You’ve just spent $500 on an e-course that you know will make a huge difference in your life or business. You’re so excited to dive in and get going! So you fire up the URL, plug in your brand new username and password, and up comes the landing page in all it’s glory.
Or… not. You don’t quite know what to click on. So many options… Hmm… Where do you go first? There are maybe 3 links that you think might all go to the first thing, but you’re not sure… So you reluctantly, hesitantly begin clicking. Once you find the way into the first lesson, though, where do you go next? What’s the path? When you click on “worksheet” you come to a dead end. Should you just hit “back” on your browser? But then that screws up your cached password. Oh rats. And how far into this course are you, really? This course is really confusing, you start to think.
There’s nothing more debilitating than course creators who find out it’s not their content or their approach that made their learners ditch their course – it was a hodge-podge, confusing interface.
If your learner can’t move through your course successfully, you have a usability problem.
If your learner can’t move through your course without struggle and frustration, you have a user experience problem.
Either way, Houston, you have a problem.
Don’t make your learners stumble over your interface when they’ve got enough going on just learning your content. Otherwise you drain their limited cognitive resources on unimportant things, leaving less for what really matters.
You likely won’t have this problem if you’re using a standard plug-n-play platform like a Thinkific or Teachable, but I do see people run into this when they host their platform on their WordPress site and don’t set it up properly.
Here are some tips to make sure you make your interface simple and effortlessly navigable for your learners:
Tip 1: Use Breadcrumbs
If your course platform lets you include breadcrumb navigation, use it. These are the little labels at the top of the screen that show you where the page you’re on falls in the navigation structure. For example,
Homepage -> Module 1: Intro to Chicken Raising -> Lesson 2: Is it Legal? -> Legal Resources
If you’re at the legal resources page you can easily navigate back up the ladder to wherever you’d like to go next.
Some course platforms will also let you include navigation in your sidebar so learners can see where they are in the full course. These act as breadcrumbs, too.
Even if other aspects of your interface are confusing, the learner has control over where they’re going and where they’ve been if you use breadcrumbs.
Tip 2: Help users back out
Who likes being backed into a corner? Nobody. Anticipate that if there’s a link or a button, your learners will use it.
That’s fine, but just make sure they can get back to where they were. Breadcrumbs will do it, but putting a “Back to x” button just at end of the text will be even quicker and easier for them.
Tip 3: Be consistent in your labels
I see a lot of inconsistent labeling in e-course drafts I review. Take a step back and make sure that you have consistent names for all components of your course. For example, are you going to use “workbook” or “fill-in-sheet” or “worksheet?” Are you going to say “lesson” or “unit” or “chapter?”
You’d be surprised at how the language can change around within one course. Keep everything consistent and your learners won’t have to puzzle over what you really mean. Remember, you want them to be confident that they’re going to get what they expect when they click on your links or buttons.
Check out “Tips for Structuring Your eCourse in a Way That Makes Sense” if you want to read a bit more about this. Good stuff!
Tip 4: Be consistent with your buttons
Just as, above, you wouldn’t switch up your language, don’t switch up your navigation and button designs. If you have a blue button that says “Continue” on one page, don’t make it yellow on the next!
Don’t make your user pause and wonder.
You want them engaged in your content, not your buttons or labels or navigation!
Tip 5: Create an introduction to the course interface
A quick tour of the course interface may be just what your user needs to get their bearings and move smoothly through the course.
This can be part of your first introductory module or be the first thing people see when they launch the course for the first time.
Use a screen capture software like Screenflow on the Mac or Camtasia Relay (now called “TechSmith Relay”) on the PC are the tools. There are also a bunch of free options like Screenr, CamStudio and Jing. SnagIt also can do this.
Tip 6: Try everything out first
I left this one to the end because it seems so obvious. But yet many people skip right over this in their push to get the course out the door.
So hold on a minute! Set your OCD FREE!
Try everything out. Click through the course like you’re the learner. Try all the links. Make sure everything works.
But the real tip here is to find someone else to do this. Preferably a perfectionist and a critic. Perhaps your teenager or neighbor or mother fits the bill? Someone who hasn’t been helping you until until now and can look at your course with completely fresh eyes?
Remind them that their job is to find out what’s wrong with the interface. They need to cess out every single link and button and navigation feature that’s broken or unclear. Every click that gets them somewhere they don’t think they should be.
If they veer from that and start giving you advice about the content, be nice and listen, but steer them back to the dead links and the paths to nowhere.
Like you need more criticism? I know this last tip may sound like a drag – I mean, you worked so hard to get your course done and, come on, it’s fiiiiiinnnee, right?
Not so fast
Remember, if learners don’t know what to click first or second – if they don’t know where to go in your course or if they get frustrating figuring it out – they may stop trying. And it may not matter how stellar your content is, how engaging you are, and how much value you provide.
But hey, if you’ve got this down, you are that much closer to DONE! Whoop!
(So you’ve got navigation down, did you read the piece on not being boring? Check that out next.)