In the late ‘90s the company I worked for was installing a new network in anticipation of the Y2K bug. I was responsible for training how to use the computers on the network.
Back then most people didn’t have computers. So before we could teach them how to use the computers, we had to teach simple things like using a mouse. I recall a few people who actually waved the mouse in front of the monitor hoping to get it to work.
E-learning has a similar history. Because it was new and there wasn’t a lot of consistency around interface design, most courses started with a “how to navigate this course” course. It made sense back then.
I’m not sure if it makes much sense today because most people are familiar with computers; so figuring out how to click a play button or forward arrow isn’t too hard. And besides, many elearning courses use a similar layout which makes it easy to know what to do. Because of this, it’s probably not necessary to have a mini course on how to navigate the course within your course.
With that said, the majority of the courses I see do offer the mini course. I think that in most cases they can be eliminated or at least simplified. Here’s an example from a recent course I previewed:
This is the volume button. Some slides may or may not have audio. Those that do have audio can be adjusted using the volume control button. If you want to increase the volume, place your mouse over the volume control. To turn the volume up, drag the mouse to the right. To turn the volume down, drag the mouse to the left. Find a volume level that is comfortable for you.
Do I really need a thirty second explanation of the volume control? This same course continued through explanations of all of the player features. They even went on to explain the logo panel. It probably took about 5 minutes just to get through the user interface. I’m not sure exactly, because I fell asleep.
Obviously, you want to let the user know how to get around the course. However, in many instances the navigation is obvious and needs no instruction, or just something real simple. They definitely don’t need a full course on how to navigate the course.
The goal is to create a frictionless experience. A mini course on navigation impedes the flow and pacing of your course. So here are a few tips:
- Get rid of the navigation instructions. When you watched your first YouTube video, did you have problems figuring out how to get it to play? If your course player follows convention, then it’s usually not hard to figure out what’s a play button and what’s a back arrow.
- Follow conventions and don’t customize every course you build. It’s more fun to create a custom look and feel for your elearning courses. But, there’s a lot of value in having a consistent player structure. It means people know where things are and where to look for help. This lets them focus on the content and not how to navigate the course.
- Provide clear instructions if you do have unconventional navigation. Ideally, the interface should be comfortable and intuitive…and shouldn’t require a lot of instruction. But if you do violate some conventions, then be sure to provide clear instructions. Something to keep in mind is that if you have to offer a lot of navigation tips, you may want to rethink how you built the interface.
- Offer just-in-time prompts. Instead of throwing all of the navigation tips out at once, just offer them at the point where they need to be used. For example, the first time you want them to click play, just add a “click play now” prompt. After the first time, they should get it. This is a better approach than offering 30 navigation tips and a long, boring tour of the interface upfront. Most people won’t even remember all of that stuff, anyway.
- Create a “voluntary” player tour. You may not be comfortable offering no navigation tips. And some clients will demand it anyway. So instead of forcing everyone to go through the tour at the front end, just add a help section where they can get some tips if they’re stuck. Many people who use Articulate Engage will create a drop down tab with detailed instructions for those who need them.
- Consider your audience. Personally, my choice is to avoid building the “how to take the course” tour. But I still have to think about the audience needs. If you work with a pool of people who are not familiar with computers or seem intimidated by taking a course online, then you want to do everything you can to make it easy for them. This is where convention and just in time prompts are valuable.
- Don’t hire people who can’t figure out how to press a play button. It’s one thing if the elearning course has some novel interface that is a bit confusing. But most elearning courses have the same basic structure. If the person can’t figure out how to advance the screen without help, they might not be the right person for the job. 🙂
Below is a quick demo with a few different ideas on how you can approach the slide navigation instructions.
There are a lot of ways to build navigation tips and prompts into your elearning course. There’s really no right or wrong way. In fact, in reviewing the recent Articulate Guru Awards, it’s interesting to see some of the ways this is dealt with. I’ll share more later.
How do you deal with this in your elearning courses? Share your thoughts by clicking on the comments link.
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- Mar 20 (Orlando). Want to learn to build courses with the right look & feel? Join David Anderson at his all day workshop on Graphic Design Essentials for Non-Graphic eLearning Designers.
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- April 14 (Minneapolis). PACT Meeting: Facing Today's Instructional Design Challenges.
Free E-Learning Resources
Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.
Here’s a great job board for elearning, instructional design, and training jobs
Participate in the weekly elearning challenges to sharpen your skills
Lots of cool elearning examples to check out and find inspiration.