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Ask a Trainer: Should I Lock Down My E-Learning Course?

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Hey Tim,

I’m hoping you can help settle a friendly debate a co-worker and I have been going back and forth on for the past several weeks. It’s a simple question: Should we lock down the navigation of our e-learning courses so that learners are forced the view all of the content in a specific order without skipping ahead?

My co-worker believes we should lock down our courses, but I am not so sure. The problem is that I’m struggling to define a rationale for my position. My co-worker thinks it’s important that our learners have the opportunity to absorb all of the learning content, which I understand. I’m just not sure how to justify my position.

Do you have strong feelings about this? What’s the right answer?

Do I have strong feelings about locking down e-learning courses and forcing learners to view your content in a specific order? You bet I have strong feelings on this topic!

This debate is answered by comparing expectations versus reality.

You see, when e-learning and instructional designers lock down an e-learning course, our expectation is that the learner will be encouraged to “take in” all the content and information that is presented to them. However, the reality is that the learner is likely waiting for the slide or screen to conclude so they can click that Next button and move on to the content they really need. And while they’re waiting, the learner could:

  • Feel like you don’t trust them.
  • Play a game on their phone or multitask to pass the time.
  • Zone out.

Here’s what doesn’t happen when you lock down your e-learning course: The learner discovers the course is locked and they can’t get to the content that they really need, so they decide to “hunker down” and “learn” whatever content is being force-fed them.

Locking down your e-learning course doesn’t force learning to occur.

So, does that mean you should unlock all your e-learning courses? Not exactly. Sometimes there are legal or compliance-related reasons why you may want to lock down your content. For example, some states in the US have legal mandates on the minimum amount of training time an employee must receive on given topics (for example, sexual harassment prevention). In these rare situations, I think there’s a justification for locking down an e-learning course.

Beyond that, unless there was some sort of life and death reason why a learner must receive the content, I can’t think of any justification for locking down your e-learning. And even then, if it were a matter of life and death, I might question whether or not e-learning is the right training solution, but that’s for a separate debate.

Here's my general recommendation (assuming your e-learning content is geared toward adult learners): Treat your learners like the adults they are.


If one of your learners wants to jump to a specific topic within your e-learning course, there’s probably a good reason why they want to jump to it. Why stand in their way? And even if you, your co-worker, or your stakeholders and subject matter experts believe it’s important that the learner view the content in a particular order, remember that locking down your e-learning course will not force learning to occur.

I hope that settles your debate. Best of luck!


What are your thoughts on locking down the navigation of e-learning courses? Share them by commenting below.

Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to [email protected] Also, make sure to visit the Ask a Trainer Hub to check out all your questions and my answers.

We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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I think that if you want to ensure the user get some information knowledge checks are better than locking down your training.
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Fully agree with your thoughts on this!
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