Exploring user learnability and learning performance in an app for depression: Usability study

Colleen Stiles-Shields*, Enid Montague, Emily G. Lattie, Stephen M. Schueller, Mary J. Kwasny, David C. Mohr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background: Mental health apps tend to be narrow in their functioning, with their focus mostly being on tracking, management, or psychoeducation. It is unclear what capability such apps have to facilitate a change in users, particularly in terms of learning key constructs relating to behavioral interventions. Thought Challenger (CBITs, Chicago) is a skill-building app that engages users in cognitive restructuring, a core component of cognitive therapy (CT) for depression. Objective: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the learnability and learning performance of users following initial use of Thought Challenger. Methods: Twenty adults completed in-lab usability testing of Thought Challenger, which comprised two interactions with the app. Learnability was measured via completion times, error rates, and psychologist ratings of user entries in the app; learning performance was measured via a test of CT knowledge and skills. Nonparametric tests were conducted to evaluate the difference between individuals with no or mild depression to those with moderate to severe depression, as well as differences in completion times and pre- and posttests. Results: Across the two interactions, the majority of completion times were found to be acceptable (5 min or less), with minimal errors (1.2%, 10/840) and successful completion of CT thought records. Furthermore, CT knowledge and skills significantly improved after the initial use of Thought Challenger (P=.009). Conclusions: The learning objectives for Thought Challenger during initial uses were successfully met in an evaluation with likely end users. The findings therefore suggest that apps are capable of providing users with opportunities for learning of intervention skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere18
JournalJMIR Human Factors
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017


  • Apps
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Depression
  • Learning
  • Usability testing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Human Factors and Ergonomics


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