Academic journal article Quarterly Review of Distance Education

AN ONLINE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVIST COURSE: Toward a Framework for Usability Evaluations

Academic journal article Quarterly Review of Distance Education

AN ONLINE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIVIST COURSE: Toward a Framework for Usability Evaluations

Article excerpt


Usability evaluations are important for examining the flow and effectiveness of a course environment. Although traditional usability evaluations examine aspects such as the ease of use and the look and feel of the course, it has been argued that instructional design features as well as the motivation to learn can, to a degree, be assessed using a usability evaluation framework (Zaharias, 2009). Usability concerns may be identified by the presence of user stress. In education, not all stress is considered detrimental. Some stress is helpful to learning (Joëls, Pu, Wiegert, Oitzl, & Krugers, 2006). This article examines the application of a holistic constructivist usability framework to a social constructivist course through the lens of challenge and hindrance stress. The article also offers suggestions for courses that hinge on synchronous and asynchronous interpersonal interactions.


Usability evaluation is an integral part of the course design process (Cennamo & Kalk, 2005; Piskurich, 2006). However, the process of improving design through usability evaluation occurs more frequently in software and other consumer product development than in online course development (Fisher & Wright, 2010). Some usability evaluations for online courses may not appropriately address all aspects of the learners' needs. Specifically, when usability evaluation is applied to online courses, the learners' pedagogical needs are not always addressed (Zaharias & Poylymenakou, 2009).

The following research question guided the study: How can a usability evaluation framework designed for constructivist online courses be used to support the needs of social constructivist online courses? The Zaharias's (2005) usability framework for online learning informed this study. The framework combined Web design, instructional design, and Keller's (1983) motivation to learn.


Zaharias (2005, 2009) presented a usability evaluation framework for constructivist online courses with asynchronous interactions. This usability framework went beyond traditional usability evaluations to include not just usability, but constructs to measure the instructional design and motivation to learn. Within this framework, the parameters and attributes are as follows:

* Usability, navigation, learnability, accessibility, consistency, and visual design

* Instructional design: interactivity/engagement, content and resources, media use, learning strategies design, feedback, instructional assessment, and learner guidance and support

* Motivation to learn: attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction.

Zaharias referred to these as functional connections, cognitive (learning) connections, and affective (learning) connections (Zaharias, 2009). This holistic framework examines not only task completion but also the application of key principles of pedagogy and learning theory (Zaharias & Poylymenakou, 2009).

Zaharias (2009) offered the framework as a foundation from which to build. Alterations and adaptations were welcomed: "As Heller and Martin assert, this framework and the respective criteria can be 'the floor not a ceiling for a series of guidelines that can be used to generate evaluation questions' about an eleaming application" (Zaharias, 2009, p. 50).

In a social constructivist course, as opposed to a constructivist course, it is recommended that the usability evaluation take into consideration the social context of the course (Blandin, 2003). "A convergence appears between cognitive approaches and sociological approaches which advocates the importance of cultural and sociological context for determining 'usability' of tools, in both its restricted and broad acceptances" (Blandin, 2003, p. 317).

Social Constructivism

Social constructivism refers to the Vygotskyian version of constructivism that includes collaboration with others as a key component. …

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