INPUT NEEDED: Restoration of the left-hand course navigation

Hello All,

There is strong consensus among a group, representing six separate organizations, that we should restore the left-sided navigation to the in-course, student-facing, experience.

There are more details about the rationale and approach in this proposal.

The current thinking is that this navigation will be the platform default in a future release, perhaps as soon as Redwood. If you have a point of view about this please register it here.

For context, we’re aware of 4 working implementations that have restored this feature in the LMS student-experience, as well as other stakeholders who were planning to re-implement it.

While there will be some feature toggles in play – the design isn’t finalized --, its likely that we would not support two divergent navigation designs, but would converge on a single platform, in-course, navigation approach.


Glad to see this discussion happening! This quote from the proposal stood out to me:

In a recent conversation, an Open edX learner shared that they typically keep the course outline open in a separate tab and navigate back and forth between the outline and the in-course experience.

I also do this, or else just return to the outline view frequently to try to find a previous page again. If we have time/budget to do some formal UX testing to validate a final decision, that would be even better, but if we needed to decide today I’d vote to restore the left-side nav.

For we do not use multiple units per subsection because of how much our learners refer to the side navigation. We don’t mind it being enabled via a flag (versus a default setting), but we certainly don’t want to use a version that doesn’t allow it at all.

I don’t know if allowing the user to toggle it is part of any proposal, but I think that would be a really nice option for learners trying to preserve real estate when using a single monitor.

@Krys_Tyler I want to make sure that I understand your concern. Would it be possible to share a screen shot of the in-course experience you have today? For reference, we value the concept of a “distraction-free mode,” but are trying to separate that from decisions about navigation UX. Those features, however, may land in the same release.

Under my Snowflake Account I’m too new and I can’t upload an image. Let me switch accounts and see if I can do it that way.


So you’re correct that I am conflating two separate things, but I was trying to make the point that our courses are built with that side nav in mind. With the presumption that they will have access to it.

@gweinberg has developed some mocks in Figma that show his proposed UX direction for the side navigation

The top two show the experience in normal in-courses mode.

The two below show the experience in focus mode.

Quick questions about the menu:

  1. Did you add the icons by using unicode symbols in the subsection title?
  2. Would your preference be that the levels that are displayed in the menu was a site-wide setting rather than one setting for everyone? There’s some ongoing carrying cost for each feature flag/toggle/setting we support. Currently configuring this below the site-wide level is out of scope.

I’ve shared some additional thoughts on this elsewhere, but just posting to say that I wholeheartedly agree with this, as much as I first objected to this change way back when :laughing: The new mocks look lovely. It’d be interesting to see how overwhelming they get with a larger course, but with them being collapsible I don’t think it’ll be too much of an issue given there’s not normally more than 10 or so units per subsection, even for people who like using them (mostly because there was at one point a big UI issue with the horizontal nav overflowing).

With regards to configurability, I think it’s likely a good idea to have it be configurable at a site-level with a goal of making it configurable at the course-level later, but that obviously has to be weighed against maintenance costs. In my research for the core product, one thing that kept striking me was the lack of structure configurability we offer in comparison to other learning platforms, and some configurability with at least how the navigation displays at increasingly lower levels so that different course formats (such as single page subsections) can be designed would contribute considerably to bringing us up to the same norms.

To paraphrase the way one course designer I worked with once described it - "If you want to make a short, modular, 1-hour or less course about making eggs in Open edX, you need a Section titled “Making eggs”, a subsection titled “Making eggs”, and a unit titled “Making eggs”.

My ideal goal is that we can eventually have courses displaying different levels of the course structure flexibly. That way we can provide a good course experience for all different scales of courses that don’t need the same level of structure as a 6-month course, even if the structural elements in the authoring side don’t actually change and it’s all an illusion for learners.

This isn’t that, but building in the new UI in such a way that it acknowledges that different course formats an exist is a step in the right direction, even if it does have maintenance burdens (and how much burden they cost vs. the benefit they provide is the next question).

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I don’t have much to add other than that reintroducing the sidebar gets a big :+1: from me!

I think @gweinberg’s mocks look great too.

Given that there’s already a right-hand pane for discussions and notifications, would it make sense to have the navigation as part of that rather than as its own separate item?

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That option has been discussed as a possibility. I think it’s something we need to test and will have a stronger point of view after we’ve done some UX research. Currently the right-hand side is focused on course “tools” like notes. De-cluttering is valuable, but combining navigation and other tools might be too dense.

Yes, this is my concern now, too. Suppose we add back left navigation after we now have right side info that wasn’t there before. In that case, we are recreating the problem of the original left navigation taking too much space and content not having enough space, especially as people use smaller screens. But I also agree people are getting lost without having regular and easy access to the outline.

I think we could have an option to place the unit discussion at the bottom of the unit rather than on the right side, it will make the view less crowded. When users click on the discussion icon at the top right, the page will scroll down to the discussion section.

I really like the idea of having the course navigation in the sidebar, and the mock is looking great. I have just one suggestion, and it’s that the course navigation might be better placed on the right side for these reasons:

1- Initial focus on the main content: By placing the dropdown menu on the right side, we allow the user’s initial attention to focus on the main content of the course, which is the most relevant. This can enhance the user experience, especially when initiating interaction with the content.

2- Reading flow: Typically, the reading flow is from left to right, where the most important or primary information is often placed on the left side. Placing the menu on the right side could naturally follow the reading flow and allow a smooth transition from the main content to the sidebar.

3- Emphasis on course progression: If the course content follows a linear progression from left to right (e.g., from introduction to advanced concepts), placing the sidebar on the right side can visually reflect the course’s progression.

Usually, sidebars are on the left side, but in this case, I think it would be cool if we consider having it on the right side. What are your thoughts on this?



  1. Yes. We use emojis and it does cause some issues. When using the export/import tool in a new deployment we have to remove the emojis from the unit titles and then add them back after import. We don’t have to remove them from xBlocks though.

Appsembler made a modification for us that allows things to go more smoothly with our logs. While exploring Tutor to see about self-hosting, I also read that the connection to mySQL can be configured to use unicode but haven’t tried it.