Does Findability Matter?

Does Findability Matter?: Findability, Student Motivation and Self-Efficacy in Online Courses is an article about a QM-related research project done in 2012 by Simunich, Robins, & Kelly at Kent State University. This portion of the report is a good example for people determining their audience for a research project's findings.

Example 1: Does Findability Matter?: Findability, Student Motivation and Self-Efficacy in Online Courses

2012 QM Research Grant support study done by Simunich, Robins, & Kelly at Kent State University

Findability, as defined by Peter Morville (2007), is "the degree to which a particular object is easy to discover or locate, [as well as] the degree to which a system or environment supports navigation and retrieval." Or, as his more colloquial catch phrase puts it, "you can't use what you can't find" (p. 3). Findability is present in the concept of usability—the idea that when something is truly usable, "the user can do what he or she wants to do the way he or she expects to be able to do it, without hindrance, hesitation, or questions" (Rubin, Chisnell & Spool, 2008, p. 4).   For online students, findability is paramount—if they cannot find important course components, they cannot "use" them; having to search for assignment instructions or a course introduction may likely result in frustration, lowered motivation, and decreased self-efficacy—all of which could impact both student learning and course attrition. Both self-efficacy and motivation have been shown to have an effect on student success in online courses (Irizarry, 2002; DeTure, 2004; Zimmerman, 2000).

There are several important course components that are imperative for students to locate early on in the course, such as instructions for getting started, a self-introduction by the instructor, and a place for student introductions. All of these components may be present and written in a clear manner, but are they easily findable? This project is a first step in determining whether this "search time," or ease of findability, impacts student learning.   For example, if students need to search for course essentials, how does their frustration level impact their motivation? At what point do they stop searching? Further, [if] "essential items" that students need early on in a course, such as the syllabus, are hard to find, how does that influence student perception of course or instructor quality? It is important to investigate the potential barrier it poses to students if they have to spend time interpreting the learning environment. Logically, if students need to spend time finding essential course components, this may result in spending less time learning the course content or engaging in course participation. Perhaps more notably, low findability and the frustration that accompanies it may not only impact student learning, but also course attrition.

Unfortunately, as noted by Fisher and Wright (2010), " ...there is little research regarding the implementation of usability testing in academia, especially in online course development" While past research has shown a direct effect of "system usability" (i.e., LMS software usability) on student performance (Tselios, Avouris, Dimitracopoulou, & Daskalaki, 2001), there is a paucity of research on the effect of usability in the e-learning environment, and apparently no research on findability specifically.   This study attempts to address that gap, and to investigate findability and its relation to student perception of course quality and overall experience. The opportunity to improve online learning with such a study is substantial, as there is the opportunity to discern if best practices in user-centered design, such as findability, are specifically correlated with increased student learning.

This exploratory, theory-building study attempted to address the following research questions: 

RQ1: Do courses that have higher quality course design and meet navigation standards have higher findability than courses that do not?

RQ2: Do students report lower levels of self-efficacy and motivation after interacting with courses that have findability and navigation issues?

RQ3: Do students' overall impressions of an online course differ between courses that have high findability and those that do not?

RQ4: Is findability a predictor of self-efficacy or motivation in online courses?