The Top 6 eLearning Course Navigation Styles

eLearning_IndustryWhen designing your eLearning course, effective navigation is essential. In this article I will highlight the 6 most effective eLearning course navigation styles, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each one, in order for you to decide which best suits your learners’ needs.

Effective eLearning Course Navigation Styles: What eLearning Professionals Should Know

For your eLearning course to meet its objectives, apart from a powerful eLearning content you need to develop a clear and learner-friendly eLearning course design. Your eLearning course navigation needs to be effective, in order for your learners to successfully absorb the information you are providing without getting confused or lost. After all, you want your learners to comfortably navigate throughout your eLearning course and focus on your content. But which eLearning navigation style is suitable for your next eLearning deliverable? In this article you can navigate through the 6 most effective eLearning course navigation styles available and decide which one (or even more; creative combinations are always a plus) is right for your audience’s needs.

  1. Horizontal Bar Navigation.
    Horizontal bar navigation is one of the most popular eLearning course navigation styles and one can find it in various eLearning course designs. The horizontal bar is usually located on the top of the screen and it may or may not be combined with drop-down sub menus which reveal secondary navigation items.
  • Advantages
    Due to the fact that it is the most popular website navigation pattern, it allows every single learner who has ever used the internet to know exactly how to handle it. It is simple and clearly structured, which helps learners to easily find their way throughout your eLearning course and not waste any time on figuring out how to navigate it. It is ideal for eLearning courses that only need to display a limited number of items in the navigation bar.
  • Disadvantages
    Because of the limited size of the horizontal bar (after all, how big can a screen be?), this eLearning navigation style might not be suitable for complex eLearning courses with loads of information. If you need to display several navigation items in the horizontal bar, you may find that it is not the best option for accommodating large volumes of information, even if you do use drop down sub menus.
  1. Vertical/Side Bar Navigation.
    This equally simple eLearning navigation style is formatted as a vertical/side column, where navigation items are arranged one on top of another. As with the horizontal bar, it may also be used with a sub-menu for additional information. If you’re wondering where you should put your vertical navigation bar, right or left on the screen, a usability study on navigation patterns revealed that navigation time is faster when the navigation menu is located on the left-hand side. Left side is also the default content menu location of eLearning authoring tools like Adobe Captivate and Lectora, which must mean something.
  • Advantages
    Vertical/Side bars are particularly versatile, because you can make the navigation items list as long as you like. They can also be easily integrated into almost every single design layout out there.
  • Disadvantages
    Its main advantage is also its main disadvantage: You may design the column to be as long as you like, but again the number of the navigation items you can place in the bar is limited. Not by default of course, as with the horizontal navigation style, but the truth is that a lengthy navigation bar can be overwhelming for learners. And you certainly do not want that.
  1. Tabs Navigation.
    In this eLearning navigation style, a series of tabs are placed vertically or horizontally, but the latter is usually the best option because the text can be read more effectively. The mechanism of tabs navigation is quite simple: once the learner clicks on the tab, the content is displayed right below it; or next to it, if the tab series is vertical.
  • Advantages
    There is an emotional bonus hidden in this eLearning navigation style: Tabs remind us of notebooks and paper folders now and in the past, in the romantic, non-digital era, and this real world metaphor makes the navigation process natural and spontaneous. They are subconsciously associated directly with navigation and they can be incorporated in various visual styles; colored, glossy or plain, rounded or squared shaped etc.
  • Disadvantages
    Tabs navigation is usually harder to design than horizontal or vertical bar navigation styles. It also doesn’t work well if you plan on using loads of information on the navigation menu, because the tabs take up a lot of space themselves; if you aim to an aesthetically pleasing result, that is.
  1. Next-back Navigation.
    Next-back navigation is probably the most basic and widely used eLearning navigation style. “Next” and “Previous” buttons, sometimes in the form of arrows displayed on a slideshow, are usually a default, standard option in eLearning courses.
  • Advantages
    It is the most widely used eLearning navigation style exactly because it helps learners to easily navigate through the pages or slides simply by moving forwards or backwards.
  • Disadvantages
    Undoubtedly, if used without being integrated into another, more interesting, eLearning navigation style, next-back navigation can be quite unimaginative and, ultimately, boring.
  1. Breadcrumb Navigation.
    This is a secondary, or supplementary, eLearning navigation style. Named after the famous Hansel and Gretel fairytale, breadcrumbs help learners to find their way home or, in eLearning terms, show them where they are in the eLearning course. Breadcrumb navigation is used to support your eLearning course’s primary navigation system and it is placed on the top of the screen, usually formatted as a horizontal list of secondary navigation items (breadcrumbs).
  • Advantages
    Breadcrumbs are ideal when learners want to switch from the home page of the eLearning course to its chapters, or vice versa, which happens quite often.
  • Disadvantages
    Obviously, if your eLearning course navigation is “shallow” or/and not clearly structured and categorized, you don’t need breadcrumbs. And if you do choose to use them anyway, they might confuse learners instead of helping them.
  1. Grid Style Navigation.
    Grid style is often used when your eLearning course has a visually rich content. It is nothing more than a series of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines that create free spaces where you can insert images, shapes or, less frequently, text.
  • Advantages
    Apart from the obvious advantage, which is a clear structure and organization of massive eLearning content, grid style navigation allows learners to easily follow the layout of the eLearning course and rapidly retain the information offered. It can also boost the aesthetic value of your eLearning course, allowing that the images it contains are appealing.
  • Disadvantages
    You may find that grids may be stifling, less creative and that may lead to a static and boring layout. They can also reveal a restrictive nature, if you decide to be a little more imaginative when considering your design options.

Now that you know the most effective eLearning course navigation styles to consider when developing your eLearning course, read the article 6 Tips To Improve eLearning Course Navigation where I shed light on how you can significantly improve your eLearning course navigation to offer your learners a friendly and powerful eLearning navigation experience.

This article was originally written by Christopher Pappas for eLearning Industry. Click here for the original article.

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