Can you really force somebody to learn?

Lately, I’ve been wondering about the ways we limit our learners in order to force them into viewing our e-learning content. It seems that one of the fears we have is that the learner will skip over half of the content we’ve worked so hard on and just do the test (if there even is one). But is that really so bad? And, even if we set certain limitations, will that really achieve anything?

Locked navigation

One of the most common things we do to ensure that all content is being viewed is locking course navigation, i.e. not allowing the learner to progress until every item on the page has been looked at.


via Giphy

Although I completely understand the idea behind it, the reality is that there’s a big difference between clicking all items and reading all items. If the learners aren’t interested in the content or don’t feel like they need it, locking the ‘Next’ button won’t do much to motivate them. The only legit reason for locking navigation that I’ve come across is that you may be required to prove that all content has been viewed (e.g. in compliance training).

Audio and video

I believe that we’re facing a similar issue when we make our learners watch a video or listen to narration. A video, same as text, is content that the learner may or may not be familiar with or interested in. So, is it really that harmful if the learner skips over some of it? Maybe it’s okay to allow the learner to judge what they need, especially if they are adults.

Although you may justify ‘forcing’ somebody watch a video in some cases, I find that it’s less so for audio narration, especially if the same content is also available in text format. This comes down to pacing – if you’re a fast reader, would you be delighted to finish reading and then wait for the audio to catch up?


via Giphy

Test section

Sometimes we give the learner the freedom to view the content in whatever order they want. The catch is – they still have to view ALL of it to access the test section. But is this really necessary? The passing score itself is a natural block. Just think about it. If the learner hasn’t read all the information they need, they will fail the test. This will make them go back and look for the missing pieces.

If they are able to pass without reading all of the content, this probably means that they already have sufficient knowledge and it’s alright for them to move on. Alternatively, the test questions are too simple or obvious (or even unnecessary) – this is already an instructional design issue that won’t go away by locking navigation.

Why do you care?

So, why do we bother with limiting our learners even if we know that it won’t bring the expected results? I think you may arrive at some interesting conclusions if you ask yourself – what is my real concern? Some of the more likely answers might be that a) the learner won’t find the content engaging, or b) the learner won’t feel motivated to read the content. As you probably realize, the solution for these concerns doesn’t lie in setting limits – what you actually need to focus on is the way content is presented and/or how you communicate what the learner will gain by completing the training.

Food for thought

I’m in no way suggesting that you should never ever limit your learners. However, I’ve come to believe that limits should only be set if you can properly justify why it’s being done. This way, you might be able to avoid situations where you’re trying to ‘force’ your training on the learners instead of improving it to make it more engaging.


  1. I live the thought behind this. I was just in a position like this where the student sisnt understand why they had to takes notes from a video. I was adamant about it but now I see the learner is in control of their learning and what they need might not be what i want them to have. Thanks for sharing.

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