Friday, June 17

The Wizard of Oz Rule

Three Clicks and You're Home!

I was recently talking with the CLO of a large Canadian elearning company. He recounted an interesting story. A vendor of elearning programs had been in - one of Canada's best - and shown him a demo. He went through 27 screens before he was asked to interact with the program. He dismissed them with a "No thanks" and when they asked why, he told them he had a rule.

"If I'm asked to go for more than three screens, and I'm not asked to do something, to interact with the program, it will fail."

So I decided this was the Three Screen Rule of Interaction. I actually believe - and lead design teams - with the 'every screen must ask you to do something' rule. So I've narrowed the interaction down even more.

When I was leading a team building a workflow program, we used what we called The Wizard of Oz rule. You had to be able to find your way to the information within 3 clicks or the design was no good. It meant we had to design horizontally versus vertically. With a digital tool like a PC, the wonderful truth is that no one knows if there are 10 screens behind the Home Screen or 10,000. It's all a matter of clicks, user inerface and design.

So there seems to be a number that has some bearing on the relationship between interaction and asking for interactivity, and the use of workflow tools and elearning programs. Anyone else experience this?

How many clicks will users tolerate before their frustration level with a workflow program overflows and they turn off? How many non-interactive pages scroll by before they 'tune out' of elearning programs? What are some of the things you have learned from your experiences about interactivity and interaction levels? What have you experienced as very successful? Has anyone read any good whitepapers or current research you can share?


jay said...

This is one of those situations where the rule probably reads, "It depends...."

From personal experience, I will go through a lot more screens if I enjoy the content, if the layout is attractive, or if I'm brushing up rather than learning something entirely new.

Bill Bruck said...

Great meme!

We use the three clicks rule in creating performance support systems, and we also use the horizontal as well as the vertical in an attempt to get a person to the topic of relevance within three clicks.

While I agree with Jay that more clicks are tolerable if the content is enjoyable, and I'd add even more clicks if the content is relevant and even more if its vital, the three click rule is a great one to strive for.

In practice, we find that 4 may be more practical for a complex workflow supported by an EPPS, but the general notion of minimizing the clicks is essential, and framing it as "the wizard of oz rule" is brilliant! Nice meme.


Bill Bruck (Q2Learning)
Collaborative Learning Blog
Join our CoP at

Godfrey Parkin said...

"Three clicks to closure" has long been the theoretical ideal in e-commerce, where a huge percentage of purchases are abandoned before potential customers get to the final "pay now" button.
In fact many online vendors strive for "one-click" searching and shopping using cookies and profiling to anticipate individual visitor choices for them.

In e-learning, the fewer unnecessary or gratuitous clicks that a learner has to make in order to get to where he/she is going, the better. Five years ago, no decision maker would "buy" an e-learning experience unless it was jam-packed with "interactivity", which was typically interpreted as "clickables". But there is a huge difference between interactivity and engagement. Learning design should seek to engage the mind of the learner, not just the clicking finger.

That said, you don't have "to do" something in order to be engaged, and the oft-maligned "page-turner" can be a highly effective learning design if the content itself is engagingly created. So your Canadian client's rule is not universally applicable. (It's like saying "I'm not going to buy any e-learning that is not SCORM conformant," a common rule which sadly demonstrates a limited understanding of the scope of e-learning today).

Ever read a good book that you simply can't put down? That's engagement, and the only interactivity is the irritating interruption of having to turn the page. Instructional designers have to learn to make their content and their learning experiences more compelling and more cerebrally/emotionally engaging, and stop falling back on the crutch of mindless interactivity. But maybe that takes talent, rather than skill?

Of course, one of the best ways to do this is to maximize "real" interaction with fellow learners, peers, and instructors, and to pump up the contextual relevance of the experience, but that's another topic :-)

Godfrey Parkin

Stuart Kruse said...

I agree with Jay. Rules, rules, rules...why are we always looking for simple rules and guidelines? Let's get it into our heads once and for all that we are instructional DESIGNERS....and the essence of design is coming up with the most appropriate solution in a given CONTEXT. Sure, we all like tips and heuristics to guide us, but there is the danger that new instructional designers or customers will start repeating stuff like this as a mantra or a rule that ends up in evaluation criteria.

Let's teach beginners and customers to think....

Anonymous said...

I would suggest that we are always looking for 'simple rules and guidelines" to find out what often works well - exceptions noted, Jay - and save time and avoid reinventing the wheel. Another explanation is that they facilitate work for many people who do not wish to think or be creative, just get going in what they assume is the right direction.

What about laws? Should we do away with those as well? I think they come from the same human wellspring with regard to need, just an order of magnitude different.

jay said...

David, as I said before, "It depends...."

The Supreme Court's decision today to hold software companies liable for the misdeeds of their users sucks. I'm not against the rule of law, but some laws are simply wrong.

Anonymous said...

Jay: I'm not disagreeing with you. "It depends ..." is a totally viable rule of thumb. I've found that the continuum starts from zero and goes through creativity and art, down the road to science and law and then back again.

At every step a few with a curious creative learning mind ask "Well, it depends ..." and then the rest of follow.

A few lead, most follow.
For the followers at the far rigid dogmatic end of the spectrum, there is no "It depends ..." just by the book. So who writes the book?

For a few at the other end, it's always "Well I dunno it depends ..." They always reinvent and sometimes it's a better mousetrap. They write their own books. I submit that you are on that side of the "How do I help them learn 3 clicks rule" side of the equation and that's your frame.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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