Menus that make sense

The menu in any e-learning course or learning site is a little glimpse into the minds of the design team.  Were they thinking about the learner, or were their heads elsewhere when it came to designing the menu? Here are a few pointers to make sure your menu design shows you’ve got your head screwed on.

The menu is the main opportunity you have to show the learner that you’ve been thinking of them and their needs, so make sure you answer their questions. Learners coming to an e-learning course, Moodle or website are professionals with active, over-occupied minds. They have questions. If these go unanswered, you will have unhappy learners. Actually, you will have no learners, as they won’t be inclined to go on a voyage of self-discovery in order to figure out your design.

So design with their questions in mind. Go to an e-learning course, LMS or learning portal, and see if it answers these four questions – then go back to your own work and make sure you answer them…

1. 'What is this?'


Is the point of your e-learning or site clear? Can you express it in one sentence? If someone is coming to this site or course, can they figure out what it’s trying to do in 30 seconds? If not, something’s gone wrong, my friend. You don’t want that first 30 seconds to be the start of a mystery tour. Back to your learning objectives or design documents – you have to fit that explanation that will find on a t-shirt (and not an XL size in 12 point font). The answer must lie in the objectives you set (you did set them, didn’t you? Good, good).

2. 'What’s in here that can help me?'


Any e-learning or site we design should at its heart, be there to help people. That may mean solving a problem that people know they have, or helping to improve performance in an area they don’t know they should be working on. So you’ve got to design your menus to help people.  
This is where titles count. Advertisers know how this works – you sell the solution to the problem, not the tool. Phrase things in terms of problems solved:

'Handling that difficult conversation'
'How to prevent your next data loss disaster'
'Five tips for a great presentation'

Using an ‘I want to’ dropdown that lets users find the answers to their problems can be a great way to show people you’ve got answers to this question, and that’s the best way to earn the learners’ trust and encourage them to go deeper.

If your audience consists of multiple roles, you may need to organise this so you’re clearly answering the question for a salesperson, a marketing manager etc. – you can do this by having clear labels for different roles right at the top level.

3. 'How do I get around?'


If there’s an order to your content, or a journey that you want to take people on, you’ve got to make this clear. A great graphic artist can help make your structure clear without you having to write an article on how to get around. Make it simple. Again, if it takes more than a sentence to explain how to get going, you’ve probably overcomplicated it.

4. 'When can I go?'


Even the best-designed sites and courses, the ones that really answer people’s questions, are competing with every other demand on learners’ time. So be respectful of that precious time – let them know how long something will take, so they can decide if they’ve got the time for it. Make a big deal about timings on your menu. We often work them into section titles – ‘Five minutes on the key points of communication’. Let people manage their time.

Are there other things your e-learning, Moodle or portal menus can offer, other than answers to these questions? Undoubtedly – there’s a rich set of features you could add, and your designs may call for them. But, although you could always do more, do your learners a favour – don’t do any less than answer these four questions. Or they’ll be asking a whole lot more.