In my career I have sat through my share of usability tests and they are always a humbling experience. Months of planning, attention to detail and prioritization of usability is invalidated as your test subjects behave completely different from you expected. All of your assumptions made while planning the website turned out to be just that, assumptions.
These studies are invaluable because even those who have made a career out of usability are unsure how users will behave with a given design. If Usability Specialists — professionals who have masters degrees in human computer interaction and the likes can’t accurately guess the most usable way to put things together, what hope do the rest of us have?
In all fairness, making digital deliverables, like the eLearning modules I make, usable is harder than it sounds. Everyone who sits down and is ready to learn thinks differently and has different knowledge and motivations. Ten users are likely to interpret the same content in ten different ways. The English language doesn’t make it easier on us either. Even the words I use to label my navigational elements could be interpreted in different ways, sometimes dozens of them.
In short, if you are planning your content based on assumptions or speculation… I’m sorry to say it, guaranteed, it will have usability issues.
The only way to be sure you’re creating an enjoyable user experience is actually meeting your users in the planning stage. It doesn’t have to be anything formal. Even five to ten people can be enough. You will be amazed at what you find with an hour of inquiry. Food for thought.