Student Panels: Non-traditional students and consistency in course navigation

5 replies
  1. Barry Dahl
    Barry Dahl says:

    It’s funny how these conversations continue to arise, just with different voices voicing the same concerns. Circa 2001-ish, we started having these conversations at my former college and throughout the state system. Every few years we’d have another round of conversations about online courses being the same without them being the same-shaped cookies – with consistent navigation being the driving “thing” that was desired.
    Here’s just one example lamenting “poor navigation” from an LTAC Summit in 2007, panelist from Ryerson U, from my old Desire2Blog:

    “we have been hampered by the cottage model of online course development, where the faculty member is responsible for the development of the electronic course content, which leads to an inconsistent student experience, high support costs, limited volume, limited rich media, poor navigation, and no brand. But you also get happy faculty, no management grief from faculty, and less change and fast startup.”

    Some things never change, or at least take more than 20 years to change.

  2. Ritchie Boyd
    Ritchie Boyd says:

    After 30 years in the biz, I had to chuckle at this post, and Barry’s comment.
    So I propose a thought experiment.
    Imagine 30 years ago. A student (forget about traditional vs nontrad, that’s a distraction) walks into a classroom and the chairs are all facing the front in nice tidy rows. No problem, they sit down and prepare to absorb. But if a student walks into a room where the chairs are in a circle facing outward, then whoa, they’re going to need some explaining, scaffolding, and prompting.

    Same with online, IMHO- if you can’t be bothered or don’t have the bandwidth to create an engaging and interesting (and accessible) online space, then by all means you should be encouraged (without shame) to adopt a cookie cutter layout with all the usual accessibility, UX guides, and signposts etc..

    We shouldn’t force anyone to be edgy, but we should indeed have high expectations of those who are. Most of the time, they’re fine with that.
    Thanks Phil.

  3. Phil Hill
    Phil Hill says:

    Barry – thanks for reminding about the persistent nature of this quandry (hopefully it is more slow-moving than timeless) and for reminder of Desire2Blog. Miss that one.

    Richie – great point on physical classroom analogy. One student in the panel used the example of a campus where some buildings have signs on the wall, some have no signs, others put signs on pathway (or even the more extreme example of no maps or signs on buildings). Both good ways to think of it. Don’t make it hard to find basics and get into the actual learning experience.

  4. Matthew Prineas
    Matthew Prineas says:


    Thanks for joining us in Edmonton last May–your address & conversations continue to resonate in our community!

    I’m interested by your comment that concerns over the dreaded “cookie cutter design” should not be an excuse to not fully listen to concern of our students. As some of the commentators point out, this is an old & somewhat circular debate that doesn’t benefit learners. The frustration you heard on stage is real.

    Additionally, I think our commitment to consistent navigation is just a first step; it’s about meeting basic quality standards and at least not getting in the way of learners with unnecessary “cognitive load” & distraction. Beyond simply eliminating structural barriers, how do we build a culture, policies, and platforms that can help us identify and scale enhancements in learning pathways?

    Whatever the answer, I’d suggest, it has to include listening to our learners and genuinely engaging with their experience. Thanks for helping us do so!

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