Usability in LMS Pages

Inspired by this post from the UT Web Developers outlining a usability checklist developed by Abhilash Thekkel, I thought that there should be a similar thing for LMS pages as well. Of course, some of the usability issues you need to do for a webpage aren’t necessary for a page managed in an LMS.  For instance, #28 Did you include a link to all your main pages on your homepage? doesn’t require any checking because navigation in the LMS is limited and usually controlled by the system and a link to the course home page is usually included. So here’s a list of items to look for when developing a usable course in an LMS.

Technical:

  1. Did you validate your (X)HTML using W3C Markup Validation Service?
  2. Did you validate your CSS using W3C CSS Validation Service?
  3. Did you check your website in at least IE, FF, Opera and Safari?

Images:

  1. Did you add the ALT attributes to all your images that are non-decorative?
  2. Did you make the size of your pages less then 50KB?
  3. Did you choose the appropriate filetype for your images?
  4. Did you add a description to images that support your content?
  5. Did you use plain text instead of images for important content?

Content:

  1. Did you use a sans-serif typeface with at least a 10 point font size for your body text?
  2. Did you adjusted the leading and tracking, if necessary, to increase readability?
  3. Did you align your body text to the left? (depends on language)
  4. Did you make sure that whole sentences  are not entirely in uppercase?
  5. Did you use less then 78 characters, including spaces, per line?
  6. Did you make brief and precise paragraphs with explanatory titles?
  7. Did you use lists to sum things up?
  8. Did you create enough contrast between the text and the background?
  9. Did you make your website also accessible for text-only browsers?
  10. Did you make sure that there are no ‘under construction’ pages, or links to content that do not work?
  11. Did you replace all special characters with the ISO Latin-1 codes?
  12. Did you spell check your content and did you proofread for grammar errors?
  13. Did you make a high contrast version of crucial information?

Navigation:

  1. Did you use no more then 8 items in your main navigation?
  2. Did you use describe the  link text instead of ‘click here’?
  3. Did you use self explanatory link text instead of business or jargon terms?
  4. Did you make a distinction between links and plain text?
  5. Did you make it possible to browse your website using SHIFT-TAB and RETURN?
  6. Did you make sure you didn’t use any javascript links?

Structure:

  1. Did you make a consistent page structure from page to page and tool to tool?
  2. Did you place important content above the fold/scroll?
  3. Did you make your page design on a grid system?
  4. Did you make your website also viewable on low resolutions?

Multimedia:

  1. Did you make sure that music and videoclips don’t start playing automatically?
  2. Did you make sure that music and videoclips can be turned off at any time?
  3. Did you inform the user about the size and length of your music and videoclips?
  4. Did you select or use  music and videoclips with subtitles or descriptions?

Many of the items in the original article are still useful, but they are at the whim of the administrators of the LMS or the LMS vendor itself. If your LMS is not respecting usability guidelines, maybe you shouldn’t be using it. If you are stuck using it, maybe you should advocate through whatever channels you think appropriate, that they adapt to allow learning for everyone.

Aesthetic Attention

Ran across an article about aesthetics from Carleton University called Aesthetics, visual appeal, usability, and user satisfaction: What do the user’s eyes tell the user’s brain? which had confirmed my previous assertions that you have 3 seconds to make an impression with a website – in fact, according to the article, you have 50 milliseconds. It also confirmed my idea that if your first impression is bad, then you’re fighting an uphill struggle to merely regain your credibility. This is a doubly bad situation for an e-learning space, where you have to not only fight to maintain attention, but also external preconceived notions of e-learning from other professors or teachers work online can have an effect on your credibility as an instructor. That credibility can be a class killer, especially at the College level in Canada. Colleges were built on trades, and being an instructor at College requires some real-world experience in the field that you’re instructing in. Any knock on your credibility can be overcome with good teaching technique, or personality but you have to fight for attention. When you are interacting with a screen though, as your sole “interaction” with a teacher, that initial impact is crucial to retaining attention. Positive first impressions will also allow users to forgive minor usability errors, although I didn’t see a definition of what minor was.

The article also goes on to say that users prefer things that they’ve seen before – which seems like an obvious statement – and also contributes to explaining why we see so many two and three column layouts on the web – familiarity. Three columns mimic the newspaper, which is familiar to most members of the 20th century (although, may not be to the members of the 21st century). Never mind that columns organize information into groups which allows users to better scan and assimilate information, but order on a page is aesthetically pleasing. Disorder is disorienting. So a logical ordering of information will help with your credibility long after the initial impression has occurred. Does it follow that a positive first impression and an orderly page improve your credibility? Or is there a finite amount?