Can anyone help me understand how you assess the accessibility of an e-learning course? I'm trying to find guidelines that are specific to e-learning but I seem to only be able to find guidelines relating to web design.
Also, what should be the evaluation criteria for assessing usability in e-learning courses that would be sensible and practical?
All help will be very gratefully received! Thanks. Julie.
Usability Most people are familiar with usability through the writings of Jakob Nielsen or John S. Rhodes. Design purists are probably familiar with Jeffrey Zeldman. But probably the greatest usability experts are found in the design labs of Google and Yahoo!
There is no denying that these are two of the most successful enterprises on the web. But what made them successful was not that they were large or had great products - after all, Microsoft has both and yet nobody classes Microsoft's online presence ion the same category as these two. No, what made these companies successful is that they solved the usability problem.
Yahoo! and Google, though both ostensibly search sites, take completely different approaches to serving their clientelle. Yahoo!, which came first, evolved as a portal site. This meant that it would have to solve the problem of navigation through complex and rich information. Google, by contrast, approached its challenge as a search engine. This meant it has to offer the most direct access to its powerful technology possible.
Between the two sites, designers have hit on what are probably the two essential elements of usability: consistency and simplicity. The two, indeed, go hand in hand: it is not possible to be consistent without being simple, and it is not possible to be simple without being consistent.
Simplicity is the feature that strikes the user first. Many of us probably recall Google's debut on the web. At that time, it was little more than a text form and a submit button. Results listings were unadorned and easy to follow. At a time when websites were getting more and more complex, Google's design was a startling change of pace. But an effective one, and users soon began using Google in droves, lured by the site's simplicity and retained by its effective search engine.
Fewer people remember the early days of Yahoo!, but this company too hit on a design that would become a standard. Yahoo!'s early design was nothing more than a set of links pointing to different categories. Through a process of selection, users would delve deeper and deeper into Yahoo!'s hierarchy of search categories. There was nothing to learn about the use of Yahoo! - simply click on the link. The 'Yahoo! portal' soon became the standard to which other portal sites aspired.
The list of other online enterprises that broke away from the pack through simplicity is too long to list. Amazon made buying books online simple. eBay made hosting an online auction simple. Blogger made authoring your own website simple. Bloglines made reading RSS simple. The web itself is actually the simplification of earlier, more arcane technologies - the web does no more than what was already enabled by the holy triumverate of Gopher, Archie and Veronica, but it did away with the typing and allowed documents to link directly to each other.
The concept of consistency is less well understood but to get an idea of what it entails take a look at the links on both Yahoo!'s and Google's cureent sites. What you won't find are things like dropdown menus, fancy icons, image maps and the other arcania of the typical website. Links on both Yahoo! and Google are not only simple, they are consistent: they are the same colour and the same type throughout the site, for the most part unadorned. They use the ultimate standard of consistency: words - a system of reference with which readers are already familiar.
Contrast the navigation offered by these two sites with the navigation offered by the typical e-learning offering. Students are presented with a dizzying array of mysterious icons, expanding and collapsing file-manager style lists, dropdowns, forms, buttons, and more. Frequent are the columns and articles advising that students be trained in how to use the learning management system before the course commences. Had Yahoo! or Google depended on this mode of design, they would be out of business. The website must teach the user how it functions as the user uses it.
The principle of simplicity applies to more than just web design and navigation, of course. The mantra must be repeated in all aspects of the learning material. Is it easy to access? Is it easy to understand? To use? As Stanley Fish says, "Answer the question as precisely as possible and then stop. Don't complicate, don't explain, don't pontificate, don't muse, don't speculate, don't be reflective, don't be creative, don't take offense, don't be defensive, don't take anything personally, don't take anything in any way." There may be more elegant was to write and to design, but it is unlikely that there are more effective ones. ( http://chronicle.com/jobs/2004/06/2004062501c.htm )