E-learning courses, if not well designed, might leave learners confused or might dissuade them from completing the course. This happens largely if the content is not relevant to them and is not useful to achieve their end goals. In order to ensure that learners don’t abandon courses mid-way, the courses need to focus on improving their own usability for target learners. Here, usability is the measure of how easily the learner can complete a given task.
For example, if you are assessing the ‘usability of an instructional booklet of a particular product’ to an end user, you may want to find out answers to certain questions before designing the booklet:
- How much time would a customer spare to read the booklet, understand the content and finally apply the knowledge gained to use the product?
- What are the likely mistakes made by users while using the product?
- What is the typical profile of the users of the product – individual user or commercial user?
Answers to such queries help in designing a booklet with better use to the customer. This analysis makes you to design the booklet more effectively.
The same approach can be applied while developing e-learning courses. When you use this type of testing prior to the beginning of designing an e-learning course, you can create an effective self-paced eLearning.The key is to know what the learners are trying to accomplish at the end of the course and how best to help them do so.This is called usability engineering and can play a vital role in designing effective e-learning courses.
How to use the usability testing in e-learning development?
In e-learning course development we can perform usability testing prior to the development of the course,or after the development of the course depending on the situation.
Prior and during the designing of the course
- If you wish to perform usability testing before developing a course, here are some guidelines.
- It is imperative to have a clear understanding of your target audience, before developing a course. One way to stay focused on your target segment is creating imaginary person as, which represent your target audience. These person as will possess some of the common characteristics seen in your target group.You can even name them as Sam, Jack etc., for easy reference.
During the development of the course, go back to person as you created and check their reaction to the course or course components. For example can Sam who doesn’t have experience in sales, understand this concept? Or,how can the process be better explained so that Jack has no problems comprehending it easily?Such queries make your course design more relevant to your learners.
Creating person as that represent your target learners and keeping their needs in mind while designing courses, is one way usability testing can be done. This is typically done, before and during the course development process.
Usability testing after the course design
Another method is to access the usability of a course after the course is developed, with the help of independent reviewers.Here are some guidelines, in case this is a better option for you.
- You can use heuristic usability testing to test the user friendliness of the course once the course has been designed. In this method, a team (comprising of three to five members) of reviewers assume the role of users and take the course.
- The reviewer team is provided with a set of guidelines and are asked to check out for any violations in the course. For example one of the guidelines could be that all navigational tools of the course must be easy to use for the learner. One of the reviewers might notice that a particular navigation tool is not easy for the user and he may choose to make a comment to the effect in his report.
- Once the reviewers complete their assessment, all the issues raised by the reviewers are analyzed and depending upon the severity, necessary changes are made in the course.
- You may adopt any method to test the usability of the course, but it is important that they are applied in e-learning courses.This ensures that courses created are relevant to learners. As a result, learners are not disengaged or reluctant while taking a course.They are likely to be more enthusiastic in completing courses; it caters to their needs and they have clear knowledge of its benefits.
Thus, to reduce the possibility of learners ending the course abruptly or getting confused or lost while taking an e-learning course, course developers should design courses which are engaging and relevant to them taking into consideration results of the usability tests.
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A Subject Matter Expert (SME) is an expert in an organization on a particular area or topic. To create good e-learning courses, inputs from SMEs are vital. To get the best out of your SME, you need to first understand him and know his role. The SME’s role is to help instructional designers (ID) understand the content. An SME is a knowledge hub looking for the best ways to transfer it, and we IDs are the people who lay the path for it. We generally face many challenges while dealing with SMEs such as variation in timelines (the major challenge), lots of changes in the content and few in the GUI, huge variations in visualization, etc., once the course gets developed. In order to overcome all these issues, and to get the best out of your SMEs, you need to follow a few steps. Let us see what they are.
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