I’m an Instructional Designer by trade. I specialise in eLearning. I care about the quality of what I do and what people think of the profession, and I want to help others improve. So here’s my first professional blog post, focussing on the learner experience.
Don’t make them think.
My first boss said this a lot, and it keeps coming back to me. “Don’t make me think”. It’s the voice of a frustrated learner. He wanted it to be front of mind – that our interactions and design should be straight-forward, intuitive and idiot-proof.
I am sure you can recall a time where you’ve read everything on an eLearning screen yet couldn’t move on due to it requiring you to ‘do everything’. Or perhaps you’ve not been sure when a screen is finished – when you should click ‘Next’. Every time that happens, every time you need to think about how or when to move on, you’re mentally disengaging from the content. You’re not thinking about the legislative change or whatever it is, you’re thinking about how to navigate the eLearning module. Your mind is constantly switching between learning what the module is conveying and grappling with navigating the information. There’s been a lot of research in recent years and humans can’t multi-task – the constant switching between tasks diverts attention and the impact of your training suffers as a result.
‘Don’t make me think’ really means ‘don’t make me fight your interface to get the information’.
So how can you improve the usability of your learning? It comes down to guiding the learner. You want to implicitly direct them through the training. If you set up a path of least resistance for them, they’ll take it – nobody wants to think about the navigation. If the learner can trust that the module will tell them when to move on, that’s great – they can focus on the learning and leave the navigating up to us.
There are a couple of techniques I use to guide the learner to the Next button at the right time:
- I always inform the learner that they’ve completed a screen. Usually I’ll have a ‘Click Next to continue’ fade in after the last piece of information to be consumed on the screen. It’s best when this is somewhat dynamic, so any user input can be leveraged to trigger the ‘next hint’ appearing. This may be triggered off them viewing every tab in a click and reveal or similar interaction.
- Alternatively, I put these ‘next hints’ in to the answer feedback of the question – once they’ve read the feedback, they know to continue on. It’s obvious that clicking next is the thing to do but the learner never has to think about it.
- Another way is to chunk up the elements of your page, and reveal them bit by bit. This works great for processes or long scenarios. Your screen may appear, and a chunk of the information – then a ‘Continue’ button below the chunk. The learner will read the information, then click Continue. The next chunk of information will appear on screen, and so on. You can keep going like this and eventually lead them over to the next button. Once they’ve read the last bit of the process, there’s the next hint sitting at the bottom. What to do? Move on.
- Failing that, you can also just display everything in the order you wish someone to read it. If you’ve got a crazy process that simply must fit on one screen, so it’s zig-zagging everywhere – fade it in one bit at a time over a second or so. The learner will pick up on that reading order and follow your suggestion, and provided your next hint appears last, that’s where they’ll read last.
The best way to improve on this kind of thing is to watch someone doing your eLearning module. Don’t ask them if you can watch them, just be a bit creepy. You won’t get a true viewing if you ask, they’ll be very careful and overthink it. It won’t be natural, they’ll probably blame their IT skills if they don’t know where to go. But by surreptitiously stealing a glance here and there while a colleague checks your work – you can learn so much. Every time they move the mouse pointlessly, they’re lost. If they just sit there, they’re lost. You haven’t implicitly directed them well enough, there’s room for a next hint.
I have received criticism for this being overly directive – ‘learners already know where the Next button is by this stage’ – and that’s quite right. But I don’t want learners to think about the next button, I just want it to be the next logical thing.
They should never have to think about when to click Next.
If you’re doing it right, no-one will even notice. They’ll just flow right on through, content-focussed the whole way. If not, you’ll probably never be told. It’s an implicit thing, and people tend to blame themselves for not knowing something so simple as when click Next.
Note: I am not condoning locking navigation in any way shape or form. That is the devil’s lazy way to do this same thing. That is more the stick and this is the carrot in the ‘getting the learner to read everything’ stakes.