Locked Navigation: Enriched User Experience

Locked Navigation: Enriched User Experience
Summary: “The whole point of human-centred design is to tame complexity, to turn what would appear to be a complicated tool into one that fits the task, that is understandable, usable and enjoyable.” - Donald Norman

What Kind Of Navigation Suits Your Course?

Navigation is the crux of User Experience (UX) in asynchronous learning. It is the path of the course, which a learner is expected to follow. Good Instructional Design should make navigation clear, simple and engaging for users.

Based on the design, there are many types of navigations, such as Horizontal Bar Navigation, Vertical Bar Navigation, Next-back Navigation, etc.

Based on the functionality, there are two broad categories: locked and unlocked navigation.

What Are Unlocked And Locked Navigations?

Unlocked navigation is a flexible path of course completion. A module having unlocked navigation is designed in such a way that the learner can navigate it as per his convenience. He can access the content in a disorderly manner, however, he deems suitable.

For example, an index page. An index page can be added at the start of the module, with each topic linked the content. Here, the learner can read the topics in the order that he wants, and even skip some of the content.

Locked navigation, on the other hand, denotes a linear, pre-determined path. The learner can only move forward and backward. In addition, he cannot move forward until he has completed all the interactions on that particular page.

Locked navigation is like reading a storybook. The reader avoids skipping pages because that would disturb the flow of the story. Similarly, the philosophy of locked navigation attempts to prevent a learner from omitting any topic.

Locked Vs. Unlocked Navigation

Locked vs. unlocked navigation has been a ubiquitous topic for debates and discussions by e-learning professionals and instructional designers. Most professionals have come to believe that unlocked navigation is the future of e-learning.

While the e-learning industry is experiencing a shift in paradigm from locked to unlocked navigation, I believe that we are missing out on structure and organization. The scope of locked navigation is being underestimated.

Locked Navigation And User Experience

Locked navigation determines a structured flow of the module. This keeps the learners away from confusion. He or she can run the module smoothly, and focus on grasping the information, rather than trying to figure out the course of the module. We can say that locked navigation does not leave the learner puzzled, which unlocked navigation might. Unlocked navigation can make the learner frustrated if he cannot figure out the path. However, with locked navigation, he can sit back and read the content like a book. Thus, the overall User Experience that comes from locked navigation is smoother and richer, than that of unlocked navigation.

Features of locked navigation that contribute to enhanced UX:

1. Smooth Flow

Locked navigation ensures that the module flows smoothly. The pre-defined path followed by the learner makes the content readable in proper order, in the way a story must be.

2. Storyline

The pre-production stage of an eLearning module begins with low-fidelity storyboarding… the word itself says “story”, which shows how important is structure and flow in an eLearning module. Thus, locked navigation creates a story in the learner’s head.

3. Discipline/Organization

Locked navigation, or linear navigation, ensures that the module works in an organized way. Although designing involves ambiguity and abstractedness at times, in eLearning, the design is characterized by discipline and form, to ensure simplicity for the learner. This prevents the learner from unstructuredness.

4. No Information Is Missed Out

Locked navigation ensures that the learner goes through all the information. Even in the case of learner fatigue, his attention is directed towards the information through interactive multimedia, as animations and interactions come in play. If the learner wants to skip some content, the interactions will keep his attention focused and render information in his memory (a type of learning). Thus, the learner is entertained and his attention is maintained.

5. Consistency

Consistency is the key to a good eLearning design, as it maintains form and order, and has proven to increase the ROI. Ambiguity confuses the learner and diverts his focus from the knowledge. Consistency is the ground principle of designing, which is well expressed through locked navigation.

6. Exhibits Professionalism

Locked navigation follows the principle of consistency and thus exhibits professionalism in terms of both UI and UX. The knowledge transfer through an e-learning module is expected to be taken seriously by the learner, which makes it sensible to use a design that is professional, yet interactive, for which locked navigation plays an important role.

7. Focus On The Content

Locked navigation ensures that the attention of the learner remains focused on the content, which is the ultimate goal. In other words, since the learner does not have to bother about the navigation path and structure, he focuses on the knowledge.

How Locked Navigation Can Be Made More Interesting

In the case of authoring tools in which navigation lock is not automated, the below-mentioned points can be considered:

1. Warning Pop Up

Each time a learner clicks on the forward navigation tab, a pop up can appear asking him to complete all the interactions before moving ahead. This can be done in a quirky or comical way, with interesting wordings.

2. Rewards/Points

The course can be made in a way that rewards a learner with badges or stars to complete a certain section and answer the corresponding quiz.

3. Transitions

Keeping the navigation structure constant, the Instructional Designer can play with transitions instead, to keep the life of the module. Transitions, if used appropriately, can give a feeling of watching an interactive video or a movie.

4. Story/Dialogue

Introducing a character to ask the learner to hold on until all the interactions of the page are complete, will discard learner fatigue if any. This is an interesting and liberal way to instruct the learner to hold on to the page.


In a module that follows locked navigation, the learner goes through in chronological order. While, in the case of unlocked navigation, the learner has the freedom to choose his own path. Although Instructional Designers nowadays prefer to use unlocked navigation than locked navigation, the good old locked navigation is better in terms of UX. It maintains consistency and simplicity and narrows down the chances of diversion from the expected knowledge transfer.