Should I Lock the Navigation on Our E-Learning Courses?

When we are doing the initial analysis and design of a course, the navigation options are key components we need to decide on up front.  The main questions:

  • Can a student jump around the course freely, or do they have to complete the course in order?
  • Can a student jump right to the test to get credit for the course?
  • If they can’t jump around freely, can they at least go back and visit previously viewed slides?
  • Must a student complete all elements on a slide (listen to all the audio, answer the question, click on all the buttons) before moving forward?

There are a number of factors that go into these answers.  For example, if the course will be used for performance support after initial training, students should be able to jump around.  If the test is well designed and thorough, maybe it should be OK to let the students test out.  On the other hand, the content may build on itself, meaning it won’t make sense if the students jump around, and regulatory requirements might require a certain about of “seat time.”

But I think the biggest argument boils down to choice versus control.  On the one hand, adult learning theory says that adult learners want to make their own decisions about learning.  On the other hand, the compliance officer/subject-matter expert/HR department/legal team/regulatory agency needs to know that their employees received certain training.

So who’s right?  In my opinion, both sides have valid points that need to be balanced with each other.   On the one hand, even as adults, we don’t always get what we want.  I WANT every Friday off—paid.  But I don’t get it.  So while we may prefer to pick and choose what we learn (and how and when), we won’t always get to.  On the other hand, the desire to control every aspect of the course is often a knee-jerk reaction and not a considered response: everything is important; everything is mandatory.  That’s not always true.

Here’s what it boils down to.  If you give the students a choice to skip things, some of them will.  So one question remains:  Are you OK with that?  If you are, leave it open.  If you aren’t, lock it down.  And realize that it doesn’t have to be one decision for the whole course.

Diane Elkins
Diane Elkins leads Artisan E-Learning, a custom eLearning development company specializing in the use of rapid- development tools. Diane has been in the eLearning industry since 2001, speaks regularly at national conferences about eLearning, and is co-author of the popular E-Learning Uncovered book series.

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