Usability testing is the practice of having actual users try the software. Outcomes include the data of the tasks given to the user to complete (successful completion, time to complete, etc.), comments the users make and expert evaluation of their use of the software (noticing for example that none of the users follow the intended path to complete the task, or that many users looked for a different way to complete a task but failing to find it eventually found a way to succeed).
Usability testing involves systemic evaluation of real people using the software. This can be done in a testing lab where an expert can watch the user but this is expensive. Remote monitoring (watching the screen of the user; communication via voice by the user and expert; and viewing a webcam showing the user) is also commonly used.
In these setting the user will be given specific tasks to complete and the testing expert will watch what the user does. The expert will also ask the user questions about what they found difficult and confusing (in addition to what they liked) about the software.
The concept of usability testing is to have feedback from real users. In the event you can't test with the real users of a system it is important to consider if you are fairly accuratately representing that population with your usability testers. If the users of the system of fairly unsophisticated users if you use usability testers that are very computer savy they may well not provide good feedback (as their use of the software may be very different from the actually users).
"Usability testing" does not encompass experts evaluating the software based on known usability best practices and common problems. This form of expert knowledge of wise usability practices is important but it is not considered part of "usability testing."
Find more exploration of software testing terms in the Hexawise software testing glossary.
Related: Usability Testing Demystified - Why You Only Need to Test with 5 Users (this is not a complete answer, it does provide insite into the value of quick testing to run during the development of the software) - Streamlining Usability Testing by Avoiding the Lab - Quick and Dirty Remote User Testing - 4 ways to combat usability testing avoidance
By: John Hunter on Jul 4, 2016