May 12, 2006

E-learning as a crutch for bad usability

Too much faith on eLearning or “help” for business applications is a dangerous trend in the software industry. How many times have we heard clients insisting on user manuals and training modules at the UAT stage, when their focus should be on actually testing the application with end users?

A typical scenario of customers and developers understanding on “ application usability” and user behavior.

Clients/ Developers
“We definetly care about users, we have dedicated staff for writing
"help" and also have a downloadable PDF user manual. It has 500 pages of
detailed instructions on all the tasks and also the underlying architecture and
the technology that we are using. In fact in version 2, we are going to be even
better, we will launch an eLearning module for the same. We will force users
to go through the learning module when they login, and only then will we allow them to do their tasks”.

Usability professionals
"Oh ok, that should be fine, no more work then. Users will never come

It is a fallacy to believe that users will go laboriously through your painstakingly written help manuals or documentations. What they really want is to complete their tasks as fast as possible without depending too much on instructions. Of course in a utopian situation, the best “help” is no help at all, but in reality it does not work that way. By all means have help, and eLearning, but do not do so at the cost of neglecting users, their feedback, testing, etc. Banking on a help module or an eLearning module to help users is a sure shot way of your application being doomed before it is even launched.

There is no substitute for the UCD process in designing software. What you do later will at best akin to providing a crutch. Enough said. Kapiche?

1 comment:

swadeshe said...

Good point Masood! I recall a seminar where the representative from Nokia mentioned exactly the same thing. In an ideal scenario, 'good Usability' and 'extensive Help' run counter to each other.