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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What Do You Mean When You Say "Usability"? By Carol M. Barnum

In this article, author Carol Barnum, director of the Usability Center at Southern Polytechnic State University, provides a workable definition for usability and a foundation for making online courses more usable and successful.

Usability and e-learning seem a natural fit. Usability is one of the five subject areas on eLearn Magazine's homepage. That's a good thing. But do we all mean the same thing when we say "usability"?
If you are using the term interchangeably with "assessment"—whether by students or experts or perhaps yourself as the surrogate student and actual expert—then you are using it to mean something less than it should. If you think of usability as meaning quality, particularly as it refers to the quality of the content, you're addressing an important criterion of usability, but you are not getting at the crux of the matter. Likewise, if you equate usability with validation, particularly as it refers to the functionality of the learning management system (LMS), then you are again restricting usability to something that can be checked, confirmed, and certified as usable, but you are not getting at the true meaning of usability.

About the Carol M. Barnum, Ph.D.
She is the Director of the Usability Center, Southern Polytechnic State University, Marietta (Georgia), USA, and graduate program coordinator for the M.S. program in Information Design and Communication, including four online graduate certificate programs in technical communication and advanced topics.