Use It Or Lose It: Usability in education

27 November 2012 5,314 views One Comment

A while ago I read an article about interactivity in educational products, and a recent conversation reminded me of it. I was a little confused by the article’s definition of perceived interactivity as being connected to difficulty of use – ie, if something is really hard to use it will be perceived as being less interactive because the user is having a harder time figuring out how to interact with it (Sundar, 2004).

I’m not sure that this is really a straight line; it seems to me that some users would find a technology more interactive if they couldn’t figure it out, because it doesn’t just work automatically and needed more input from them. I think it’s somewhat subjective, and confuses interactivity with usability, which isn’t the same thing.

The article does raise a good point though by making this relationship, since usability is an important concept when it comes to technology. Web based email was around for a long time before Gmail, but in many ways they just got it right. Yes, I know, there are still bugs and nothing is perfect especially with docs, but the email part of it works much better than Hotmail or Yahoo ever did. Amazon and ebay took off in large part because they made it easy for people to do what they wanted to do.

Although we talk a lot about how the current generation of students is growing up with technology and is just naturally comfortable with it, but I’m always amazed at what I have to show my students that they don’t figure out on their own. They do what’s easy and obvious, and all other features get buried. They don’t always understand what they’re doing either, they just know the steps they take to do it.

The easier an interface is to understand intuitively, the more a child will be able to interact with it on their own and pay attention to the features. This will stimulate cognition about the object and about the interaction. When a child needs too much guidance from a parent or teacher, they will pay less attention to the object and interact with it less, which results in less thought and less learning. So usability design is a key factor in the educational success of a specific product, and an important field to understand if you’re interested in undertaking development of educational games, apps, or any other software.

Sundar, S. (2004). Theorizing Interactivity’s Effects. The Information Society, 20, 385–389.

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One Comment »

  • chris s said:

    I think the balance between usability and interactivity that you describe correlated to ideas of “flow.” It’s a balance that makes a great lens and model in education…thanks for expanding on the theme.

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