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Robin Hoyle

Huthwaite International

Head of Learning Innovation at Huthwaite International

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Build your learning with the users not for them


My father is in his 80th year. In a move which is bewildering to most of us who know him well, he has decided to become a silver surfer (or given a lack of hair, a shiny surfer in his case).
Having taken the step to get online he is, unsurprisingly, somewhat nervous. He is worried about unwittingly damaging his computer irreparably. With Daily Mail-style concerns ringing in his ears - about identity fraud or mistakenly hacking the CIA network or losing the entire contents of his bank account  - he is justifiably anxious that one false key stroke will wreak havoc.
I was helping him the other day and found a website run by My Guide, -
a government run service to help people get online. I told him that a link was blue and underlined and that he had to move his cursor to the link, click once and it would launch the page on the internet he needed. So far, lesson one on the information superhighway was going so well.
Until the page launched.
The first page explained in quite dense techie jargon that my Dad was running a version of Internet Explorer which didn’t support the features built into the site. He turned to me with a look of abject terror. The way in which this minor technology glitch was described sounded like he was about to take a risk equivalent to skinny dipping in a piranha infested river while wearing speedos made from a pound of mince. We clicked away.
I’ll be prepared to bet that the people testing this software never ran it using an old version of internet explorer. The people who wrote the content or built the simple interactive pages may have been blissfully unaware that this warning ever existed. It appears no one took time to replicate my father’s experience despite the fact that his circumstances can’t be unusual. He’s using a donated old computer, before he takes the plunge and invests his meagre savings in some new kit of his own. Not exactly an unimaginable scenario. The inelegance of the warning message, at least in the case of one senior citizen hoping to get online for the first time, meant that the remainder of the developer’s work was for nothing. He never got beyond the portal of doom he unexpectedly stumbled against.
Now I know my Dad is at the extreme end of the technological acceptance spectrum. But he is keen. He has taken a step to learn something new. He is a self motivated learner prepared to invest his own time in improving his skills.
Why then do we still make these kinds of basic mistakes when we finally get people to click on an icon to launch an online tool which may help them learn new stuff? When will we take care to ensure that that first experience of the programme is as welcoming and as simple to use as possible? In the past I have seen content which I think is intuitive and obvious - programmes and modules which require no specific technical skills to use. And yet as I go through the programme I regularly find peculiar bits of navigation or interactive exercises where it is anything but clear about what the user is expected to do next. 
It seems there are two responses to this. Either, we de-risk the process by limiting interaction to be the same on every page – click next, or click true or false. Or we assume everyone will be so motivated to learn that they will invest time not in learning what they need to know but in learning how to use our programme in order to learn what they need to know.
My Dad won’t and he’s pretty keen. If he won’t, neither will your learners.

Author Profile Picture
Robin Hoyle

Head of Learning Innovation at Huthwaite International

Read more from Robin Hoyle

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