Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Next Button: Yay or Nay? A Research Perspective on a "Pointed" Question

Research offers important clues to difficult and complex questions. (The reason I say clues and not answers is that science is a moving target and some research is not done well or is not applicable to the specific question.) I find that research doesn't always tell me what I expect, however.

When research gives me unexpected or surprising clues, I sometimes have to overcome my biases, including the natural desire to look for and apply solutions that agree with what I personally think is true (confirmation bias).

Can I let you in on a secret? I held some views about learning that research showed me were off base. (Shocking!) It happened regularly when reading and analyzing the research to write Write and Organize for Deeper Learning and Practice and Feedback for Deeper Learning. For example, I learned that instructional feedback has a different purpose than I realized. Although my previous view wasn't wrong, it lacked the big picture. When reading the research on writing for instruction, for example, I learned a lot about readability research and how applying these insights improves comprehension.

The research that I read recently on the next button offered insights that I hadn't considered earlier as well.

Next Button: Force It Down People's Throats. Or Put it In Jail.

I started with a search to see what L&Ders are saying about the next button. And this heading jumped out at me (slightly changed to protect the writer):
Disabling the Next Button Until Learners Finish the Slide.

Whaaaat? Sadly, I thought I knew why (which is why the heading jumped off the page) as I've built many eLearning courses. Stakeholders or clients wanted to disable the next button so people are FORCED to stay on the page. But is this what this article was discussing?

It was exactly what they were discussing (slightly changed):  
You can prevent users from moving forward to make sure people perform specific actions (for example, listening to the entire video or clicking on certain interactions) by...

So one point of view is that we should use the next button to force-feed content. (No!) Another point of view is that the next button is the just awful and we shouldn't use it. Here's a statement made on a L&D blog post (slightly changed):
You shouldn't use the next button for navigation. Have learners choose their own path. 
Except... research does not support this statement (discussed in detail in my eLearning Industry post).

Okay, that's enough for opinions. What does research support?

Next Button: Useful

The next button (and the player controls) are simple interaction tools that help people control pace.

Mayer and Chandler's When Learning is Just a Click Away: Does Simple Interaction Foster Deeper Understanding of Multimedia Messages? researched the learning benefits from simple user interactions, specifically in multimedia explanations. First, some definitions:
  • Multimedia explanation means words (for example, text or narration) and pictures (for example diagrams, images, video, or animation) that show how something works. 
  • Simple user interactions give users control over the words and pictures they see.
These are both common in eLearning.

Simple user interactions, according to the authors, includes the next button (go to next segment). But they might also include player controls (stop, play, go forward, rewind) as they have a similar purpose. Their conclusion is that these simple types of user interaction have two positive and important impacts on learning. They:
  • Reduce the load on working memory 
  • Allow people to build understanding a piece at a time.
When multimedia explanations are force-fed at the designer's pace, the flow of words and pictures can move too fast for needed processing. Processing is needed to learn. Working memory processing capacity is limited so force-feeding "instructional stuff" means likely means less processing and confusion. (So the force-feeding view of the next button can actually damage learning). It's harder to make sense of information and mentally integrate it with what we already know (prior knowledge) when multimedia explanations are too long and the user cannot control them.

What we are talking about here is control of the pace. This is one of the learner control issues I discuss in the eLearning Industry article I mentioned earlier in this post. That article offers more information about when learners should have more control and when they shouldn't.

The bottom line is whenever possible, we should let learners chose the pace. Breaking up segments with a next button (or player controls) allows people to continue to the next segment when ready.

When I discuss this with other L&D practitioners, they sometimes tell me that people learn on their own all the time, so why be worried about this? Yes, people do learn on their own, and it's easy to get frustrated when doing so (ask me about learning Tableau, a data visualization tool). My point here is not that we cannot learn on our own. We can. We do. It's this: If we are going to design instruction, it should be done using what we know helps people learn.

So maybe we should stop treating the next button like Clippy and give it some respect. Especially when we use it to control pace.

Comments? I love them.

Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (1991). Cognitive load theory and the format of
instruction. Cognition and Instruction, 8, 293-332.

Chung, J. & Davies, I. K. (1995). An instructional theory for learner control: Revisited, Proceedings of the 1995 National Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 72-86.
Mayer, R. E. (2001). Multimedia learning. New York: Cambridge Univer­sity Press. 

Mayer, R. E. & Chandler, P. A. (2001). When learning is just a click away. Does simple user interaction foster deeper understanding of multimedia messages?. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93 (2), 390-397.

Shank, P. (February 19, 2018). Microlearning, macrolearning. What does research tell us? eLearning Industry. https://elearningindustry.com/microlearning-macrolearning-research-tell-us 

Shank, P. (April 16, 20) https://elearningindustry.com/learning-participants-control-research-says 18). https://elearningindustry.com/learning-participants-control-research-says

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