Don't Badmouth the Next Button

Get rid of Next buttons, we often hear. They're boring. So last decade. Everyone hates them. Really, though? Really? We rush to their aid, and modestly suggest if you don't like Next buttons, maybe there's a deeper problem with your course. Take a seat on the couch...

Some days it feels like the current e-learning villain is poor old Nextie.

You know Nextie.  She usually sits in the bottom-right corner of the screen.  When you click her, you go to the next screen.

Sometimes she jumps around on the page or flashes incessantly at you, which can be really annoying.

Sometimes Nextie plays hard to get and doesn’t unlock herself until you’ve listened to the endless, droning audio on the page that goes on for five minutes.

So Nextie doesn’t always get it right.  It’s true. So people say, “ban the Next button; give me e-learning that has no Next. Or its evil twin, Backie. Free me from your shackles – the internet has no Next button (Ok, so you can go back in your browser, but apart from that...),” they say.

Well, sometimes that’s the right direction. But an outright ban? Really? We contend that the poor old Nextie button isn’t really responsible for the bad e-learning. Boring content presentation and bad design are the real culprits.

People bash bad e-learning as being yet another boring page turner.  But our friend and ever- the-guru, Clive Shepherd, once reminded us that gripping novels are called “page turners” – you can’t wait to turn the page to find out what happens next.

The trick is to make the content – the things that happen between those Next buttons – really compelling.  Make your learner want to continue.  Make it interesting, make it thought-provoking, make it motivating.

Cathy Moore has done a sweet little presentation on how to make people want to click your Next button. (See 5 ways to make linear navigation more interesting on her Making Change blog – worth the price of admission for the opening screen alone, but Cathy then goes on to share five great ways to make that content more compelling).

Her advice: you’ve got to make people want to click the Next button. You can do that by:

  • Asking an interesting and challenging question
  • Using an incomplete sentence (“So, if you try and do this in front of a customer, this will happen…”)
  • Suggest a sequence and build a list
  • Compare and contrast different situations
  • Create a dilemma – you want people thinking, “I really want to know what happens next”

To which we’d add:

  • Tell a story – let it unfold at its own pace (books, remember them? – they do this)
  • Ask people to go and do something useful – share what they should have found out on the next screen
  • Tease – say something outrageous, provocative, direct – and go on to give context and show your reveal on the next screen (e.g. “Our customers know nothing… because we don’t explain ourselves well enough).

You’ve got other ideas, no doubt – let’s hear them!

And please, oh please, don’t abandon the Next button in favour of some really confusing exploratory open interface that people can’t understand.  They’re established conventions for a reason – people understand them. Complex navigation for the sake of it, that risks confusing the learner, is a far worse crime. Why make people spend five minutes trying to figure out your clever visual metaphor, when the simple elegance of Nextie is all that’s really needed? Just make it the button your learners want to click out of interest and motivation – not because it’s the only way out of your e-learning jail…