Eye Movement Studies. Should we be using them for learning design?

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Google has a nice blog post out on its use of eye movement research.

I remember getting a tour of Fidelity a few years ago and learning that their eye movement studies on web browsing showed that people were beginning to ignore big dark chunks of graphics because they thought they were advertisements.

My dissertation advisor, Ernie Rothkopf did a classic study (with Billington) in 1979 using eye movement data to test whether learners actually paid more attention (had more and higher-quality eye movements) toward information in the learning material that was targeted by learning objectives than to information that was not so targeted. It turned out that learning objectives worked to boost learning because they prompted learners to pay more attention to the objective-relevant material and less attention to the rest of the information.

See: Rothkopf, E. Z., & Billington, M. J. (1979). Goal-guided learning from text: Inferring a descriptive processing model from inspection times and eye movements. Journal of Educational Psychology, 71, 310-327.

To answer the question I posed above. Yes, more of us should be using eye-movement research to support us as we do e-learning design.

And by the way, as web pages change their strategies to gain our attention, our learners may change their strategies to avoid things deemed irrelevant. Moreover, as our learners see more and more of our company’s e-learning, their eyes may learn where to go…In fact, a lot of them already have a well-learned capacity to find the NEXT key through a swarm of bees.