Better to move to the next slide automatically or manually?

I am curious what other designers who use Articulate Storyline or Presenters think... If you are developing a typical presentation, basically a PowerPoint presentation with narration, is it better instructionally to move from slide to next slide automatically, or to make the learner click Next? I am talking about "default behavior" here. I understand that a particular slide might have information on it that someone needs to look at more carefully, which would mean manual advancement would be better, but in general which is the better way to go?

I typically advance the presentation automatically, because I assume that some people will just want to watch it like a video, but then I got thinking, maybe it is better to require the learner to click Next for the simple fact of keeping them engaged at that minimal level. I also got some really positive feedback from someone on a module where everything advanced manually, stating that they preferred to advanced things themselves. I'm assuming though that there are others out there that would hate this. 

So what is your default design? Auto advance, or manual advance?

Or - does anyone go to the trouble of letting the user decide between the two?(I'm imagining in Storyline you could do this with a variable the user sets at the beginning that determines what happens at the end of each slide)

21 Replies
Nancy Woinoski

Your content should dictate whether you set the slides to advance manually or to auto advance.  If there is a natural flow in the narrative (thoughts are connected or there is a transition statement from one slide to the next then use auto advance, if not then it is better to have the user manually advance.

Keep in mind that when using audio advance, you can sometimes run into a technical glitch in that the last bit of the audio on a slide gets cut off even if you have enough room on the timeline. To avoid this from happening it is best to set up a trigger to jump to next slide when media completes. This is a lot of extra work so unless there is a compelling reason to use auto advance, I would stick with manual.

Will Findlay

Thanks Nancy. I like the criteria you have laid out. So, unless there is a natural transition or flow, wait for the user to advance.

That's interesting that you mentioned that glitch because I have seen it before myself and have seen it as a comment in evaluations, but I've always thought it was something I was doing wrong. Seems like something that should be fixed!

Eric Bybee

I concur with Nancy, you should let your content dictate whether to use Auto Advance or have the Learner click next.  In the environment I design for, most of the Learners are taking an eLearning course while they are working a counter at one of our C-Stores.  In this environment using Auto Advance is problematic.  I do not want a Learner to miss an element so unless I am creating straight presentation based content, I have the Learner click Next.  It gives them a cushion in case they have to look away for a minute or two.  They can replay the slide or, click and move on.

My $0.02.

Ken Cobbley

My default for the content I'm developing is Auto advance. We have our VO folks add about a second of silence to the front and back end of audio files and we've had no problems with slides advancing too soon. Most of our users would be sitting in front of a computer anyway so Auto just seems to work best for us. We do, of course, have slides that have interactions or more technical info that needs closer inspection so in those cases, users advance manually.

Will Findlay

I agree, but sometimes I wonder if it annoys people who just want to watch without having to advance each slide when slides do not auto-advance. Maybe a compromise would be to ask the user upfront if they want slides to auto-advance or pause. That sounds like so much work though to implement. ;-)

Ulises Musseb

I echo those who say that it's not best to let content dictates the navigation, but rather the instructional design used to deliver such content.

In my opinion, there isn't such thing as a "typical" presentation. In my organization we have an uphill battle against having some PowerPoint bullet point list narrated over and calling that elearning. It is just not effective to create courses that way.

As for users complaining about having to interact with the course, working in an organization of over 30,000 users in the epicenter of diversity that NYC is, and creating courses for a wealth of skill sets, preferences and literacy levels, I can assure you that there will never be one way of setting a course that will not annoy anyone.

An effective user experience requires interaction. Chances are that people who complain about having to click the "Next" button may taking a course that has been assigned to them, not a course they chose to take.

Will Findlay

Thanks! Unfortunately we don't always have the luxury of rejecting many of our projects because the instructional design is subpar because the content needs to get to people in a timely fashion, and in many cases it also means content that is assigned to people who would probably prefer not to take it (for example a change in a policy that requires people to become familiar with a new process).

So I'll admit that a fair amount of our training is a "PowerPoint bullet point list narrated over."  I guess what I'm asking is when you are constrained to produce something like that, which route do you take regarding navigation? Or have you found a way to quickly move people to a different model of instruction and avoid the lecture format, and still meet the time constraints in these type of projects?

Or, do you just suggest to people in a case like this where they want to disseminate what is essentially a lecture to do something completely different?

