April 13, 2015

In simple terms, we define “Usability in e-Learning” as to how user-friendly or appealing the program is to its users. In practice, usability goes deeper than this, and is closely related to how much users actually learn from the courseware you choose to implement.

Even more importantly, how much newly acquired knowledge can your trainees actually put into practice after completing the curriculum you have provided?

An excellent understanding of the term comes from “Usability 101: Introduction to Usability” by Jakob Nielsen:

“Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The word “usability” also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.

Usability is defined by 5 quality components:

Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?

Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?

Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?

Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?

Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?”

In addition, there is a marvelous website, which will give you in-depth information regarding the subject, “Usability in Learning.” The site clearly explains why usability is important:

“From the user’s perspective usability is important because it can make the difference between performing a task accurately and completely or not, and enjoying the process or being frustrated. From the developer’s perspective, usability is important because it can mean the difference between the success or failure of a system. From a management point of view, software with poor usability can reduce the productivity of the workforce to a level of performance worse than without the system. In all cases, lack of usability can cost time and effort, and can greatly determine the success or failure of a system. Given a choice, people will tend to buy systems that are more user-friendly.”

Many of the usability concepts that need to be considered from the end-user’s perspective are closely linked to the instructional design and learning objectives of the program. These include whether learners are kept engaged and active when they work through the e-Learning courseware you have selected; how much control is given to the learner; and, if the program gives positive feedback to motivate learners.

Another consideration is an e-Learning program’s color, sound, and consistency — which, if lacking, could compromise the effectiveness of the learning. Specifically, full-motion video, graphic animations and optional word-for-word audio are the more important — for without those features, about 40% of your workforce will be left in the dark.

Possibly the most valuable area to consider is the effectiveness of the instructional design, which ensures that instructional materials are presented to facilitate the transfer of information into knowledge. This latter consideration is essential if the trainees are going to add to their capability inventory.

The transfer of information into knowledge is the key to learning — and, learning is the key to better job performance, understanding — and, ultimately, to a richer life for the trainee and her family.

Selection of your e-Learning purchases should begin with a usability analysis. Nothing else matters if the program under consideration is not readily usable. The information presented may be accurate and the production values may be beautiful — but, if trainees find it too difficult — or, boring — it will prove to have little value.

More on Wednesday – – –

— Bill Walton, co-Founder ITC Learning (Mondays & Wednesdays)