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Effective Use of Instructions in eLearning Courses

Written By Renuka Tikekar

Effective Use of Instructions in eLearning Courses

In recent years, eLearning has been widely popular, especially after the standardizing of learning technologies and approaches. In eLearning, clear instructions play a very important role in helping learners navigate through the course and take the actions required of them. This is especially true in the case of learners who are not very familiar with online learning and who find it difficult to intuitively move around within the given interface.

One of the most essential elements of an effective eLearning course is simple navigation and appropriate instructions to guide the learners. Instructions should be given even for simple user interfaces – any screen should provide relevant information to learners on:

  • How they got to that screen,
  • What they can do there,
  • How to get out of that screen

The other aspect of instructions is navigating within the sections of the course. Sometimes the course gives learners the freedom in navigating among the units in a non-linear flow. In such cases, it is important to have visual indicators so that learners can identify at which point they are in the course flow. In general, they need to know how much of the course they have completed or how much is remaining, what content is now recommended for study, and what recommended flow must they follow etc. However, the risk with allowing learners to choose their unit is that the learner can skip certain content in the absence of proper instruction. Therefore, the use of apt instructions is a must.

Another simple use of instructions is where the course requires learners to view additional information or detailed information by clicking a button or an icon. It is necessary to provide clear instructions and clarify what the learner should do on the screen. A few examples of instructions include:

  • Click on the images to learn more.
  • Click on the icon to view the examples.
  • Click the magnifying glass icon to zoom in.

After looking at a few uses of instructions, now let us have a look at some tips on creating apt instructions:

  • Consider Your Users: First think about the learners and their needs. Are the learners new to eLearning? Or they are familiar with it? If learners are new, the course should be instructionally rich so that they don’t waste time in wondering what to do next. If the learners are familiar with eLearning, there is no need of highlighting the common navigation features such as Next or Previous buttons.
  • Create a Help Feature in the GUI: Instead of highlighting the navigation features or giving instructions on all screens, you can embed a “Help” feature in your Graphical User Interface, which will give detailed instructions on navigation. Learners can click this any time if they face any problem in navigation.
  • Keeping the Instructions Simple: Always keep the instructions clear and apt, so that learners can easily understand the action they need to perform and not waste time trying to figure out complicated instructions.

One final note about instructions is that they should be placed at such places where the learner faces the most difficulty – and of course they need to be apt and effective. Having looked at some of the simple uses of instructions and tips on using them, I feel that the way you use instructions will vary based on factors such as your own instructional approach to the use of instructions and varying client requirements.

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  • Steve Chorny

    I have a different take on the subject. Doesn’t work for everyone but…..

    How about letting the learners “discover how to navigate” the course. Provide them with minimal instructions and let them loose.
    Here’s my reasoning.

    Most elearning courses follow the same template. Click here, go there, click this for menu etc etc etc. For many, that can be very, very boring. And, it does not reflect the real world. For instance, trying to do something in business quite often depends on someone finding their way through “uncharted territory” so to speak. Making decisions without all the information. Looking at new technology and trying to find a use for it or a way to make money with it.

    I find, when I work with different corporations, that they try to make all their courses look and feel exactly the same. Let’s face it, that’s boring.

    I agree with you that good navigation and structure helps but eventually, doing the same thing, over and over, numbs the minds of your learners. Give them a challenge, mix it up a bit, throw them something unexpected. Who knows, they might even learn something.

    ps: I recently started to use more and more Apple products. It’s interesting how little documentation they give out. My iPad 1 and 2, both came with minimal instructions. Yet, within a very short period of time, I was using it quite well and productive. Not too long ago, if you purchased a piece of hardware, it came with these massive manuals and some serious instructions on how to use the product. Now nothing and yet people still learn. Amazing.

  • I’d raise the following (in no particular order, mind you):

    “…clear instructions play a very important role in helping learners navigate through the course and take the actions required of them. This is especially true in the case of learners who are not very familiar with online learning and who find it difficult to intuitively move around within the given interface.”

    Learners may not be familiar with online learning, but they are almost certainly familiar with online environments. If students find it difficult to move around within the given interface, this is likely due to the complexity or seeming “illogic” of the interface design. At some point in my life I had never used iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, etc., and yet I still managed to learn to navigate those sites with relative ease. LMS interface design is still very much in process. So perhaps apt instructions are an apt solution, but in terms of navigation, I would call them a stop-gap solution in lieu of more intuitive interface design.

    “However, the risk with allowing learners to choose their unit is that the learner can skip certain content in the absence of proper instruction. Therefore, the use of apt instructions is a must.”

    Apt instructions alone aren’t going to solve the problem of learners skipping content. The way the course content is structured/presented to the learner stands a much greater chance of solving this problem. I’ve designed several self-directed courses, all of which, at the behest of the SMEs, instructed students to approach the learning modules in sequence to as to achieve all pertinent course objectives. But with no means to track how students are actually engaging with the content, there’s no way of knowing whether they heed the instructions.

    Put yourself in a student’s shoes. Maybe you would heed the instructions and approach the content in sequence, but I think it’s much more likely that you’ll focus on the few aspects of the course that you perceive as the most beneficial (which is, it strikes me, quite a logical approach).

    Now, if a student needs to have learned (and demonstrated that learning) a particular piece of content before progressing through the course, then skipping content becomes an impossibility..