A few days ago I posted a comment on occupational psychologist Sukh Pabial's blog about feedback from training sessions. 

Sukh's post was timely as I am currently reading Barry Schwartz's book The Paradox of Choice. Although the book is focussed on the psychology of decision making and the complexity of choice in decision making it offers up some good psychological insights on behaviour based on research by social scientists and psychologists.

The quote I added to Sukh's post was this:

" . . . neither our predictions about how we will feel after an experience nor our memories of how we will feel during the experience are very accurate reflections of how we actually do feel while the experience is occurring."

This chimed for me both in the training context and also in the usability context too.

In the past I have attended usability labs which have involved eye-tracking. At such sessions, a user is guided through some tasks and their eye movements are tracked. A video also records the user's behaviours at the computer screen. Both the eye-tracking and the video are streamed into a separate room to be viewed by the site owner.

What I noticed from watching these sessions is that users' assessment of how they found the tasks at the end of the entire session (having completed all the tasks) varied from how they experienced the tasks as they happened ie a task they said was fairly straightforward was experienced as being more complex.

Users were also asked for feedback immediately after each task – this feedback seemed more in tune with what they had just experienced ie if they experienced a task as fairly straightforward they said as much.

So if I had just seen a report from what the user had said after completing all tasks it would have been quite different to what they had actually experienced.

However, in these labs, the research teams pull together both the eye-tracking/video footage and user comments about how they felt after each task and all tasks to provide a full view of the research findings. Pulling all this information together is vital for an accurate view of the user's experience.

In his book, Schwartz finishes the above quote with this line:

And yet it is memories of the past and expectations for the future that govern our choices.

What matters most, when it comes to web sites or training sessions for example – is that the memory – what the user or attendee takes away from the experience is all that counts. If it is positive then they will come back for more (and recommend) – be it more site visits, another training session etc.

If there were problems during the experience then 'in the moment' feedback would be really valuable – on sites this could come from on site feedback services/ethnographic studies etc. In usability, this 'in the moment' feedback is key, which is why usability labs using eye-tracking are so important.

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook provide  'in the moment' feedback.

But it is creating an overall positive experience that arguably matters most – users will forgive you usability issues if they can see the overall value in what you are doing and what they are getting ie they like what your site offers and find it useful, relevant etc.

But don't rest on your laurels – those usability issues will need to ironed out because at some point they will affect the overall experience.

 Here is Schwartz talking about his book (5 years ago!)

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