6.5 Introduction to usability and accessibility

Making your course easy to follow and use is essential if you are to engage your students and allow access to all students.

From Wikipedia: "usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object. The object of use can be a software application, website, book, tool, machine, process, or anything a human interacts with."

Also from Wikipedia: "accessibility is a general term used to describe the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to as many people as possible."

In terms of online courses, accessibility often refers to whether students with visual or other disabilities are able to use the course in the same way as fully able students. Many countries now have laws governing how websites must be accessible to disabled users. Usability usually refers to how all students use your course.

So, although they don't mean exactly the same, usability and accessibility usually go hand in hand. If you make your course more usable, then it will often be more accessible to users and vice versa.

I'm sure you've all visited websites that are hard to navigate, use poor colour choices, a mixture of obscure fonts or other design mistakes. In developing your online course we hope you can make your course as easy to navigate and use as possible.

Here are a few tips you can use to help make your course more accessible and usable:
  1. Use a clear font - the default font in Moodle will usually be fine for you to use, rarely will you find the need to use a different font.
  2. Use of colours - as with fonts, a page with lots of different coloured text and/or backgrounds will make it difficult for people to read clearly, especially those who have a colour blindness. Make sure that any colours you use leave the text legible. For example: how well can you read this as I change the text colour, or is using plain colour easier to read?
  3. Clear course structure - as we saw earlier, it's important to structure your course well
  4. Clear language - unnecessary use of long words or long complicated sentence structures can make your course hard to follow and understand
  5. Careful use of images and multimedia - images, video and audio can be great if used well, but not if used inappropriately. Use multimedia where is really adds value to your course and your students understanding of the course material.
As you are developing your course, if you're not sure how easy it will be to use, why not ask one of your colleagues, or a student to give you their impressions. Often, what may be obvious and clear for you, may not be so for students or other users.

If you'd like to learn more about usability and accessibility, there are lots of articles and advice on the web, a good starting point is Jakob Nielsen's useit site.

Last modified: Monday, 7 February 2011, 9:11 AM