By Michelle Kenoyer, quality assurance specialist
To the right is an approximately 70-year-old photo of my grandmother when she was in her early twenties. During World War II, she served in the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps as a quality-assurance inspector. Based on her stories and recollections, her role required that she examine and recommend improvements for the safety and working conditions of U.S. Army facilities stateside. From time to time, she used a special tool to measure and test the safety and efficacy of hand grenades. It was important for inspectors like her to ensure that not only were the grenades safe for Army soldiers to transport, but also that they deployed properly when the pin was pulled.
I suppose this attention to quality runs in the family. While I cannot possibly compare the relative ease and comfort of working as a quality assurance (QA) specialist in the e-learning and training field to my grandmother’s more dangerous responsibilities during wartime, I do believe the role of QA in developing training materials, including e-learning, is critical.
e-Learning professionals like me likely do not put ourselves in dangerous situations like my grandmother and her fellow Corps inspectors did during World War II, but the quality and soundness of the e-learning courseware we produce can be life-saving. At Allen Interactions, our teams have delivered custom e-learning for a client whose goal is to eliminate deaths and injuries at railroad crossings. We’ve also developed sophisticated simulation-based courseware to prepare law-enforcement professionals to identify and respond to terrorism and gang violence in their cities. Truly, the responsibility of creating accurate, engaging, and interactive training materials for audiences whose vocations center on life-or-death situations underscores our company’s fundamental philosophy of developing e-learning that is meaningful, memorable, and motivational.
e-Learning QA is somewhat different from―or rather an extension of—traditional Web-based QA. Quality assurance for e-learning involves the usual hunt for defects in functionality, layout, media, content, usability, accessibility/508 compliance issues, and platform, but also a unique learnability component. Learnability in an e-learning context means something different. Effective e-learning QA specialists will also evaluate courseware from the intended learning audience’s perspective. As Dr. Michael Allen observes in his book, Successful e-Learning Interface, do the activities provide an optimal interface that maximizes the impact of the learning experience? Specifically, he points out (and I’m paraphrasing), do the e-learning activities have enough challenge to instill a sense of confidence and accomplishment without being “too easy”? Are the activities themselves engaging and appealing? Is feedback given appropriate for both the learning context and the actions the learner chooses during the activities? Moreover, does any component of the e-learning present any obstacles that prevent learners from achieving their performance goals?
Learner Acceptance Testing (LAT)
Learner Acceptance Testing (LAT) taking place on a sample of actual learners from the target audience can uncover many of these learnability issues, as well as other quality assurance issues that may have been (unintentionally!) overlooked during the rigorous iterations of in-house QA. However, QA specialists need to be learner advocates on the frontlines to proactively lessen these issues. This allows the learners participating in the LAT sessions to get the most out of the experience, with fewer distractions and obstacles in their way. In fact, QA analysts who specialize in e-learning must be advocates for all learners, LAT and beyond, who engage in your organization’s e-learning activities and (hopefully!) reap the benefits from them.