An innovative method to evaluate usability and learner experience

Alice Gasparini

Abstract

The contribution presented here offers a reflection about digital learning environment from the point of view of usability and learner’s experience in a context of L2 acquisition. Besides, it presents an innovative application of non-pedagogical tracking software used to evaluate students’ behaviour within linguistic learning environments. The study is part of for a PhD project carried out at the University G.D’Annunzio of Chieti and Pescara and University for foreigners of Siena. 

Keywords: Learning Environment, Usability, Learner’ Experience, Learning Analytics, Italian as L2

Introduction

The 2020 pandemic situation brought distance education to everybody’s attention and multiple questions were raised. It became clear the need for teachers and students to adapt their usual way of teaching and learning to a distance context and get familiar with new tools. The contribution based on a PhD project carried out at the University G.D’Annunzio of Chieti and Pescara and University for foreigners of Siena focuses on digital learning environments and tries to answer this main research question: How can good usability enhance and promote a better learner experience?

A well-built learning environment, like a comfortable classroom, helps to create the best condition to learn because it contributes to reducing frustration, fears, and anxieties caused by a lack of familiarity with the technological system. Frustration and anxiety, as Krashen maintained, can raise the affective filter and be an obstacle to real acquisition (1983). How can a teacher or designer monitor their digital classroom and get the best of it? The study reports an application of non-pedagogical tracking software used to evaluate usability and learner experience of linguistic digital spaces. First, we will outline the basic concepts on which the study lies: usability, learners’ Experience and Learning Analytics.

Usability

The idea of usability has a long story, its birth dating back to Henry Ford who at the beginning of the last century started to reflect on the relationship between machines and workers of his companies. His objective was to increase industrial production and he understood that the machines needed to be “human-tailored” to make their usage easier and produce more. This is considered to be the beginning of Ergonomics, the discipline that coordinates and arranges workplaces and workers. The design of professional spaces and objects became user-centric. This approach later applied to all kinds of products made for people. The main idea was designing and creating machines or objects for potential users. Continue reading