Course Navigation Instructions IllustrationCommunity member Katherine Rowood recently started a discussion that most of us can relate to: is it necessary to include course navigation instructions at the beginning of every e-learning course? Our community members weighed in with some pretty good arguments, but as with many aspects of the Instructional Design world, there is no clear right or wrong answer. Nevertheless, I think their answers may help you make an educated decision about the best option for your course and target audience. Here’s a summary of the four primary themes grouped below by opinion:

Include Instructions at the Beginning

  • Call out the navigation buttons at the very start of the course, when they first appear. If the rest of the navigation buttons are always in the same location and same function, I don’t think you need to point them out again. Nicole Legault
  • My approach on this is to give context-sensitive help, instead of a whole “this is how it works” mini-lesson. I try to keep it under five seconds if I can, usually by dimming the slide and using hand gesture icons. I find this to be nonintrusive for an experienced user, and encouraging to the amateur user. Alexandros Anoyatis
  • My perspective is a bit different on this topic. I have worked in many roles where I provided some type of IT support. Whether it was IT training or help desk services, I always came across people of all ages and experience levels who just didn’t get the simple things (even as simple as a Next/Previous button or scrollbars). That experience has helped me tremendously when I design e-learning content because I try to not forget those people. And when I do, I end up designing a course with little to no instructions or just hover-over hints -- and evaluations and user feedback always reminds me that instructions are a must. Tonya Weathers

Include Optional Instructions at the Beginning

  • I like to start out the course with ... the course content. On the opening page, I add an obvious button: “click here to learn how to navigate this course”. The button opens the quick navigation tour in a lightbox slide. This way users who have been through my courses before or are savvy enough to figure it out can jump right in, and those who need help can get it. Owen Holt
  • My solution was to add a Training Instructions link to the player, which I call out at the beginning of the course. When the learner clicks it, a lightbox opens with detailed instructions about the navigation, duration, etc. Angela Kaufman

Include Instructions Throughout the Course

  • You could add a layer that appears if they haven’t navigated after 20 seconds or so, showing them where to click to continue. Ant Pugh
  • I like to include a small pointer that says “Next” at the end of the content to hopefully remove any ambiguity about whether or not the content is finished. Norm Cousineau
  • The “Click Next to Continue” instructions throughout the course serve a dual purpose of reminding the learner how to navigate (for those slower or forgetful learners out there) and alerting the learner when the slide they’re on is finished and they can safely navigate forward. I like to put them at the end of a slide/slides where it isn’t necessarily obvious to the learner that it’s time to move forward, for instance, slides with videos or where the learner has little interaction with the course itself. Jackson Hamner
  • In my own courses, probably 75% of my audience is made up of millennials, while 25% is “other.”  What I do is don’t put instructions on the slide, but I do two things: Include a "?" marker that gives the instruction when hovered over; and add a Click Outside trigger on the next button that shows the instructions if the user clicks on anything but the next button when the timeline is finished. Jennifer Barnett

Don’t Include Any Instructions

  • These same users will use apps with no instructions, a browser with back and forward arrows; I don’t think instructions are necessary. Phil Mayor
  • I generally use both Next/Previous buttons and the Progress/Scrollbar with the Play/Pause/Rewind buttons (visual design permitting, of course). The Next/Previous buttons give the user an obvious indicator for navigation. The Progress/Scrollbar provides a visual indication of when the instruction is complete, plus it provides the user with the ability to scroll back through or replay the content if additional clarification is needed. All of this is done without any obvious “patronizing” of the end user. Also, I believe a bit of “self-discovery” or allowing less tech-savvy end users to figure out simple things on their own gives them a subtle sense of self-accomplishment, which helps to reinforce the learning experience. Chet Poulton

What’s your experience with navigation instructions in e-learning courses? Feel free to share your point of view below or in the original discussion.

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25 Comments
Andrew Winner
Corey McElroy
Linda Sampson
Pascal Smet
Ryan  Simons
Phillip Penn

I use navigation base on the course I design. If it is the same basic temple I use for work then I do not add any navigation instruction. When I create a not normal course for work I add a navigation page before the course starts so the users know what button they are clicking to move along. Also at the end of the time line the but I want the user to click on will have a highlight color around the button letting the user to click on that button. I say it depends on the course you design. If it is the same basic course set up you design every month I do not add a navigation page. If there are no interaction but rather a PowerPoint style course the user click on the screen until they hit the next button since that is the only trigger on the page. So use and don't use navigation base ... Expand

Dennis Hall