The ‘Micro’ Considerations of Instructional Design: A Focus on Navigation
Whatever device you may be designing your course for, the learner should be able to logically navigate the content, and never find themselves lost. This post doesn’t go into the design particulars for specific devices, but rather a more global look at course navigation.
A lot of the eLearning authoring software such as Articulate or Adobe Captivate has a default built-in navigational system, but you can override this and build your own system. It will often come down to personal choice.
Your course navigation not only determines the flow of your content but also the amount of control your learner has over it. Ideally, you want learners to control the course pace to suit their learning requirements. Your task, therefore, is to balance ‘learner control’ with ‘program control’.
Establishing the balance can often be determined by the prior knowledge level of your target audience or their specific role within an organization or institution. Ascertaining prior levels of knowledge can be difficult. When the SME is developing the content, he/she should establish what content is ‘non-negotiable’ for learners to cover, and what could be classified as ‘optional’, and then the instructional designer can create a way to facilitate this.
This can then be made known to learners at the start of the course along with other things they may need to know as demonstrated in figure 2.20. This facilitates varying levels of prior knowledge and introduces an element of learner control (Clark & Mayer 2011).
The real navigation challenge lies with the instructional designer. For the user, it should seem like a seamless transition from slide to slide. The more complex your course is, the more diligent you must be when designing the course.
If for example, you have a lot of scenario based learning in your course, it is vital the learner lands on the corresponding slide for their chosen option.
In terms of designing one course for different roles or levels within an organization where there is an overlap of core material, you could simply create a ‘content option’ or ‘adapted paths’, which will direct specific learners to content designed for their role or level. For example, you may have an updated version of a previous course due to the launch of a new product or procedure.
A percentage of the content may remain the same, which existing staff may have already completed, but all of the content will be new to staff who have never taken the original course. Figure 2.21 demonstrates a workaround for this where learners choose the option that represents them and is then subsequently directed to the relevant content.
Also, generally it is better practice to allow the user to have control over the ‘next’ button or arrow as opposed to having it set to auto advance.
When it comes to placing content menus and adding navigational instructions, opinion is divided. There are different style options for the menu bar such as; horizontal bar navigation, vertical bar navigation, tab navigation, next-previous navigation, breadcrumb navigation, grid style navigation, or even a combination of these.
You may also choose to have a visible sidebar menu as seen in figure 2.22:
Alternatively, hide the menu away but have it accessible to learners if they need it throughout the course as shown in figure 2.23. There is no right or wrong way here and it may often be decided on what looks better or what learners prefer if you are in a position to obtain user feedback prior to the course launch.
- The sidebar menu is displayed when the learner clicks the Menu option in the main navigation bar.
In terms of adding in instructions on how to navigate there are generally four accepted options:
- Include instructions at the beginning
- Include optional instructions at the beginning
- Include instructions throughout the course
- Don’t include any instructions (LaMotte 2015)
The better you know your target audience the easier the decision. If you don’t their level of comfort or familiarity with technology, the best solution may be to design your navigation instructions as an optional viewing point as demonstrated in figure 2.24. Here all the navigational instructions are a click away on two purpose-built layers within the slide.
The learner can make the decision if they need to view the instructions or simply press next if not. This information can also be accessed by placing it in a purpose-built slide accessible any time throughout the course as demonstrated.
Rules of thumb for course navigation
So as you can see there is no one size fits all approach to designing course navigation. Below are just a few summary points to bear in mind to ensure a seamless experience for your intended audience:
- Keep it simple, consistent and to the point. If your course takes a lot of explaining you should go back and examine the interface
- Try to maximize learner control over content by providing options
- Let the learner know what to expect throughout the course
- Don’t bury navigation buttons in ‘clever’ designs that may only serve to confuse learners
- Beware of using narrated audio, it dictates the pace for the learner and decreases their sense of control
- Explain the navigation features early on. If it appears late in the course intro it’s maybe not all that necessary if the leaner has got that far unassisted
- If you plan on creating multiple future courses for the same audience, stick to a similar layout and navigation and the need for instruction will lessen
- If you do have additional resources that the user can download or a glossary, be sure they know where to find them
A clear and logical navigation system is the best way to complement your content and maximize learner engagement. Hopefully, these will help you understand some of the basic principles in course design and how they impact learning. If you would like to delve into even more detail Download the full free eBook