“Facebook is a charnel house of features that appeal to advertisers and businesses without actually being used, supported by tools that don’t work, for people who don’t care.” Jeffery Zeldman, on why Facebook’s Like doesn’t work.
Zeldman is a visionary when it comes to the Web. He’s a guy who’s influenced many of the top designers, and is one of the top designers of webdom himself, so what he says about web design bears some weight.
I was looking at the results of A List Aparts 2009 survey results, and was downright flabbergasted by the results of the question asking whether the respondent’s education was relevant (figure 8 on the main page for those looking at the data results right now). 18.2% found that their education was not relevant to web design. That’s one in five. When combined with the next figure (a little), it jumps to 47.9%. Almost half felt that formal education was essentially only marginally useful for their career. On the further breakdown by age (figure 2.3 on this page) , there is an almost 15% drop in relevance for the 65+ crowd. This makes a lot of sense, most of these people would have gone to school in a very different climate of the mid-60’s. Computers took up the size of rooms and networking was a high end venture. It makes sense that a lot of people who ended up as web designers would probably have come from graphic design backgrounds as print morphed into web. Many of these people may be in managerial positions as well – who may not need the technical skills that the front line grunts require. It would be nice to have a basic breakdown by age and job title to see if there’s any sense of that information.
Now there’s not a lot of web design programs – even fifteen years later. Most students who are interested in the field learn HTML in high school – either in a class or on their own, then develop whatever skills they need to complete the task. Informal learning for the most part, these people are task oriented, which school does not really address well. School does a good job of broadening people’s horizons.
I feel that while I didn’t get an education that informs my skills as a web designer (I am mostly self taught), I do draw from the lessons learned in software engineering and in media arts as well as education (the three things I’ve studied formally) and apply them to design in a greater sense. I wonder if I think about these sorts of questions more than others though.
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.
- Did you validate your (X)HTML using W3C Markup Validation Service?
- Did you validate your CSS using W3C CSS Validation Service?
- Did you check your website in at least IE, FF, Opera and Safari?
- Did you add the ALT attributes to all your images that are non-decorative?
- Did you make the size of your pages less then 50KB?
- Did you choose the appropriate filetype for your images?
- Did you add a description to images that support your content?
- Did you use plain text instead of images for important content?
- Did you use a sans-serif typeface with at least a 10 point font size for your body text?
- Did you adjusted the leading and tracking, if necessary, to increase readability?
- Did you align your body text to the left? (depends on language)
- Did you make sure that whole sentences are not entirely in uppercase?
- Did you use less then 78 characters, including spaces, per line?
- Did you make brief and precise paragraphs with explanatory titles?
- Did you use lists to sum things up?
- Did you create enough contrast between the text and the background?
- Did you make your website also accessible for text-only browsers?
- Did you make sure that there are no ‘under construction’ pages, or links to content that do not work?
- Did you replace all special characters with the ISO Latin-1 codes?
- Did you spell check your content and did you proofread for grammar errors?
- Did you make a high contrast version of crucial information?
- Did you use no more then 8 items in your main navigation?
- Did you use describe the link text instead of ‘click here’?
- Did you use self explanatory link text instead of business or jargon terms?
- Did you make a distinction between links and plain text?
- Did you make it possible to browse your website using SHIFT-TAB and RETURN?
- Did you make a consistent page structure from page to page and tool to tool?
- Did you place important content above the fold/scroll?
- Did you make your page design on a grid system?
- Did you make your website also viewable on low resolutions?
- Did you make sure that music and videoclips don’t start playing automatically?
- Did you make sure that music and videoclips can be turned off at any time?
- Did you inform the user about the size and length of your music and videoclips?
- 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.