Read more on the Pedagogy-Technology-Usability triad

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(There is a Wikiedukator Usability Working Group)


It is postulated that the interest that has been expressed for rich activity-based pedagogical scenarios have the objectives of creating more in-depth, integrated and applicable knowledge in different contexts (Schneider, 2003).

From a pedagogical point of view, an e-learning module can be designed using an activity-based approach focused on the acquisition and application of specific competencies in a real world setting to provide an authentic learning context to the learner. The competencies that the learner would acquire is three-fold namely subject-specific skills, information technology related skills and general learning skills. Please note that normally the subject-specific skills will normally consist of learning outcomes in the cogntive, psychomotor and affective domain.

Click here for Content-based v/s Activity-based approaches

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Think of your course as it is currently and reflect on the main pedagogical re-engineering that you would have to do if ever it had to be reconceptualised to suit an activity-based approach.


The technology component of an e-learning course is a key factor to its success as its main role is to support the underlying pedagogy that is being adopted. In many cases, the technology is a factor that guides the pedagogy that should be applied and this is according to us a mistake. Although there is a need to make sure that there is the right technology to support the pedagogy, it is always the pedagogical strategy that guides the technology to be applied. For instance, it is not because there is a Wiki tool that the teacher should use it in his course. If the teacher finds that a Wiki can bring added value in a particular aspect and is relevant to the context of his course, then he should do it. This kind of approach (that is of making sure to use every bit of functionality) is detrimental to the flexible and innovative nature that e-learning brings in the process.

Another example is that of the Quiz editing facility. The Quiz editing facility is common to most e-learning platforms and many educators, from personal experience, make it a must to include quizzes in their courses. This is completely out of phase with the philosophy adopted in a project/activity-based learning approach. The final example that is worth mentioning here is the online chat facility. While it is known that some educators involved in online learning and related areas would see to it that they organize regular (weekly) and structured chat sessions, others may be more lenient on this basis. Making structured chats and marking that specific activity can be seen in analogy with taking attendance in the classroom! Nothing would have changed if the same practices are just reconverted and maintained in the e-environment. There is little we can say about innovation in such cases.

The technology used in an elearning module needs not necessarily be completely electronic. It can be a combination of print-based, electronic through a CD-ROM and an online forum to discuss on each activity. The print-based component can be a simple student guide on how to get started with the courseware. The print material also contains necessary instructions on how to use the different software and forums of the course. At this stage, it cannot be assumed that the student is familiar with the technological environment of the course. Getting started well with such a module is a critical success factor for the student.

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Is it really important that an elearning module be hosted on an integrated e-learning platform? Are there simpler alternative ways that can provide more flexibility to the learner?


The traditional distance education era gave rise to a new group of professionals called instructional designers. Their role has always been crucial to the success of manuals in terms of readability and understandability by students. They advised content experts how to better structure sentences, where to make a pause and ask a question and when to cut short of a chapter and start the next. In the online environment, their role has been extrapolated to a usability expert/engineer, as there is a need to ensure optimal interactive experience of the learner with the learning environment.

“Usability is often associated with the functionalities of the product (cf. ISO definition, below), in addition to being solely a characteristic of the user interface (cf. framework of system acceptability, also below, which separates usefulness into utility and usability).”

Usability is all about a paradigm shift from technology-oriented product design to user-centered design (Holzinger, 2005). The design of the interaction between the student, the machine, the courseware and the peers (fellow students and teachers) is a very important phase in the instructional design process. Usability engineering of a course should not be confounded with graphic design aspects of the website. Having high quality graphics, animations or sliding menus does not necessary result in a well-engineered course from a usability/human-computer interaction perspective. The practice of simplicity to maximize usability is a well-known factor (Nielsen, 1999). Usability consideration while designing an online course has also many other implications of perception, memory and cognitive psychology. A courseware developer needs to be aware of individual differences since not all users are the same (Ayersman & Minden, 1995).

Usability applies to every single process from conception to implementation and testing of the module. It is an ongoing process that starts with usability engineering, applying usability heuristics during design, usability testing with users and starting the process over again in an iterative lifecycle.

While it is practically impossible for you to master human computer interaction principles here it is important that you know about it and the increasing importance it is having on the design of interactive educational environments.