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Let’s Get Fantastically Lost in eLearning Navigation Design
I Know a Short-cut To Grandma’s House, The eLearning Navigation Wolf Suavely Said…
Are you in the midst of designing an eLearning navigation structure for your courses and looking for REALISTIC ways to NOT scare your poor unsuspecting learners?
Not sure how to lead your learners down the narrow path that leads to eGlory, eSuccess and eXpensive toys?
We have scoured the web in search of ways to make eLearning navigation design quicker, more effective, and less of a mess.
If you are fed up with fantasy gobbledegook engineered to obfuscate, join us now as we ignore the Doublespeak and give you the bare-bone facts on how to wax your eLearning course navigation and YES, live happily ever after.
Auto advance and linear storytelling structures can only go so far. To truly care about the comprehension, retention, and achievements of students is to design eLearning courses that are easy to explore.
If content is King then eLearning navigation is the secret skeleton key to the entire on-the-job training kingdom.
Whether we refer to eLearning navigation as modern art or proven science, the fact remains that the map is not the territory and no amount of whining will make it so.
Without a clear step-by-step roadmap that learners can easily follow, all the blood sweat and overtime is for naught.
Picture this: You’re late for a meeting in an unfamiliar part of town. Suddenly your trusty GPS and mobile phone goes dead. In desperation you fumble underneath the seats and pull out a tattered map book.
Your spirit lifts and as it is about to soar, you realise it’s the 2001 edition and utterly useless. What do you do? How will you find your way? How will you let your client know that you will be late?
Luckily, in real life, you can pull into the nearest petrol station and buy a new map, or at the very least, ask for directions to your intended destination. In the developing world of eLearning navigation and digital content design, there are no clever devices or friendly attendants. If you or your learners get lost in a dodgy part of the course, you stay lost.
To remedy this means to provide your learners with a foolproof structure that allows them to focus on the actual content instead of wasting time attempting to find that sweet “you are here” spot.
When we have a reliable vehicle and know where we are headed, the journey can be planned and we are more confident to stop along the way to admire the sights.
Think of your course style and structure as a fully kitted out 4×4 ready to conquer unknown horizons. First you need to ensure that your vehicle is mechanically sound and tough enough to handle a bit of bundu bashing, should the need arise.
Once your vehicle is tuned, it’s time to pack and kick off. But to where?
What good is a rough and ready mudslinging machine if you have no destination in mind and did not bother to plan a route? Sure, adventure is afoot, but what if you had a class of students with you in the car?
In eLearning navigation design and styling, the final destination (your objective) is as important as the pit-stops (their progress markers) along the way.
The royal road to successful eLearning course navigation relies on knowing your audience and tailoring every aspect of your presentation into a vivid and memorable experience.
Rushing through a linear time-line and simply dumping data is tempting fate and will not lead to positive outcomes.
The best strategy to effective course flow and design is to weigh the PROs and CONs of each navigation model and customize your approach according to the learners you are attempting to reach.
1. Next/ Back Navigation
PRO – The Next/Back eLearning navigation structure is the simplest and most widely deployed navigation structure in all of digital navigation-dom. The premise and operation is as simple as watching a slideshow. Follow the arrows and click ‘next’ to proceed or click ‘back’ to return to the previous slide.
CON – Next/Back navigation is a fantastic way to keep the attention of learners focused, but without mixing it up with other navigation styles you’ll end up with a pretty unimaginative and devastatingly boring course. Sure, we all love that back button, but the point is to move forward, so use this design and layout sparingly.
2. Horizontal Bar
PRO – The Horizontal bar is a classic mainstay of digital learning and one of the most popular eLearning navigation styles. Normally found at the top or bottom of the screen, the bar allows for secondary drop-down menus and helps learners to find their way in milliseconds.
CON – The Horizontal bar structure may be ideal for short and simple eLearning courses and material, but it can only display a limited number of main options, which makes it a no-no for more complex and comprehensive instruction.
3. Vertical Column
PRO – The Vertical style (aka sidebar navigation) is a golden oldie and is still a favourite with most of the major eLearning authoring platforms like Articulate Presenter, Storyline, Lectora, and Adobe Captivate (and, ahem, our own KnowHow LMS). By default, the menu is positioned as a column on the left side of the screen and can also be loaded with sub-menu items and links.
If you were wondering why you’re not likely to encounter a vertical menu on the right side, check out this interesting usability study done on the differences between a column on the right vs. a menu on the left.
CON – The side-bar layout’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. A plethora of sub-menu links can easily confuse learners. Menu items should be kept to only essential info relevant to the lesson at hand.
4. Tabbed Navigation
PRO – As the name says, this navigation structure consists of tabs lined up in a bar or stacked in a column. When learners click on a tab, the content appears either on the side or below. This style gives you more space for content and enables learners to swiftly access info without leaving the page.
The fact that most adult learners are already familiar with ‘analogue’ tabs in binders, notebooks and filing systems is also a big bonus as this makes navigation intuitive.
CON – To be able to offer your learners tabbed content means you need some serious design and/or coding skills to make them work. Depending on the design, a string of tabs could easily take up quite a bit of space. Stacking tabs on top of each other in a column layout and can also lead to confusion as most people are used to the ‘intuitive’ side by side tab structure.
5. Breadcrumb Navigation
PRO – The Breadcrumb navigation style hails from the imaginative realm of fairy stories and is most often incorporated as secondary structure. In the same manner that Hansie and Grietjie (Hansel and Gretel) relied on a trail of crumbs to find a way back home, the breadcrumb structure lets learners know exactly where they are and where to go next.
A list of secondary ‘quick-link’ navigation items enable learners to switch between the home page and chapters without getting lost (or eaten by a reclusive witch with a baking problem).
CON – Breadcrumbs are powerful tools when correctly deployed and should be reserved for info-packed lessons with a clear and categorised structure. The more knowledge you have to impart, the better breadcrumbs will work, but as ever, be wary of confusing learners with too much info and not enough insight.
6. Grid Style Kung Fu
PRO – The Grid eLearning navigation style is best suited for visually driven content. Information is presented via appealing images and placed in a series of boxes or tables. This structure presents the content in an aesthetically pleasing and uncluttered format and allows learners the opportunity to easily achieve greater retention.
CON – If your subject matter allows for vivid imagery then the Grid layout will make your content look awesome, but… But text-based content in a box quickly gets boring and cumbersome. A balance between words and pictures is the holy grail you are searching for. Especially if you are one of those rebellious ‘creative’ types who believe imagination is the key to all learning.
And… the end.
Congratulations! You now know the six sharpest and smartest ways to help your learners navigate, explore and discover your curricula.
If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then the way to a learners mind is through the imaginative faculties of the right brain! Our humble advice is to keep it simple, creative, relevant, and real.
Don’t forget to remember that it’s not what you are teaching; it’s what they are learning…
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