Ease of Use for Learners


It’s funny how to seemingly different disciplines intersect. My experience with user-centred design and usability has enabled me to have empathy for user needs and ultimately learner needs. Ease of use, as defined in Jakob Nielson’s 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design, states “Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.” (Nielson, 1995).

I propose to replace the word “Users” with “Learners”.

Recently I completed a small environmental scan of my institution’s Blackboard LMS facilitated through Bates & Poole (2003) SECTIONS model. The model acronym stands for:

  • Students
  • Ease of use
  • Costs
  • Teaching
  • Interactivity 
  • Organisational issues
  • Novelty
  • Speed

SECTIONS model chart

This model is used at a strategic and tactical level to aid decision-making about the implementation of educational technology. The model is used as a guide to help integrate technology into learning projects and assess technology fit for learning goals.

Ease of use is reflected in Bates & Poole (2003) SECTIONS model in the way that learners may need investment to learn the technology and navigate the LMS interface.

According to an SA report, BlackBoard™ had a “Lack of consistency in layout resulting in a lack of user-friendliness.”

The LMS places emphasis on learner literacy skills and visual learning. Learners with disabilities such as dyslexia or poor eyesight could encounter difficulties accessing learning materials (Bates & Poole, 2003). All images should have alternative text in compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Ease of Use and Consistency and Standards may be increased with the introduction of my institution’s goal is to “assess and validate college hybrid and online offerings against the Hybrid and Online Quality Assurance Standards (HOQAS). In 2016 the college released a (HOQAS) Blackboard template which aids faculty implementing interface and content standards. The templates are compliant with the Quality Matters Process (Maryland Online, 2017).

Given the challenges of usability with the LMS, there is a student-lead campaign called “Ditch BlackBoard” and the Algonquin Times has reported that a replacement is in the works. The LMS is up for review on August, 8th, 2018 and a request for proposal will single out a college-wide LMS by Q4. (Algonquin College, 2016, p. 6) The Government of Ontario’s award of $6.6 million in financial funding for the Digital College initiative (Algonquin College, 2017, p.7) may aid in finding a solution.

One thing is certain; decision-making about learning technology is complex. Personal choice, values and technical consideration should be acknowledged. Careful systematic analysis using the SECTIONS model should produce a solution that is efficient, effective and satisfies the goals and needs of all stakeholders.


Bates, A. & Poole, G. (2003). Effective teaching with technology in higher education. [PDF document ] Retrieved from http://www.linqed.net/media/3164/2003_Bates_Poole_Sections_framework_selecting_and_using_technology.pdf

Maryland Online. (2017). Grounded in research. Driven by best practices. A community that puts learners first. Retrieved from https://www.qualitymatters.org/why-quality-matters

Nielson, J. (January 1, 1995). 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design. Retrieved from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ten-usability-heuristics/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *