Online education has grown and matured due to advances in communication and technology. As instructional designers, it is our role to carefully and deliberately apply these evolutionary tools to our courses without alienating the student or faculty.
When considering the types of tools that should be incorporated into a course, accessibility and usability are two of the most important considerations. Instructional designers must understand who their target audience is and how skilled they are with the online communications, access, and interactions. Since our goal is to make students successful in the course of study, we must first consider the usability of the content. “Usability is the extent to which a system can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use” (Cooper, et al. 2007). This lengthy definition may also be tied with “ease of use” (Cooper, et al. 2007). If your students and faculty are unable to use the material due to technical issues, then the content is worthless. Usability may also be affected by the user’s environment, available tools, or a physical disability. Regardless of the cause, designers must establish clear guidelines and resources in order to facilitate learning.
While usable content should be a primary focus, accessing the content may become even more critical. If the students cannot access the information, either due to slow internet connections, poor server technology, or incompatible software, then they cannot begin to address the usability aspect. As a result, “Accessibility and usability are intrinsically linked. The lower the level of accessibility of a resource…the less usable it will be for them” (Cooper, et al. 2007). Just like usability, how a student access the content must be considered. What if the student is deaf or blind? Is the content designed in such a way that they can still access and learn from the online content? As an instructional designer, you must have very clear expectations and understanding of the requirements of the students who will be taking your courses.
For me, the tools that hold the most appeal as an instructional designer help me to rapidly design and develop content that is interactive and interesting. Flash HTML5 based interactions are very useful for developing courses that require step by step multimedia instructions. They also permit incorporation of design elements that help to keep the student engaged. I also appreciate the need to create a social community within a course. Using forums, email, and announcements to communicate with students is something I don’t do enough of right now and need to improve in the future. “Announcements are very useful for your teaching presence” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). I tend to rely on my single weekly face-to-face meetings to impart some form of a teaching presence, but in retrospect, I can see that at the beginning of each class I have to start the process over again. I hope to foster a more interactive community by creating discussion boards for students to interact in and establishing small groups who can communicate in their own space between the classroom sessions.
Recognizing the need to create a learning system that fosters ready accessibility, usability, and a sense of community is a priority for instructional designers. Each of these aspects helps to create an environment for the student and faculty that fosters collaboration and eases frustrations.
Boettcher, J., & Conrad, R. M. (2010). The online teaching survival guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Cooper, M., Colwell, C., & Jelfs, A. (2007). Embedding accessibility and usability: Considerations for e-learning research and development projects. Research in learning technology 15(3). 231-245. Retrieved from http://waldenu.edu February 2, 2014.