The learner research toolbox

Suppose you want to know the characteristics of a specific learner group.   Research methodologies from the field of software design can be effectively adopted for such research, either before or during the design phase, in user research, and then again after you have designed and built a learning system, or a course, during usability testing.

  • User research can create knowledge by validating existing theories through deductive reasoning in the positivist style, or can provide a base for the creation of  new theories through inductive reasoning. This is the interpretive approach. Or finally, you can simply describe what you have observed, in the style of phenomenologists.
  • Usability testing, after design and development, validates the design against real life users. It is technocratic, the researcher being the expert, and research questions emerge from sponsors of the research. You can apply this research to your practice. Or you can use a transcendent process  to evolve new principles and theories via an inductive process.

Both user research and usability testing pull tools from the same toolbox—quantitative tools such as online surveys and web analytics, and qualitative research tools such as:

  • prototype reviews,
  • card-sorting exercises,
  • informal listening labs,
  • ethnographic task shadowing,
  • heuristic analysis,
  • one-on-one structured interviews, and
  • focus groups.

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