Functional vs. Usable

Accord­ing to, func­tional and usable can be defined as follows:


1.  : capa­ble of being used

2.  : con­ve­nient and prac­ti­ca­ble for use


3.  : per­form­ing or able to per­form a reg­u­lar function

These words came to my mind after my recent work with a school.  As I was get­ting set-up for my pre­sen­ta­tion in a large pre­sen­ta­tion room, I was excited to see that there were mul­ti­ple pro­jec­tors and screens through­out the room.  Unfor­tu­nately, I soon found out that although the pro­jec­tors were func­tional, they wouldn’t work for me.  Only a school com­puter loaded with a cer­tain soft­ware would work with all of the pro­jec­tors.  Because mul­ti­ple pre­sen­ters would be pre­sent­ing through­out the day, this wasn’t a good option.  Although the pro­jec­tors were work­ing, they were essen­tial use­less to my col­leagues and me.

After that dis­ap­point­ment, I began to hook-up my com­puter to test the one pro­jec­tor we could use as well as the sound.  Unfor­tu­nately, I was once again dis­ap­pointed with the usabil­ity of the equip­ment.  In a very large room designed for pre­sen­ta­tions of over 100 par­tic­i­pants, both the audio and LCD cord were approx­i­mately five feet long.  I couldn’t help but think that I would be awk­wardly stand­ing in the cor­ner while presenting.

These exam­ples are fairly obvi­ous exam­ples of the dif­fer­ences between being func­tional and being usable. I worry that too often in edu­ca­tion, we have lots of tech­nol­ogy that is func­tional, but for one rea­son or another, is not usable for teach­ers.  A look at the poor his­tory of tech­nol­ogy inte­gra­tion in schools is cer­tainly evi­dence of this.  So how do we address this issue?  School lead­ers and teach­ers have got to stop defer­ring all tech­nol­ogy deci­sions to the tech­nol­ogy staff.  This isn’t a crit­i­cism of tech­nol­ogy staffs; many are amaz­ing and do under­stand the impor­tance of mak­ing tech­nol­ogy more than just func­tional.  How­ever, very few of them spend the major­ity of their day in a class­room set­ting teach­ing stu­dents.  Other edu­ca­tors can par­tic­i­pate in dis­cus­sions about the pur­chase, place­ment, and ways to enhance the use of tech­nol­ogy with­out an intri­cate knowl­edge of soft­ware or hard­ware.  By bring­ing these addi­tional voices into tech­nol­ogy deci­sions, there may be an addi­tional focus on usabil­ity as well as func­tion­al­ity.  School lead­ers must stop treat­ing tech­nol­ogy deci­sions as unique from other deci­sions they make.  A tech­nol­ogy deci­sion is an edu­ca­tion deci­sion, and it shouldn’t be pushed on just one group of tech­nol­ogy experts to make such impor­tant decisions.

Nick Sauers


  1. Wow. I couldn’t agree more. Who cares how many of the newest thing you have if it’s not usable! We had 18 new com­put­ers that became big dust col­lec­tors because they were not usable. What a waste!! If more voices were avail­able to offer input we would have said don’t buy desk­top PCs! Buy ANYTHING mobile! Moral: ask sev­eral people.

  2. Nick Sauers says:

    Thanks Eliz­a­beth,

    There are so many exam­ples sim­i­lar to what you shared. Maybe this is part of the rea­son some peo­ple are opposed to more tech­nol­ogy “rich” school envi­ron­ments. They have seen many pre­vi­ous exam­ples of failed tech­nol­ogy initiatives.

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