Have you ever completed an e-learning course that was tricky or downright confusing to navigate? Maybe you didn’t know which object to click on, or you couldn’t figure out how to move forward? If this is the case, you’ve been the victim of bad course design.

One very important aspect of course design is setting up the navigation, which is how learners advance from one slide or screen to the next. Ideally, you want to create a learning experience where learners advance seamlessly, without pausing to wonder what to do next. Here are a few helpful tips to get you there.

Consider Your Project Requirements

Your project requirements will frequently dictate how you set up the navigation in your course, so you’ll want to have a discussion with your stakeholders to determine those early on. Depending on the type of training you’re creating, you might design it with “open navigation,” where learners can navigate freely through the lessons or content. This is commonly used when you’re building a course with lessons that don’t need to be viewed in a specific order.

If you’re building training for compliance or legal reasons, you might be more inclined to “lock down” the navigation, so to speak, and force the learners to view the content in a predetermined order. You might also set up your courses so learners can’t navigate forward until all the activities in a lesson have been completed. This is sometimes necessary for auditing purposes, to be able to legally prove that a learner has viewed every piece of content in a course.

Generally it’s considered a best practice not to “lock down” courses unless you really have to. It tends to be a better learning experience when the learner has control over the experience and can click freely through the materials.

Be Clear About the Next Step

One of the best ways you can make your navigation intuitive is to provide clear direction to your learners about what they are expected to do. Label your buttons with action verbs, such as “Click to Continue” and “Submit Question,” so learners know exactly what will happen when they interact with that object.

On the whole, you want to avoid creating navigation that is so complex that you need to provide instructions for them. However, it might not hurt to provide simple instructions to your learner here or there. A line that says “Click the button to continue” or “Flip the card to view more information” can be a super-helpful prompt. If you feel there’s any room for confusion, include simple instructions for your learner.

Have It Reviewed

One of the best ways to identify whether people are able to intuitively navigate your course is to get someone to provide feedback. Ask a trusted reviewer to click through your course with a focus on navigation. Ask them some specific questions such as “Were you ever confused about where to click or where to navigate to next?” to get insights about how they did. Based on the feedback they provide, you might want to make some tweaks.

Creating user-friendly e-learning course navigation is easy to do if you follow these simple yet effective best practices. Do you have any tips of your own for designing intuitive course navigation? Let me know in the comments!

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Grace McLinn
Concetta Phillipps
Chris Roetzer

As always Nicole, great post-- if the nav is unclear, the bad UI design is on the designer. One issue I've seen is designers using a lack of consistency. Sometimes forward is Next but then at other times it's an arrow/chevron or some shape and perhaps never in the same place twice. Yep, those courses are out there! We address nav in our eLearning Style Guide in two dimensions, primary and secondary nav. Primary is the next button we all know and love (we generally remove the default text label PREV and NEXT by the way, everyone knows them well enough with simply < and > much like our cell phones). Secondary nav has some variety for basic guides but generally one of a few choices like chevron/ arrows (lay a hot spot over them), small circle shapes (series of "bubbles") or a rectangle s... Expand