Navigation is an important component of eLearning, because it serves as a framework and guide as to how the information will be presented to the learner. It really directs the learner through the entire process of what they’re learning, lets them know how they’re progressing, and gives them essentially a status report of what they’ve done, and what’s to come.

A Guide to Navigation Styles and How They Impact Your eLearningNavigation also directs the order in which the information is presented, and this has a tremendous impact on how the information is both processed and retained.

This can become extremely important in industries like manufacturing, where the learners are often of very different skillsets, knowledge levels and have vastly varying levels of comfort with technology. Even if an employee isn’t incredibly comfortable with technology, the navigational design can simplify the process for them.

Linear vs. Non-Linear Navigation

The two primary types of navigation utilized within eLearning are linear and non-linear.

Linear navigation means the learner moves forward only once they’ve completed a previous step. Everything progresses in a natural way, and linear navigation can be great for concepts that build on one another, for example something that’s highly technical, or something that’s just being introduced to an employee.

Linear navigation tends to work well for older employees in particular, because research has shown they prefer this progressive style of learning. Additionally, if you have a facility with a lot of Baby Boomer employees, this is a good way to help them be more comfortable with technology they might not otherwise be as familiar with.

Also, for employees that are analytical by nature, this tends to be the most effective navigation style, because their learning style is often sequential.

Non-linear navigation on the other hand means the learner has the option to skip around and control what part of the course they’re engaged in, and learn at their own level of comfort and convenience.

Non-linear navigation is great for younger employees, particularly Millennials, because they often report this is most reflective of their personal learning style.

Navigation that isn’t linear can also be ideal for more experienced employees, because they may need to focus on certain concepts, without requiring the sequential style where simpler concepts are presented first. These veteran employees may already have a grasp on the basic concepts, and not have the need to go through these steps to reach a certain point.

Specific Navigation Formats

While linear and non-linear are the most basic types of navigation used in eLearning, it goes beyond these general ideas as well.

A few more specific types of navigation include:

  • Horizontal: Horizontal navigation refers to having a navigation bar at the top of a screen, and then include drop-down topics from these primary subjects. Horizontal navigation can be a great style if you have a lot of information that needs to be presented. By contrast, vertical navigation is a similar concept, except the menu bar is presented on the side of the screen. These are effective styles to organize large volumes of content.
  • Next and Back Navigation: This is one of the most common navigation styles used in eLearning, and it’s best-suited to linear coursework, because it simply uses backward and forward arrows to direct a learner through content. This type of navigation style tends to work best for learners who aren’t comfortable with a lot of technology, because the arrows give a clear visual cue that lets them know how to progress through the module.
  • Grid-Style: Grid-style navigation uses various grids, created in a particular order and usually containing images to direct the learner through the content. Grid-style is generally best for content that is image-heavy.

When deciding on navigation styles for your eLearning, the most important consideration to keep in mind is who will be using the information. Try to gauge the learning styles, at least in a generalized sense, of your employees.

It’s often recommended that eLearning developers “unlock” the navigation, meaning the learner can choose the navigation styles that work best for them. This is an effective way to improve the comprehension and retention of information, and ensure all employees are comfortable with the process based on their unique styles of learning.