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Why Locking eLearning Navigation Is a Mistake

Locking the navigation of an eLearning course is a huge mistake; don’t do it. There are nearly no circumstances where it’s a good idea. Even for compliance training, don’t lock it if it doesn’t expose the company to lawsuits.

Learning isn’t something you can force, nor will locking eLearning navigation encourage learning. Quite the opposite since locking navigation creates a hostile learning environment right off the bat. That’s because people want to explore and possibly even jump around if it fits their purpose.

Locking the navigation is lazy and encourages the development of content based on forcing people to take it rather than making content good. The mindset of how a course is developed does matter.

Imagine being confined to a predetermined path, unable to explore different parts of the course or the content that’s relevant to each person. I don’t want to be forced to go through it all when I might already know some of it. Imagine having to sit through everything. That’s going to anger some people.

Nothing is less motivating and aggravating than waiting through every eLearning slide. Thanks compliance.

This post explores why locking eLearning navigation is likely a massive misstep in the quest for effective online education.

Employees need flexibility in the workplace. Online courses with a locked timeline don’t offer flexibility and don’t fit modern employees who want to learn. Modern employees want to learn if they want to learn, not because it’s forced on them.

By restricting navigation, not only do we impede the natural flow of exploration, but we also risk stifling the innate curiosity that drives effective learning. Let’s dive right into the content of why locking the navigation (including the timeline) of eLearning is a big no-no.

It Fosters Resentment

This may seem a bit dramatic, but it’s not. When employees run across a course with locked navigation, it does, in fact, foster resentment. A learning experience should be free-flowing and built for quality and relevance, not simply because it’s forced.

Yes, relevance is king (and queen, too) of training, which is why that should be the motivating factor, not forced navigation. If training is relevant, the navigation doesn’t need to be locked; employees want to take it.

Employees want to be free to take training as they see fit and skip what’s irrelevant. If the navigation is locked, they’ll resent the training and be more closed off. That means even if there is something of interest to them in the content, they may not be receptive to it.

By treating employees like adults, they’ll act like adults.

I feel restricted and frustrated if I take a course with locked navigation. Many others do, too. These restrictions lead to a decrease in motivation and engagement because of the rigidity and inflexibility of the course.

By allowing employees to explore content at their own pace, we empower them to take ownership of their learning journey. This sense of autonomy enhances motivation and encourages active participation and a deeper ownership of their professional development.

Seeing Isn’t Learning

If they must watch it, they must surely learn it, right?

Wrong. It’s especially wrong if the navigation is locked. This goes back to the resentment that a locked navigation creates. People tune out, and then they learn even less.

They’ll likely pick up a few pieces of information but not nearly as much as if they were actively engaged because they want to be, not because they have to be. Locking eLearning navigation assumes that exposing people to content will result in effective learning.

True learning requires active engagement and cognitive processing. It also requires that employees see the value and relevance of the training. If someone doesn’t see training as relevant, it’s as good as useless.

Seeing is believing (except maybe now with so much AI content), but seeing isn’t learning.

When navigation is locked, employees may passively consume information without fully comprehending or internalizing it. They may click through slides or pages without absorbing the material, which leads to superficial learning outcomes.

The most superficial learning outcomes? Someone completed it and “saw” all the content. Yeah right.

If they control the navigation, they can revisit challenging concepts, review important information, and engage in reflective thinking. This active involvement promotes deeper learning and longer-term retention of knowledge.

Discourages Thoughtful Course Design

Locking eLearning navigation can discourage instructional designers from creating well-structured and thoughtfully designed courses. When navigation is locked, designers may rely on linear progression based on the predetermined path people have to take.


It also discourages other levels of creativity and proper analysis to lay out the most relevant and helpful course. It’s easy to take a compliance deck, convert it into eLearning, polish it up, and call it good.

Unlocked navigation encourages branching scenarios, non-linear structures, more scenario-based learning, and interactive elements that promote active engagement. This enhances the learning experience and encourages deeper thinking and care for the learning process and professional development.

Disregards Prior Knowledge

Every person enters an eLearning course with a unique set of prior knowledge and experiences. Locking eLearning navigation disregards this diversity by assuming a one-size-fits-all approach.

Oh, you know that already? Too bad, take it.

When employees have control over their learning journey, they can skip sections they’re familiar with or revisit areas where they need additional support. This flexibility acknowledges and respects people as individuals with unique prior knowledge.

Embracing the Digital Learning Experience

The digital landscape offers endless possibilities for interactive and immersive learning experiences. By locking eLearning navigation, we limit these opportunities for exploration and discovery. Embracing modern digital learning experiences means openness, freedom, and the ability to learn exactly what you need when you need it.

By immersing employees in something that truly matters to them, training becomes more valuable to the company. It also becomes more effective. When it comes to corporate IT training and company software, realistic software simulations are a spectacular option. They can be open-ended and come to life with scenarios.

Embracing the digital learning experience also means embracing unlocked navigation (including timeline).

If navigation is restricted, all the valuable tools for digital training lose their effectiveness. Employees cannot freely navigate different paths or revisit specific sections for reinforcement. Not only that, but it creates unrealistic expectations that don’t fit with the modern digital-first employee.

Embracing the fluidity of digital learning experiences means allowing employees to explore, experiment, and engage with the content in a way that suits what they need. If it’s irrelevant and employees don’t feel they need it, they shouldn’t have to bother with it.

If that’s the case with company training, then better evaluation must be done. Interesting and effective training comes only by creating something that matters, not by locking the navigation.

Wrap Up

Locking eLearning navigation is a mistake that hinders the learning experience rather than enhancing it. Embracing the modern digital learning experience and providing employees autonomy in navigating course content is the only way to go. That way, we can foster motivation, engagement, and ownership of professional development.

Unlocking eLearning navigation encourages active engagement, promotes thoughtful course design, and respects employees’ prior knowledge. It’s time to break free from the constraints of locked navigation and embrace a more dynamic approach to digital learning.

The next time your subject matter expert (SME) or stakeholder asks for the course navigation to be locked, tell them no. Feel free to send them to this post for reasons why it’s a bad idea, and while it is possible, it shouldn’t be done.

Schedule a free consultation if you want to work with instructional design consultants who are passionate about keeping digital training unlocked. We’ll work with you to create professional and effective corporate training that helps employees do their jobs better and has them excited to do so.

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