The research on this subject is somewhat inconclusive; however, in the context of a community college, where many students (especially in our area) have little prior knowledge of online learning, a linear and consistent design amongst their courses might allow more focus on the content rather than the structure. Hsu, Lin, Ching, and Dwyer (2009) state that more research is needed to examine various types of website organizations/structures regarding the effects of assigned and preferred web navigation modes on different levels of learning outcomes.” The problem with their study seemed to stem from the low number of participants and now allowing them to generalize their findings.
Hsu (2006) states that “when selecting a website for educational uses, content is the most important aspect to be considered as it is what students will eventually learn.” This holds true in a classroom as well, but behaviors are more easily seen in this environment than online. The argument we are making here is that if online is designed with general population considerations, then behaviors that are often not seen in an online environment might include less frustration with the simple and consistent navigation.
If delving more into navigation and what I mean by “simple”, I mean a linear approach when specific learning tasks are being provided. Hsu (2006) state that previous research has shown that “nonlinearity also poses the potential for disorientation, which can negatively impact one’s educational experience. Hence, navigation aids can serve as an important element in website interface design. Effective navigation aids can allow learners to locate the needed information efficiently while still having control of their own learning.”
Apparently, there is a difference between major navigation and the navigation within a given unit or module of instruction. Hsu (2006) states that “instructors and educational website designers may want to use nonlinear navigation as the major mode for intended websites and linear navigation when a fixed linear learning sequence is deemed necessary regarding the content being delivered.” I would argue that a consistent path to the linear learning sequence is what we are aiming at. In an online class, this might look like a student going to the same area to see their Module or Unit, then once opening it up, they get a straight forward path from start to finish of that Module or Unit (a link from that path to their readings, videos or multimedia, study aides, assessments, and participation tools (discusions, class blogs, etcetera).
So, in summary, in an online environment, in my opinion, a consistent linear design for each unit or module is supported by research. When comparing this to a classroom, I think it is comparing apples to oranges; however, I might argue that this consistency helps students concentrate on content as can be seen in some face to face settings.
I might suggest you take the advice provided by the previous post….I can say that they sound like good suggestions and I base this on some experience. I completed student teaching for one year in a fourth grade class. At this age group, I can say that consistency between me and the classroom teacher was vital. Any deviation from that caused chaos, and this was in the same classroom. This took a lot of work to collaborate and provide consistency among our teaching styles; however, I would presume anything you could do to provide an environment similar to their classroom (even if with minor hints) could likely prove to effect the behavior of your students. Anything is worth trying…even if once!
Hsu, Y. -C, Lin, H., Ching, Y. -H., & Dwyer. F. (2009). The effects of assigned and preferred educational website navigation modes on undergraduate students’ learning outcomes. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 12(1), 271-284.
Hsu, Y. -C. (2006). Better educational website interface design: The implications from gender-specific preferences in graduate students. British Journal of Educational Technology 37(2), 233-242..