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Design,  Education,  Higher Ed

Standardized LMS Navigation for Student Success

There’s something cathartic about commiserating in unpleasant shared experiences. Like that time you were looking over the courses in your LMS and realized that they had no standardized navigation. Maybe, that’s the reason for the uptick of emails from lost and confused students. You felt like a terrible, horrible, no good LMS administrator. Horrifying at the time, but when you describe the situation later to a fellow LMS admin, you feel a little better about that same situation happening to them.
Anthony (2012) researched the design of online courses and found that consistent course design is the most vital factor for student interaction and success. Recently, I was reviewing an online course for an LMS administrator friend of mine. I read the following message on a discussion board on the course’s second week. Student; “I can’t find the textbook information”. Teacher; “The textbook information is where it always is”. Not surprisingly, the student stopped submitting assignments on week six. I could not find the textbook information, either. I asked my friend if the college uses standardized navigation. She said that the instructors were free to design the courses the way they wanted, including navigation. On any given course, literally anything can be in the left-side navigation.
On your college campus, the library is always in the same place. 
Think of standardized navigation in terms of a real-life student moving around a college campus.  If a student is looking for the college library, the building will always be in the same place. The same goes for standardized navigation.  Just like you would think of a traditional campus – you’re navigating from the student resource center, the writing center, or walking over to the library – all of those same resources should be available, and in the same place from course to course.
Experts in the field, such as Chris Millet, the Director of Learning Design at Penn State World Campus advocates that students should not have to deal with additional cognitive load adjusting to different navigation for every course. Millet (2017) states that by providing a simple and consistent layout and standardized navigation for all courses, you will not overwhelm students and give them every chance for success.
Easy and standardized course navigation is a critical component of a great online course.  According to Quality Matters (QM), an organization dedicated to improving online course quality, one of the requirements for a QM certified course is that the, “Course navigation facilitates ease of use” (QM Standard 8.1), adding, “Navigation throughout the course [should be] consistent, logical, and efficient.”
Reducing the amount of scrolling, clicking, and searching means your students can spend more time learning the content.  They will miss fewer critical details like assignment requirements and due dates, resulting in a better overall experience for both students and instructors. Consider standardizing your LMS navigation for student success.
Quality Matters –
Anthony, K.V. (2012). Analyzing the Influence of Course Design and Gender on Online Participation. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 7(3). Retrieved June, 15, 2016
Lieberman, M. (2017, September 20). Standard Operating Procedure? Retrieved April 12, 2018, from

I am a learning experience design consultant focused on developing engaging learning experiences. Although my career has always been related to education in some way, I have worked as a technology director, curriculum specialist, college professor, and now an online instructional designer.