Those of us who work on web strategy and design talk a lot about how pages should be constructed to make it easy for users to scan a page. Indeed, page hierarchy, limited menus, bullet-ed lists, and informative headlines are among the things that make it easier for website visitors to assess what may be of interest on a given page.
However, do we also recognize that there are great differences among users in their ability to scan web pages? Having observed a lot of participants while conducting usability tests over the years, I have noticed that individuals vary widely in their ability to look a page and make quick decisions regarding their options.
Some people are able to quickly take in the whole page (even if they have to scroll down) and are able to answer questions about almost anything on that page. Others can look at the page for ten minutes and still not know that a specific option exists. It can be right there in front them (they can even roll their mouse right over it) and they still don't see it.
Although basic intelligence and web skills are factors, I have observed that something more fundamental is also going on here. It may have more to do with the way each of us perceives the world around us and the way that we each of us learn. Some of us are simultaneous learners and are adept at skimming a book and grasping the big picture; others are sequential learners who need to understand the various plot twists to appreciate the story. Simultaneous learners prefer maps; sequential learners do better with directions.
Relative to the user experience on a website, we need to take this into account when designing for user experience, knowing that each user will perceive the site differently. Simultaneous users will appreciate site maps, mega-menus and search. Sequential learners will likely opt for clear and logical navigation as they step through the site.
Bottom line: Just as people learn differently, your site visitors will engage with your website in different ways. Keep this in mind and provide options for both simultaneous and sequential learners.
Footnote: Much has been written in the education field about learning styles. Here are a few resources that may be helpful for those who want to learn more.