | One 2-hour class a week | Etc.

Then, under the row title, include a link to an actual scheduling table that lays out the details.

  Schedule
view calendar

share|improve this answer
    
Much as @CJ Franken suggested in the comments above, I think splitting the presentation into two UIs might be the way to go. Comparing the location and delivery method and comparing the dates could possibly be considered distinct tasks however they're so dependent on each other I would think you would still need to include that data in the schedule view. –  Charles Wesley Dec 20 '12 at 16:11

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