User sophistication


I have been musing how to explain what I think is the relationship between the tools we use and the user. The diagram above is a first attempt at showing this. I am thinking that as individuals we are plotted along the user continuum, but this is not a fixed position as it depends largely on a combination of our experience and the particular context for wanting to use the technology. For example, although I have used various online technologies for a number of years, I am at times a ‘simple user’ when there is a weak link between the activity and my desire to be involved. In this instance, it might be that an appropriate technology as a mail list that I sign up for that forwards a message every month or so. Clearly, it is unlike in this instance that I will be bothered to come to grips with a fully blown Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). On the other hand, an Ultraversity researcher has a lot invested in their degree as it is a big commitment and they are far more likely to be prepared to learn how to use a VLE because of this.

I think this is where some of the large scale professional communities for teachers have gone wrong in that there was an assumption that everyone would be willing to become a sophisticated user and this just isn’t so. So what is the way forward for such groups, well I would suggest it is an acceptance that wee need to use both simple tools and those that are feature rich, but allow the users to chose. For example, a hotseat type discussion on an open Blog could spread the reach of such events well beyond the ‘typical’ user group of enthusiasts. Or a mail-list on topics that perhaps only come to life on an annual basis for a couple of weeks. And a fully blown VLE for accredited courses and programmes where the pull is strong and users are prepared to invest the time and effort to become sophisticated users.

It might be an idea before planning any event to do some user scenarios and think will likely participants be prepared to be sophisticated users or not. If the answer is not, then which of the tools

7 thoughts on “User sophistication

  1. Richard Millwood

    So would you subscribe to Stan Ower’s view, , that our civilisation is founded on a culture of tools and that we are both tool-users and tool-makers? Surely, then, we are all sophisticated users, but not necessarily willing to put up with poorly designed tools. Many of us are successful car-drivers, but we wouldn’t tolerate a car that made our lives more complex than necessary.

  2. Salena

    I like the diagram Stephen it is very clear. I would suggest that the middle section of this diagram is where the most thought is needed. For me, I am becoming a “better” user, moving from a simple user point towards the goal of sophisticated user, however even in a situation where there is a strong pull (attainment of a degree)this can be difficult to achieve due to factors such as time, learning style, coming from years of being unfamiliar with the skills and in particular terminology needed to become a sophisticated user. Can the tools be structured to help users achieve this progression do you think?

  3. Gina

    Yes – purpose is key. If I don’t see a use for using something I just can’t be bothered. And no matter how wonderful the tool is, or how many other people rave over it, if it doesn’t suit my purpose, I’m not interested.

    And purpose is constantly changing as you say.

    An interesting point – do you think though some people are naturally more talented though at using tools such as VLEs and blogs? I know it’s complex – it’s a mix of a person’s experience, knowledge, time, desire, confidence, intelligence, learning style….

  4. Stephen Powell

    Yes Richard I think we are all sophisticated users of tools at times, and that is the point I was attempting to make. However, sometimes this is not the case and it isn’t necessarily the design of the tools (although this can often be the case) but that they are not the tool fool for the job. For example, a Ferrari formula 1 racing is a piece of exquisite design and engineering but I wouldn’t expect you to learn how to drive it to pop round the corner shop.

    Hi Salena, a good point and I think Richard was hinting at this. So if the tools are good, they enable us to adopt them even if they are powerful and complicated because of the functionality they possess. I can’t build the kinds of tools we use, but I hope the developers who do have the end users like us at the forefront of their deliberations.

    Hi Gina, I do think that we have different levels of affinity for things, not just online. For example, some of us are in love with mobile phones, others wish they hade never been invented. The case of the Dad who can’t use the video player so he asks the kids is an oft cited example also. However given the different levels of affinity, if the tools are good then the barriers should not be so great that we can’t all use them and if they are then the technology probably isn’t worth it.

  5. Eve Thirkle

    What about the use of ‘intuition’ in the design of tools – I moved from a PC to a Mac last summer – a dreadful struggle at first but only because the Mac was so easy to use, intuitive in the way that it works.

    In a way I entered the quadrant of ‘conflict’ – thought you didn’t like that word? – as sophisticated user vs simple tools – now however I an an anomaly with regards to your diagram – sophisticated user using simple yet feature rich tools.

    Do we need to look to the fact that designers are very comfortable with the tools that they design – they need to perhaps survey a wider range of users?

    Do feature rich tools necessarily need to produce an area of conflict for simple users?

  6. Stephen Powell

    Hi Eve, true quadrant of challenge – I have changed it!:^)

    I think that Richard was also addressing the point you make. I can see how a feature rich tool could be well designed and easy to use and it could be the case that the Mac is a good example of that. So it might be that the diagram needs refining.

    I suppose that a large degree of this is down to the individual in some way, that is one person’s feature rich but simple is another persons complex and so on…..

  7. Tom Smith

    Re: the quadrant… If you add an element of time (1,2 3), understanding that people don’t necessarily stay “simple” for long….
    you can see that they can, after the first flush of romance, spend the rest of their lives in challenge and frustration… as they fail to
    cope with simple tools, fail to make feature rich tool do what the actually want… maybe never finding alignment (or “oneness” as a hippy might mumble).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s