To Gate or Not to Gate – That Is the (Critical) Question
One feature that invariably comes up in every new e-learning project is “gating.” Should you control the learner’s journey through an online learning application? If so, how? Frequently, this seemingly innocuous little detail can carry with it loads of nuance and complexities that, if not addressed early on, can lead to more design and development work and even user frustration. Gating is best to nail down early on in a project as it can impact the navigation within a course and whether and how to track learner progress and/or completion. In fact, gating can have a positive or negative affect on the entire learning experience.
Forms of Gating
There are a number of approaches and variations to gating in e-learning, shown in the following list in order from least to most rigid control of the learner flow:
- No gating at all gives learners free reign to navigate at liberty through the program.
- Spot interactivity gating is designed to make sure learners view all the interactive elements, such as tabs or pop-ups, on a specific screen. This can often include adding checkmarks or color coding to distinguish the elements learners have and have not seen.
- Media gating ensures that learners view or listen to all the video or audio on a screen before advancing. This can sometimes entail restricting the functionality on the interface seek-bar so learners can’t just skip to the end.
- Learner sequence gating allows learners to control the overall sequencing. They can view any part of the course or module in any order, but they need to view everything (or at least key components) before the course is marked as complete.
- Linear flow gating forces learners to progress linearly through a course or module, while allowing them to revisit sections that they have already viewed.
- Full gating forces learners to view all content in linear order, with the seek-bar functionality restricted.
Different forms of gating can be useful for different goals and different audiences, such as when the course is part of a compliance or mandated training requirement. For example:
- An OSHA occupational safety training or a continuing education (CE) credit course or module may require that the learner spend a certain amount of time in it in order to obtain a specific number of credit hours, so the flow and learner’s ability to skip content may need to be restricted.
- For a refresher course or module, you might consider including a pre-test and allowing learners to test out of the course and skip through the content entirely.
- For a purely informational course or module, designed to allow learners to dig into the content as deeply as they like, you may not include any gating restrictions and may not even mark the course as complete.
It’s very important to look at the goals of the training and the audience and address the requirements of gating early on. As you can imagine, changing the approach to gating mid-way through a project – or at a very late stage – can be a major curveball.
Keeping Frustration in Line
It’s also critical to balance the benefits of gating against the drawbacks: for example, the cost to implement and test gating features, possible learner frustration, and learner seat time implications.
Here are just a few examples of possible learner frustration when gating isn’t addressed properly:
- Experienced learners are already familiar with a lot of the content, but they’re genuinely interested in learning the newer or less familiar items. However, forcing them to proceed through known material, at a much slower pace than they could go, often has them exasperated and either quitting or tuning out before they get to “the good stuff.”
- A screen has several clickable items on it. After thinking they’ve viewed all of the items, the learner tries to advance to the next screen, but the program won’t let them. There’s interactivity gating on the screen, but no clear visual cues showing what they’ve seen, and they’re not clear what content they’ve missed.
- A learner is viewing a gated course and needs to exit before completing it, and they assume the course bookmarked their place. When they come back later, they’re not asked if they want to resume where they left off. Now they need to start over from the beginning.
- A learner is taking a course that allows free navigation, but they get to the end, and it’s not telling them that they’ve completed it or giving them credit in the Learning Management System (LMS). What did they do “wrong”? What content did they miss? What do they do?
Course Delivery & Learning Management Systems
It’s a good idea to think about gating at the same time that you’re determining how the course or module will be delivered and whether it will be via an LMS or not. In other words, consider gating early on!
If the course or module will be delivered via an LMS, then the learner should be able to bookmark their place on exiting a session and resume from where they left off, even on different computers.
But, if the course is not being delivered via an LMS (for example, it is being launched by a web page or Intranet), resuming from where they left off on different computers may not be possible.
If a course is fully gated or includes learner sequence gating, then starting and stopping a course over multiple sessions- or using different computers can become sources of frustration.
Knowing the course delivery approach ahead of time can definitely impact gating decisions.
What if you want to allow learners to test out of the material as an alternative to gating? Consider these options:
- Pre-tests allow learners to take a short quiz at the beginning of the module. If they pass, you can let them navigate freely through the rest of the course, knowing that they’ve mastered the key concepts and may be interested in a deeper dive into their areas of interest.
- Post-tests ensure that learners can demonstrate their understanding of the material presented in the course or module. You can let them know that they can navigate freely through the course but that they will need to pass a post-test in order to obtain credit.
At the start of every e-learning project, there are so many decisions you need to make. What skills or information do your learners need? What are your learning objectives? You have to choose the best development tool, consider what media elements will be included, and determine what your seat time should be. While you’re answering all those questions (and more), don’t forget to consider the critical question of gating. Why create an inefficient process for both your developers and your learners? That “innocuous little detail” known as gating can make all the difference between potential frustration and the best learning experience you can create.