Michelle Arakelian

Hi Will,

In general, adult learners should have more control and be able to select the Next button when they're ready to move on. I agree with Nancy that it's best to use auto advance when you don't want to interrupt the flow of the content. 

The Next button can get boring though. I like to be creative and add interactivity by instructing learners to click on different elements on the slide to continue. For example, I developed super hero characters for my suite of eLearning courses and I might say something like "Select Mr. Awesome's cape to learn more about his super hero power!"

In Storyline, I typically do this by inserting an invisible rectangle (no border, no fill) onto the image or text I want the user to select. Then I create a trigger to advance to a specific slide, such as "Jump to slide x when user clicks rectangle 1." The user feels like they have more control, but it's basically the same as selecting the Next button. Even with time constraints you can definitely avoid PowerPoint bullet points by building in simple interactions!

It's also great to use branching to increase learner control. They still have to complete the entire module, but it feels like they're given choices. This is a little more complicated as it requires slide layers to show that a section is complete, but it's worth it! This also involves a lot more triggers as you'll want the user to review all the sections before being able to select the Next button. Let me know if you'd like to learn more!

Jacquelyn Edwards

Hi All,

Reading through the comments confirms I am Pro Next Button. Having the learner dictate the pace of their content allows for both learner engagement and learning flexibility. Many of my clients require content which can be delivered both online and face-to-face with some learners accessing their content whilst on-the-job which can often result in an interrupted learning environment. Manual advance allows this particular learner to allow brief interruptions without losing out greatly on the content delivered.

Unfortunately as the designer it is difficult to place yourself into the learning environment when you are not an SME or have in-house experience from the learner's perspective. Working closely with SME's or allowing room in the quote to have a 'day in the life' of your learner can sometimes mean the difference between good e-learning and great e-learning content.

If in doubt, manual advance. 


Henrik Clausen

At our company (a 20,000 persons org), we're firmly in the Manual Advance camp.

Self-paced learning lets the user digest what has been presented and proceed exactly when he's ready, on interactive as well as non-interactive slides. We are applying this principle to Storyline and Captivate productions alike, to great user satisfaction.

In contrast, we also have a couple of projects where we use narrated screen recordings without any built-in pausing. They work well as material for classroom training (preparation and in-session examples), but do not work nearly as well for self-managed training. It appears that users' attention tend to slip away in situations where they do not have to interact with the training, unless the productions are extremly professionally done (like at PragerU).

In brief, we do manual advance, except when the material clearly leans towards automatic.

Will Findlay

I wonder though if there has actually been research done on this or usability studies. Saying that manual advance is better goes against other conventional wisdom in interface design that every click has a cost, and that users prefer not to make unnecessary clicks. Maybe just reminding people that they can (and should) pause the presentation if they need to reflect on what they are learning is better, maybe not. Has anyone actually researched this?


Henrik Clausen

I'm a risk-taker: It's my professional obligation to take relevant risks like this :)

Probably more to the point: Pausing is also a deliberate message. It means:

"We have now given you something that you need to understand and digest, including the implications for your work, before moving to the next item."

Then, we probably have some cultural differences here, at least based on some of the American presentations I've seen, which tend to lean to the inspirational side of things. Our material is more into the rough details of our work - for example the heavy punishments we may suffer from the European Union even for unintended mistakes - so my message in the production could also be worded like this:

"Now please pause and reflect . Then move on only when you know that you are ready."

Jon Aucoin

HI All,  

An interesting discussion. I try to provide the best of both worlds with a manual advancement (i.e. click Next) but the next button does not appear until the slide completes the timeline.  Secondly if they miss a key issue there is also a "Replay" button on the screen as well to repeat that particular slide.  Both Next and Replay button start state is Hide, and I trigger a normal state upon completion of the slide. 

Will Findlay

One thing that occured to me - I started using Articulate Presenter before Storyline came on the scene. In Presenter, the default is for slides to advance automatically, while in Storyline the default is for slides to advance manually. So, the reason I have leaned towards automatic advancement of slides may simply be because that was what I am used to doing in Presenter.

Jenda George

Dredging up an older conversation but still relevant as Storyline developers.  

Our group's standards dictate that slides must auto advance, but the slides with interactivity make this difficult. We could add complex triggers to advance when the user has explored all of the content, but none of us want the maintenance of it.

Does it make more sense to use a hybrid of auto-advance and user-advanced slides? My stance is that consistency across courses makes more sense and reduces confusion, but I'd rather let the learner control when they advance to more content.