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Usability

Overview

Billions of web pages have been created and years of research and experience have highlighted "best practices" for creating engaging content. Elearning designers can benefit from "lessons learned" by web designers.

Usability is a term that describes how easy/convenient/intuitive a web site is for a user to access and navigate. Rather than simply communicating content, usability seeks to communicate content based on how it would be experienced by a typical user. Usability also has much relevance in creating courses for elearners. Student-centered design is essentially closely linked to usability. How a student experiences, navigates, and works through a course is as important as the content.

The effectiveness of an elearners experience is greatly enhanced through student-centered (usability) design. For example, students remember more information from a text book that is well organized, with extensive visuals, reflection/interaction points, clear headings, etc. The same concepts exist for online courses - learners learn better through use of clear headings, limited distracters, visuals, screen-friendly fonts, appropriate white space, web safe colors, etc. Basically, usability is the process of testing (through observation) how students behave with a course - what works, what doesn't, what confuses.

Resources

Useit.com
Jakob Nielsen's (aka - usability guru) web site. Jakob publishes an excellent bi-weekly column on usability issues.

Web Pages That Suck
"Where you learn good Web design by looking at bad Web design."

Usability Toolkit
"The Usability Toolkit is a collection of forms, checklists and other useful documents for conducting usability tests and user interviews."

Builder.com
Excellent resource site...great links, e-newsletters, and articles from authoring to strategy.

Why people can't use eLearning
"Unusable interfaces will cost eLearning companies billions of dollars in lost revenues because many people won’t be able to use their products."
Very good article.

Usability Testing
"Usability testing is the process of working with end-users directly and indirectly to assess how the user perceives a software package and how they interact with it. This process will uncover areas of difficulty for users as well as areas of strength. The goal of usability testing should be to limit and remove difficulties for users and to leverage areas of strength for maximum usability."

Jakob Nielsen on elearning
"Just how important is usability in e-learning? We ask usability guru Jakob Nielsen on this and other wide-ranging issues."

What Does Usability Mean: Looking Beyond 'Ease of Use'
"The definition of usability is sometimes reduced to "easy to use," but this over-simplifies the problem and provides little guidance for the user interface designer.
A more precise definition can be used to understand user requirements, formulate usability goals and decide on the best techniques for usability evaluations.
An understanding of the five characteristics of usability – effective, efficient, engaging, error tolerant, easy to learn – helps guide the user-centered design tasks to the goal of usable products."

WebWord
"The site is devoted to helping you improve your Internet presence. WebWord.com is unique in that it takes a very broad approach to usability and human factors. John gives you quality information about everything from the usability of email to reading on the web to gaining the trust of your users. "

Web Design Resources
Extensive resource listing - from HTML to graphics, to usability, to style sheets. Educational focus

Usability, User Experience, and Learner Experience
"Boosters of on-line learning promote its lower costs, broader accessibility, and personalization potential. But much e-learning still has slow adoption and high dropout rates. Online learning leaves many students frustrated or unenthusiastic. The good news is that concepts and processes for addressing these shortfalls in learner experience can be found in the field of usability. In this paper, I outline ways in which the field of usability, properly understood, can help online learning fulfill its promise."

Usability - the Basics
"Want to impress your visitors? Forget the fancy graphics and neat technical tricks, just choose the right page width and hyperlink colors. Here's a basic introduction to the science of usability, drawing on research, expert opinion, and common features from the Web's most popular sites."

User Centered Design Methodology
Good overview of usability, definitions, evaluating, etc.

Web Developer's Virtual Library
Incredible site. Could spend days/weeks here. Also offers useful tutorials on a variety of development subjects.

Webmonkey
Web developers resource - scripts, library, HTML resources, style sheets, etc.

Usability Resources
Excellent listing of usability sites, articles, and resources.

   

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