Usability Study: Auralog Language Learning Library Solutions


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Usability analysis of Auralog's Language Learning Library Solutions, based a 30 day trial period. Elements analyzed: Platform compatibility and access, content, information architecture, navigational ease. Written by a librarian (a 2004 graduate of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and former college English writing teacher.

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Usability Study: Auralog Language Learning Library Solutions

  1. 1. Feedback on 30 Day Trial: Auralog Language Learning Library Solutions by Gwen Williams October 11, 2007 Platform compatibility and access: Auralog’s language learning programs are built to operate only in Windows XP or Vista operating systems environments. As such, Linux and many Mac users cannot use Auralog programs; neither can pre-XP users. Mac users with new machines having the Intel Core 2 Duo processor (post-Spring 2007) would be able to use Auralog because they are able to run Windows operating systems environments on their Macs. Older Macs will launch Auralog’s program using Windows proprietary browsers, but basic navigation or anything approaching functionality is not possible. Auralog has made a curious decision to build products that so limit access for potentially large numbers of customers. One rarely finds web-based platform/operating system dependent products anymore, what with the exponential growth in standards- and protocols-based developments that render platform and operating systems environments irrelevant. Insofar as BCL is concerned, subscribing to this product would involve informing x number of patrons (running pre-Intel Core 2 Macs, Linux or pre-XP) that they could not access this product remotely. I believe this would be the first such subscription database BCL would offer under such restrictions. Content: Auralog’s language learning programs seek to provide content that would ground the learner in fundamentals of a second language, building a foundation for establishing fluency. Auralog’s languages include Romance languages commonly learned in the US, including Spanish (Latin American), French, and Italian. Content organization: Auralog organizes content into a two-tiered hierarchy: the upper level is comprised of lessons, the subordinate level, activities. Lesson content is ordered around principles I would call immersive language-acquisition
  2. 2. situations common in “everyday” life. That is, Auralog seems to have organized lessons by attempting to imitate language acquisition as we experienced it from birth onwards (we were immersed in our first language through a vast array of listening, speaking, reading, and writing experiences; and we learned logical language structures in small doses as we experienced life/language situations). Auralog includes explanations—in small doses—of grammar and other logical structures governing gender, verb conjugation, singular or plural, and word definitions, mostly through an elaborate popup scheme that the learner must intuit is present, must discover how to locate, and must prompt. Activity content, subordinated to individual lessons, is ordered around descriptors for the activities, such as “Fill-In-the-Blanks,” “Phonetics Exercise,” and “Picture/Word Association.” The activities do not seem to be presented in building block fashion, but rather are linked by overall lesson theme or situation (e.g., “Greetings”). In general, I believe the content is organized in such a way as to complement a formalized learning environment such as the classroom, along with other materials, textbooks, and workbooks. Information architecture: The information architecture is fairly consistent with users’ mental models of learning a language because it reflects that (a) there is a complex intertwined relationship between developing language fluency and listening, speaking, reading and writing; and (b) people acquire languages by immersion in all sorts of common situations and interactions. It is debatable whether Auralog has successfully imitated such immersion in the machine environment and whether the product can stand-alone. The information architecture is borderline consistent with users’ mental models of online learning modules. Sound design elements include a simple and uncluttered interface, an individual account mechanism, quizzing features with immediate feedback, and use of a variety of media corresponding to a variety of learning styles. But the poor design principles not only make this product frustrating to navigate, they also negatively impact the presentation of the content itself (the language lessons and activities). Most unfortunate is the “hidden” nature of the icons, navigational features, and logical language structures. Meaning, (a) the interface relies on icons idiosyncratic to Auralog in appearance or meaning; (b) icons and navigational features are placed around the screen’s perimeter without apparent relevance
  3. 3. as to why; and (c) all explanations of grammar and other logical structures are literally hidden— the learner must intuit they are present, must discover how to locate them, and must prompt them to appear. Learners could complete the entire course with nary a glance at grammar—either because they figured out they do not need to do so in order to obtain high scores, or because they never figure out how to find such hidden treasures. In other words, all salient structures of language are entirely hidden from view and will remain so unless the learner figures out that sometimes he/she can prompt a popup window for a small dose of grammatical enlightenment. I’m not sure this makes for a successful learning product: I am certain this makes for a steep learning curve for users attempting to use this product for actual language learning. Navigation: Certain navigational features are very clear for the user and make for easy interacting: consistency of invoking routines (once discovered how to do so), simplicity of activity and lesson labels, and sheer clarity of meaning for some icons (e.g., green=correct answer, red=wrong). Moreover, the ability to “roam” is positive for the adventurous learner, although with the small doses of explanations hidden from view, the adventurer does not quite know where or why he/she is roaming except that he/she likes to do “Picture/Word Association” activities or desires to learn about the theme, “Dining.” Other aspects make navigating this product a task that tries the committed and the patient. For instance, in addition to the hidden nature mentioned above, the actual learning activities are 6 to 9 mouse clicks away from initial URL access —an inexcusably large number of clicks. Finally, Auralog has composed a very extensive “Help” feature that launches annoying bitmap overlays corresponding to numerous page layouts, which suggests Auralog believes “Help” will have to be frequently invoked by users. Sum: While I believe Auralog’s product would make a fine homework product to use in conjunction with formalized language courses such as K-20 institutions offer, I would not recommend this product for BCL for two reasons, likely apparent at this point. One, the platform/operating system dependent situation may cause more customer service trouble than it is worth. Two, this product has usability issues and may be especially difficult for users with limited information literacy skills. The navigational issues
  4. 4. could be overcome and people—resilient and flexible in all sorts of trying situations—would eventually “get” how to navigate this product, but the instructional support BCL would have to provide might make this quite costly. It is perhaps revealing that Auralog sent separate documentation explaining how to use the 30 Day Trial, which suggests they know the clarity of the extensive “Help,” the product’s design itself, and their website are not sufficient for adequately assisting the new user. User’s trial period: September 26, 2007—October 11, 2007