Free Your eLearning Navigation From the Straight and Narrow


Sample Exploratory NavigationThis week’s eLearning Heroes Challenge on the Articulate Forums was all about course navigation. And you know what?  It’s always a good time to talk about navigation. If you are still creating all your eLearning courses with a strictly linear path, then you’re missing a major opportunity to engage adult learners.

I know what you’re thinking: “But it’s a Compliance course, and people just need to get through it as quickly as possible.” Change your mindset. Free yourself and your courseware from the limits of linear thinking. Regardless of the topic, you need to make your learning interesting and engaging for your learners, or they won’t remember your key points a minute longer than the answer to the last quiz question.

Sure, sometimes a linear 1-2-3-4-5 etc. progression of slides makes the most sense. But if you’re looking to involve your learners, and encourage them to remember your information, help them invest in the course, even just a little bit.

How do we do this? In this simple sample, I give the learner free choice to decide on the order of topics, and use branching to deliver the content, while still ensuring that they complete all the material successfully before moving on through the course.  Offering them the opportunity to explore as they please is a small gesture with a large impact.

Adult learners like a course better if it gives them at least a little bit of autonomy, the ability to make their own choices. Think about it–do most people really like to be told what to do, or where to go? Even in a Compliance course, where the stakes for demonstrating mastery of the topic can be high, you can still give your learner some choices.

You can also entertain and engage your learner while you’re at it. I regularly recommend using a scenario-based approach to learning. Why? Because everyone loves a good story, for one thing. And a good story can offer opportunities for you to involve the learner in creating the outcome you seek.

In the example I’m sharing here, I’ve created a very basic template in Storyline 2 that you could use for a Compliance course, or any other type of course. I’ve picked the topic of Information Security, which is a concern for all businesses, regardless of size. I kept the look and feel very neutral and professional. I present a simple menu page that introduces three characters, and invites the learner to click on the characters in whatever order they choose, to explore a risk scenario and help that character avoid making a terrible mistake. So without overdoing it, I’ve introduced a story element, and a little bit of drama to pique the learner’s interest. In my sample, I’ve set up a simple one-slide scenario and one quiz question for each character’s path, but obviously you could do a lot more if needed–although remember that brevity is always a goal.

Using characters introduces a human element. Making up a real-world scenario the learner would easily recognize makes that character and situation all the more real. Asking the learner to step in and prevent the character from making a big mistake involves them in affecting the outcome of an event they feel could actually happen in their workplace. Note my word choice there: regardless of the topic, you need to get your learners to feel something if you want them to remember.

In this sample, I’ve set up the questions to allow infinite attempts. You could also add meaningful feedback for wrong choices to enrich the experience. What you’re subtly doing is making your points, and allowing your learner to explore and fail in a safe environment, while setting them up to succeed, even if they miss on the first try. And when they succeed, I congratulate them and award them a badge for preventing a disaster (a little touch of gamification).

Once they explore all three scenarios, and earn all three badges, then and only then, a button appears inviting them to move ahead with (or perhaps complete) the course. Isn’t that a lot more interesting than rigidly controlling the navigation and forcing your learner to proceed 1-2-3-4-5 in lockstep? This way, you’re still subtly controlling the environment and the learner’s experience. You’re still ensuring they cover all the material. But you’re giving the learner a stake in the game, allowing them to make choices, engage with your content, and come out as heroes.

Next time you start a project, try looking at your course content and navigation in a new light.  Consider:

  • Free-choice navigation systems like the one shown here (or a map, or a diagram, or whatever your imagination devises)
  • Believable, recognizable characters
  • Scenarios that will grab your learner’s interest
  • Little touches of gamification

Sure, creating a course with branching takes a bit more work to design and build. But the end result will be a course that your learners might actually enjoy and remember!

To view the sample template in action, click the image at the top of this post.

Here’s a high-level look at this simple template’s structure:

Sample Exploratory Navigation Structure