Does online course design encourage attrition? Assessing usability factors in learning management systems

Lisa Theresa Richardson


Online coursework offers many college students flexibility and increased earning potential that they otherwise may not have due to personal or professional responsibilities and restrictions. Unfortunately, for students with disadvantaged technology backgrounds or disabilities limited accessibility compromises these opportunities for students who already face significant challenges to the completion of their post-secondary education. In the same manner that universal design of physical spaces increases usability of buildings and other facilities for all patrons, universal design of web-based courses could improve retention of course content for all learners. In a case study based on cognitive load theory and constructivist pedagogy, the researcher investigated the experience of postsecondary students with varying levels of technology background with user interface design of online courses, and how that design may inhibit the ability of these students to learn course content due to usability and accessibility issues. It was found that for students with the least technology background, course design could be an absolute barrier to successful course completion. Additionally, online courses with design features that deviate from common HTML standards and W3C norms can frustrate experienced users and also result in increased course attrition.