Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Standing at the Crossroads – Providing Navigational Clues to Help Learners Find Their Way

By Donna Bryant

Imagine that you are out for a drive in the country. You’re cruising along, and you pass several little towns. Soon, you realize that you are in an unfamiliar area. You consult your maps, but you still aren’t sure where you are. You drive up to a crossroad, where the road veers off to the left on one side and to the right on the other. There is no sign to tell you which way to go.
Sometimes, learners feel this way during an eLearning lesson. What causes learners to lose their way in lessons? What can instructional designers do to help keep learners going in the right direction? This post offers advice for two scenarios where learners may lose their way in eLearning.

Variance in navigation

Most simple lessons are fairly straight-forward with how the navigation works. You have forward and back buttons for page-to-page, linear navigation, and usually a home button to go back to the beginning of a lesson.

But suppose you’re designing a lesson where learners need to open and use screens from a program to answer questions during the lesson. A variance in normal lesson navigation can confuse learners if it is not explained well, and if learner attention is not drawn to the variance.

What can a designer do to draw attention to a variance, and explain it clearly for learners? Here are some ideas (examples shown in the picture following):
(1) State clearly and with minimal words what the learner should do. Don’t make learners “wade through” lots of words to find needed instructions. Use a different sized font to draw attention.
(2) State the reason for the variance. Remember, adult learners need to know ”why.”
(3) Provide word clues tied to the action needed. In the example below, the word “five” reinforces to learners that there are a total of five screens to open.

Instructions that need images with callouts

When providing instructions within a lesson, sometimes words are truly inadequate to provide enough guidance to complete a task successfully. For example, you might need more than words if you are explaining how to use a delicate piece of equipment, or if you are writing procedural steps for a complicated process. Instructions can especially be difficult to convey if learners already have an idea in their minds as to how a product and its instructions should work. But if the product works differently than expected, then the instructions will also be different than what might be expected.

An example in point: Removing a memory card from a digital camera.

Most of us have experience removing memory cards from digital cameras, and we have a good idea how it should be done. Usually, memory cards are located on a side area of the camera by themselves. How would you convey instructions if your camera’s memory card is located over the camera’s battery? The care with which you remove the card so you don’t also remove the battery is important.

In a case like this, a picture really helps to show how to remove the memory card without disengaging or scratching the battery. But the pictures by themselves are not enough. Callouts used with pictures provide additional guidance, especially if text is minimal. Here’s an example:

In an earlier post, Dean Hawkinson used a similar technique of using pictures to guide learners. Instead of callouts, Dean used color emphasis to draw attention to screen areas. Check out Dean’s post Publishing in Adobe Presenter for some ideas.

What are some examples where you provided clues and guidance to learners to help them stay on the right track? I would be interested in hearing about your experiences!

1 comment:

  1. Donna, I especially appreciate your point about guiding with pictures. Although so many people are visual, I think we often miss that piece. And instead, perhaps slip into the trap of writing unnecessarily complex instructions.

    Personally, I've been trying to get better with visuals in general. Diagrams, icons, images, etc.


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