April 20, 2016

When selecting your e-Learning courseware, do not overlook a most important consideration —- “Usability!”.

Usability, as it relates to e-Learning can be generally defined as to how user-friendly or appealing a program is to its users.  In practice, usability goes deeper than this, and is closely related to how much users actually learn from using the selected e-Learning courseware.

One of the better explanations of usability for e-Learning comes from Dorien Peters “10 Principles of Usability for Learning” inspired by Nielsen and Loranger’s book, Prioritizing Web Usability:

  1. Do your own testing.  It’s cheap and easy.  .  .  .
  2.  Cut, pare down and insist on simplicity. N&L’s warning against overblown design becomes especially important in the learning arena where cognitive load should be reserved for the learning, and not the tool or environment.
  3.  Know how old your users are — . .  .
  4.  Know your users are primed to act – Much educational content demands learners to read, watch, listen or engage passively.  If you want them to do that, it probably shouldn’t be on the web.  Users are conditioned to act, click and move on quickly when they’re in a web environment.  They have different expectations and behaviours.  Not because they’re lazy or impatient, but because the medium has conditioned us to filter and stay task-focused. . .  .
  5.  Keep text and type readable from anywhere.  . .  .
  6.  Design for your learner’s equipment – . .  . For corporate learning, you can often find out what technologies your learners have access to.  .  .  .
  7.  Use visuals to communicate, not to decorate.  For instructional content, bending this rule won’t just annoy your users it could literally reduce their learning outcomes.  Here comes cognitive overload again, and thoughts of Mayer’s research into multimedia learning.
  8.  Know when and how to use multimedia on the web.  And when not to.  Complex things can be better explained with multimedia sometimes, but not always.  . .  .
  9.   Make tools self-explanatory, and avoid the need for tool instructions. Again, cognitive load should be reserved for the learning content, not for learning the tool or environment.  . .  .
  10.   Be interested in your users, not resentful of them. – As professionals we need to make best friends with our users (after all, they are entirely the reason our job exists).  Don’t let user rage lead to comments like “If they can’t figure it out, they’re too stupid anyway” or “they should just upgrade their system”.  Revel in the improvement process.  Discovering a problem so you can fix it is like striking gold.  As N&L say, “Don’t defend your interface, just fix it.” 

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:  a) whether learners are kept engaged and active when they work through the e-Learning courseware;  b) how much control is given to the learner; and,  c) if the program gives positive feedback to motivate learners.  A fourth consideration is an e-Learning program’s color, sound, and consistency — which, if lacking, could compromise the effectiveness of the learning.  Specifically, optional word-for-word audio is mandatory — for without that feature, 40% of your workforce will be left in the dark.

One of your major courseware-selection responsibilities should always be an honest usability assessment of any e-Learning program you are considering.  If it’s not appealing to your trainees, it sure isn’t going to promote learning and retention — no matter how appropriate the content.

More on Monday –  –  –

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

 (This is a personal blog.  Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner,, an independent consultant.  They do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in a professional or personal capacity.)