In the past week I’ve read Facebook posts from two separate friends talking about mistaken identity. Said friends were going about their daily business when out of the blue a complete stranger starts talking to them, stating they look like a particular famous person. Actually, one was described as Paul McCartney (of Beatles fame – did I just have to describe who Paul is?) while the other was Norman Bates (Tony Perkins’ character in the 60s Hitchcock thriller Psycho). Sometimes when people are mistaken for others, we can look at them and say, “Oh yeah, you do kinda look like so-and-so.” But, in this case, neither of these gentlemen look like their famous counterparts. Back to this topic in a bit.
I’ve been listening to The Toolbar, a podcast by Brian Dusablon and Judy Unrein where they talk about beer and learning design software tools. One of the mantras of both hosts is that learning needs to be usable. In fact, they dedicated an entire episode to the topic. So, what is usability? Jakob Nielsen (aka the King of Usability) defines it this way on his site useit.com:
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?
I couldn’t agree more with what these fine folks say about usability and the importance of making whatever type of materials you build usable. It’s about the learner right? Now, have I always adhered to this principle? Unfortunately, I have not. I’m not going to expound on all the intricacies of usability as Jakob Nielsen et al. do quite well. What I would like to suggest or in some cases provide a “gentle reminder,” is the importance of user testing. Before we whip out that rock-star e-learning module and post it in the LMS for mass consumption, perhaps we should go back to ID fundamentals and test that puppy out with a few users. Have your teammates work through it. If they are too enmeshed in the product or helped design/develop it, then get some fresh eyes to look at it. If you can find some users from your target audience, use them. If not, at least try to find some people who can see the trees from the forest. When you are so involved in building a deliverable that will teach something, you often forget what it is like to be that first-time learner. You know the content so well that you unintentionally skip those easy steps that “everybody knows” how to complete.
Which brings me back to the cases of mistaken identity I referred to at the beginning of this post. How we see ourselves isn’t necessarily how others view us. Similarly, how we view our e-learning, ILT, or whatever the deliverable and its assumed ease of use, isn’t necessarily the case for everyone else. Just because it makes sense to you and seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t mean it makes sense to that learner who sees it for the first time. So, before you deploy your “masterpiece” to the masses, test it out on a few users to see if it is as easy to understand and/or navigate for them as it is for you. Better to fix the problems of a few test cases than have to address an enterprise level worth of questions.