On the “lock navigation” debate

Opinions about locking navigation in elearning are riddled with assumptions. These assumptions are not always disclosed as part of the conversation. So when I hear yet another “best” course of action regarding lock navigation, it usually feels like a cacophony: while most opinions are certainly sound (pun intended), we haven’t really agreed on the score.

to lock or not to lock

to lock or not to lock…

But untangle the web of assumptions, and you will find good arguments on both sides. Here are some of the assumptions I like to tackle before answering the lock navigation debate:

  • What we mean by “elearning”
  • The nature of the problem elearning is trying to solve
  • What “locking” means
  • The scope of locking

elearning is many things

One learner and one machine. This may be your understanding of “elearning”. Mine isn’t, I tend to think about a more integrated experience where learners have access to an environment where they can interact with each other. Call it social learning. An opportunity to involve management, SMEs, and others we would not think of as “learners”, but who contribute to the learning experience.

“Lock” in this environment could mean not allowing to post, for example. Or not being able to connect with certain contacts. Would you consider other forms of locking? Would your answer change if this was your understanding of elearning?

What problem are we trying to solve?

For companies in regulated industries, there is a need to document when employees learned, or at least had an opportunity to learn about certain policies or procedures. Every click on “Next” becomes a signature, and we need to collect and retain that proof.

In other environments, we don’t need employees nor employers to prove anything. We are just providing opportunities to learn. Why lock anything then? Keep reading, I think there is a strong argument for certain types of locking even in this context.

What “lock navigation” means

Does it mean I cannot progress through the learning experience unless I follow a certain sequence? Or is it related to my ability to successfully complete assessments? And does it mean the sequence is forced every time, or just the first time I go through the learning experience?

I often find that in discussions about locking, opinions are heavily influenced by the capability of the software that is being used to implement the learning experience, as opposed to the requirements of that learning experience. We should be able to think beyond the confines of those annoying functionality hurdles. Hacking, experimenting, engaging with the LMS authors. Don’t let the software win. Or define what “locking” means.

The scope of locking

Another common assumption is that when we talk about “locking”, we mean “page-level locking”. But what about module-level locking, assignment completion locking, prerequisite locking, timed locking?

In the pharma industry, there are very good reasons why you would lock one learning experience unless another has been completed. In a complex web of SOPs, sequence locking brings structure and order.

One of the most seasoned online educators, The Open University UK, uses timed block locking. This means that learners gain access to chunks of a course one or two weeks at a time. One of the reasons for doing this is so that learners turn their assignments at about the same time. But a more important reason is that social chatter is in synch across learners. Because they are all hovering within a reasonably ample selection, the principles of self-directed learning are not breached, but the larger group still stays within topic and can have a coherent chat about it. Can you see this type of locking being used for say onboarding employees together across geographies?

So would I lock navigation? There are very good reasons for using various types of locks, and sometimes for no locks at all. It all depends on context, assumptions and goals.

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