Sunday, February 8, 2009

User Control

Computer MouseI am a big advocate for user control. In my opinion, there are too many e-learning courses that do not allow users to navigate through the content as they wish or need. Lack of user control is contrary to many principles of adult learning theory. Allowing user control provides self-directed learning and allows users to determine their learning needs and what is relevant to their needs, all of which are important concepts in adult learning theory.

Plus, if user control is not allowed, a designer is usually limiting his or her courses to being very linear and excluding many opportunities, and benefits, of using experiential learning, situational or branching simulations, educational games, etc.

I have had people say to me, "If you allow user control or make it non-linear, users will not read all the content or just go straight to the test." I am a realist, and there are always people who skip straight to the test/assessment. All the more reason to make courses very engaging, interactive and relevant. If done well, users will read and digest the content. If they still skip to the assessment, but the assessment is a well designed and valid measurement of learning, recognition for their need for the course will happen. And if they passed the assessment, then maybe they were already proficient with the content, capable of meeting the course's objectives and did not need the training in the first place. 

Next time you design a course ask yourself, "Do I want to engage the learner and help guide them through a positive learning experience or dictate a learning experience?"


  1. That falls apart with government regulation certification where he laws mandate that the user view all the content. In those cases forcing a user through a specific path is the safest way to avoid fines. The laws do not always allow for self-directed. Outside of that i agree that self paced and dynamic sequencing based on performance allowing for instant remediation is great. Now to find an LMS that actually supports Sequencing and Navigation correctly...

  2. Kia ora Jeffery

    I concur with what you are saying here. I am an adult learner, and have been for decades. But since I started taking note of how I learn - which was when I was at secondary school - I've been aware that I don't learn linearly. Fortunately this has never been a major barrier though I have participated in some training courses that frustrated the heck out off me because I wasn't permitted to learn in anything but a linear fashion. I don't read information books linearly either b t w.

    I've designed elearning courses and components for those and found learners are like me, in the main. Not only should the learner be able to navigate freely through parts but they should also be able to skip bits too.

    An innovative course is one that actually responds quickly to a learner who is getting most or all of the answers or options deemed to be successful and prompts the learner to move on. Though these are difficult to design, it is not so difficult to simply include nodes within a course where the learner is asked if they'd like to skip, and options are given for the learner to select their preferred course of action - continue / select suitable part for further study.

    Catchya ater
    from Middle-earth

  3. @ Ethan - Do you have any links to news stories to back up the fines for non-linear e-learning angle? I raised that very point on a blog recently as compliance legislation is a prime motivator for the UK market, but no-one seemed all that sure of what we were all so worried about, though one US based correspondent seemed to vaguely recall something (she couldn't be too specific though).


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