Moving Beyond the Next Button

The Next button: It is such a little thing, but its impact on eLearning can be huge!

Should the next button be there? Should we only allow them to click next once they’ve viewed the entire section? Where do we put the Next button, on the interface, on the playbar, or both? What do we do about the Next button?

As an Instructional Designer, I’ve sat through numerous discussions with clients over the role they would like the Next button to play in their eLearnings. You may have heard some of these arguments before:

I want to ensure my learners watch all the content on every slide. So, let’s hide the Next button until the end of the slide so they have no choice

Or, how about this one:

I like the next button on the screen. It makes the training more interactive.

As Instructional Designers, what do we do in regards to the Next button? Do we leave it as an option for our learners to navigate as they please? Do we use it as a control mechanism to limit when and how learners can move forward?

I say we do away with the Next button as we know it! For many of us, this may be a large and scary change to how we’ve always done things, and that’s ok. To ease you into this idea, we’ll go over some of the limits and downfalls of the Next button followed by some alternative ideas that can replace that Next button and challenge your learners to critically think and apply the information you are presenting to them as a way of moving them through the eLearning.

1. Let’s end the passive, mind-numbing clicking

How often do you click on Next buttons in a day? They’re not just in our eLearnings, but instead have become a prevalent aspect of technology. They allow us to move to the next page of a news article, we use them to move from one image to the next in a Facebook album, and how many times have you clicked the next button on a Terms and Agreements page without bothering to read what you are agreeing to?

We all know how to click next and the act of clicking next every minute or so to progress through an eLearning can be repetitive and mind numbing. Rather than engaging the learner, it allows them to passively click through an eLearning without using higher order thinking skills and it does not help learners achieve the desired learning objectives of the material.

2. There is a big difference between interactivity and engagement

By definition, the Next button is interactive. It requires the learner to do something. But, what they actually accomplishing aside from moving through the eLearning?

Interactivity in eLearning can be a good thing. However, passive interactivity (this is the mind-numbing clicking we just talked about) is not. We should not simply strive to make our eLearnings interactive, we should also strive to make them engaging and there is a big difference between the two.

Interactivity is an action; it is when the learner does something. Whereas engagement is when a learner is meaningfully involved in their own learning and able to construct knowledge and meaning from their experience.  An eLearning may be interactive, but that does not mean that it is engaging. To actively engage your learner, you need to provide them with something more than just interactive clicking. Challenge them to think through the interaction, such as question and answers, scenarios, or drag and drop activities.

3. Just because they watched the whole thing, doesn’t mean they learned anything

If I know all I have to do is pass a quick quiz at the end, I’m not going to watch the entire eLearning, I’m going to go straight to the quiz. If you hide the Next button so I’m forced to watch the entire thing, I’m going to “multitask.” In other words, I’m going leave the eLearning running in the background while I work on other things. And, I bet many of your learners are the same way.

But, even if you have a learner who is willing to dedicate their attention to your entire eLearning they still may not learn everything you intend them to. This may be for several reasons, including:

  • The limits of the human attention span. Studies differ on the exact amount of time our attention span allots but it tends to be under 10 minutes and, this decreases when we find a subject boring. Unless your eLearning is recapturing the learner’s attention frequently, chances are you are losing their attention.
  • The learner is not able to transition the material you are providing them into applicable knowledge. If your eLearning is simply telling your learner what you want them to learn instead of challenging them to construct meaningful connections about how this information may be useful or applicable in their own work/life, then the material you are presenting to your learner may not stick. Or, your learners may remember the material, but not be able to apply it to real world scenarios.

4. Don’t take Away Control from your Learners

Controlling the rate at which a student can navigate through a course with the Next button takes the ability away from the learner to control how they learn the material. You are pidgeon-holing your learner into one way of learning and not allowing them to utilize or develop learning tools and strategies that are most beneficial to them (see metacognition). For many learners, this will decrease the productivity of their eLearning experience.

Moving Forward

So, what can you do to replace the Next button? If you want your learners to walk away with a meaningful learning experience, you need to incorporate a more cognitive approach that actively involves them in their own learning and reinforces learning objectives. Rather than simply having your user click a button, challenge them to critically think and apply the information you are presenting to them as a way of moving them through the eLearning.

One easy way to incorporate this is through scenario-based learning activities. In these activities, you present the learner with a problem via a scenario, as well as several potential solutions to the problem. It is important that the scenario presented be in a similar context to one the learner themselves might experience. You then ask the learner to relate the material that was presented in the previous section to the current scenario and determine which solution is best. Upon answering the question, the learner then receives feedback on their answer to help them formatively assess their own learning.

This sort of activity accomplishes several things. It encourages the learner to cognitively engage with the material they have been presented, and form their own relational and contextual connections, experiences, and knowledge in regards to the material. In addition, the learner is being provided with a formative assessment that allows them to track their own progress towards their learning goals and help them determine when there are gaps in their knowledge.

Another alternative to the Next button is to ditch the linear eLearning model entirely and instead present the material in another format such as an exploratory exercise, where your learner can visit or explore the material in any order they wish or bring in their own material. Or, you can present the material in a branching format. In a branching format, a learner is given a challenge, such as a scenario-based problem, and their reaction to this challenge determines what happens next in the eLearning.

These are just a couple of suggestions to spice up your eLearning and Next button. What are some ideas you have for replacing the Next button? Share some of your ideas with us in the comments.

Alex is a dual-hatted (or should I say hooded) academic with Master’s degrees in both Anthropology and Educational Technology. Alex specializes in understanding the interactions between learners and technology, the socio-cultural learning environment, Web 2.0 learning strategies, and creating interactive, technology-enhanced learning experiences.

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