Instruction icons

We've had some trouble in our office lately... For a client course we added a cursor icon next to all the instructions and it worked really well, they loved it and it was a huge success.

We used it again with a new client and they had trouble navigating the page. With comments back about  "the arrow points to the left" (just as a cursor does) and that it's unclear why the user should be clicking to the left of the page (they shouldn't).

We then swapped it out for a hand-style cursor, and this made it worse. "The hand is pointing above or to a blank space, where are we meant to click? It's unclear."

As a graphic designer as well, I don't believe a cursor or a layout, especially with a right hand side arrow to navigate, needs a real explanation or instruction these days. You wouldn't go on a website and get stuck on how to navigate the page. So why are elearning courses different?

We want to know if any other instructional designers have this issue; do you have any icons in particular that you use to illustrate instructions in a text heavy course? And do clients get confused if so?

This is a debate we've had in our office and we want to see if anyone else has had the same problem!

16 Replies
Faith Edwards

Well it is an instruction, not information which is why we didn't use the 'i' symbol! Thank you though!

And yes Tristan Hunt, we do use different colours and fonts for instructions, we were just trying to jazz up a very text heavy piece of elearning! Just wondered if anybody else had used icons in this way successfully.

Faith Edwards

Had to cut out the client logo but this is the general way of using the cursor icon, we had a normal arrow before which i thought worked better but that seemed to confuse them even more.

We just wanted to make it a little more interesting to look at as this is one of the pages with less written content!

Sean Speake

I'd remove the hand *and* the instruction. Honestly, if folks can't figure out the very clear navigation in the course, you don't have a training problem, you have a hiring problem.

The navigation as it exists is intuitive and simple.

If the client for some reason has a burning need (generally due to poorly thought out "requirements for learning" policy) then I'd offer up a How to Navigate the Course type page as the first page of the course.

I'm strongly opposed to navigation instructions on every page. It's a waste of space and insulting to learners.


My suggestion:

  1. Create a short "how to navigate the course" video and put it in a light box slide.
  2. On your course landing page, give users 2 options:
    1. Click here to learn how to navigate the course. (This opens the lighbox slide)
    2. Click here to start the course.

Users that need instructions will get a full demonstration and those that are returning to the course, have taken other courses you've created, or feel they can figure it out, can dive right in to the content and skip the instructions.

By showing navigation up front, you've introduced users to what "the Next arrow" looks like throughout the course.   You can also train them that when they see the hand icon, it means they need to click something.

Lastly, you could specify the location of the target just to be super clear. "Click the Next arrow on the right hand side of the course player to explore these behaviors further."

Faith Edwards

This is our thoughts exactly, I may just design the next course with the offer of them choosing to view navigation help first or not cause I really like that idea. This course does have a help page but I do not think it's even been looked at and reviewed, time will tell!

We think the navigation is intuitive and simple too, and thank you for your comment it made my day! 

Laura D

There are customers that have an employee base that is not computer/internet literate.  When an LMS is used, I create a  quick "how to use the course" as an intro lesson.  I record myself navigating the actual eLearning and add labels and pop-ups.

This is loaded as the first lesson on their LMS as a non-required item. 

Faith Edwards

No one ever uses our navigation and help slide, we do one for every course and we're still asked to add in instructions. I think I'm going to trial making it an option at the start and then if no one uses it we will soon find out!

The creating a quick course for LMS is a good idea too, i'll bare that in mind for future!

Sean Speake

Tristan - that'd be my thought too.

Laura - I'd argue that for folks who aren't computer savvy or literate too much instruction can be just as much a detriment as not enough. Our goal should be to design intuitive and simple learning experiences. My daughter is almost 3 and if she can figure out how to run the Netflix app, I think they're on to something.

I fear we often expect too little of our learners.

Nancy Woinoski

I agree that nobody uses the navigation instructions and honestly think they are a waste of time. They are too basic for users with any kind of computer literacy and if users are not computer-literate they are often too timid to click the navigation icon, button or link.

I have been doing this course design stuff for ever and it still boogles my mind what some users get hung up on. I tend to use text instructions and often put them on a delay so that they don't appear unless the user is inactive for a period of time. This way they are not intrusive.