As distance education has moved from traditional correspondence courses to online educational web sites, it becomes important to look at the usability or "ease of use" of instructional web sites from the student's perspective. The nonlinear, hypertext format of the Web can pose various problems for learners as they attempt to complete course-related tasks. Any difficulties that students have using this technology will compound and increase their cognitive load above and beyond learning the course content. Although many articles and books have been published about web-based learning, only limited empirical research has emerged to inform the development and design of educational course sites.
This research explored what the construct of usability means for students taking online courses from the perspective of 74 students enrolled in an online and distance learning program. Six courses, matched on subject matter, were selected for study. These courses were designed and developed by two different groups, professional and nonprofessional developers. Starting with an expert heuristic evaluation of the course sites, this study used both quantitative and qualitative measures to record the experiences of students enrolled in these six courses and determine how students judge the usability of educational web sites.
Based on the analysis of the study variables according to course development type, the results of this study found that Nielsen's usability heuristics (a respected evaluation tool used primarily to measure the usability of commercial web sites) can be used to evaluate instructional web sites and used to differentiate between levels of usability in the same way that usability is judged by students.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2010. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Professor Judith J. Lambrecht. 1 computer file (PDF); xiv, 391 pages, appendices A-G.
Ballard, Joyce Kimberly.
Web Site usability: a case study of student perceptions of educational web sites..
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