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NogginLabs was founded on the notion that custom e-learning design and development is the ultimate horizontal industry. Time and again, each new project, client, and industry proves it. The biggest advantage of the e-learning horizontal is cross-pollinating ideas from two wildly different domains. A restaurant service simulation for iPad may influence a high-fashion online retail challenge. E-learning for financial advisors in a bank could inspire a mobile outreach program for cancer survivors. This variety also keeps the creative folks at NogginLabs fresh. Fresh learning ideas and designs come from a set of constantly changing constraints.

4 e-learning design tricks i learned from my favorite addictive app


4 e-learning design tricks i learned from my favorite addictive app

Jonathan Baude

Remember when we didn't have smartphones? We couldn't just whip out our phones and start idly clicking any time we found ourselves with 5 spare minutes. If we were heating up lunch, sitting at the bus stop, or just waiting for a friend to show up... what did we do? God, we weren't left alone with our thoughts, were we? Now that's terrifying.

One of the things I love about addictive apps, though, is how much we can learn from them. These apps are case studies in user retention. We love these games, and we love spending time playing them, usually for no particular reward but continued game play. That's an amazing thing, and it's kind of inspiring. So let's take a look at some tricks we can learn from my absolute favorite addictive app, TwoDots.


When you start playing TwoDots, you know basically nothing. You see a grid with some dots on it, and you take a guess. It's a smartphone, so you can touch your screen. Does clicking on the dots do anything? No. Does swiping a dot do something? Yes! Success! It connects to any adjacent dots of the same color. Awesome! Then what happens? They disappear! Oh, man! Five seconds ago I didn't know what the heck was going on and now I've irrevocably changed the landscape of this dot grid.

What I love about how TwoDots gets you started is it trusts you to try things and make mistakes. When we make e-learning, we're often afraid to do this, right? We don't want anyone to ever feel unsure of what to do for even a second. What we'd really like is an informational overlay before the information we're about to see to tell us about the information we'll see shortly as well as what to do with the aforementioned information as pertains to all previous information.

But how do we learn in real life? The vast majority of our learning moments come from trying things and looking at the results. When we're kids, we knock something off a table, it falls to the floor. That's how we learn about gravity. And we do this every day. We find out what we think of new foods by tasting them, new clothes by trying them on, new experiences by just GOING for it. So don't underestimate your audience. No amount of research and prep work and information overload can compare to the learning experience that happens when we just give it a shot and see what happens.


TwoDots also has gorgeous graphic design. A beautiful combination of minimalistic, yet impressively ornate, the whimsical graphics on the menu and the sleek effects during game play add this ineffable sense of ambiance that makes you want to spend more time in the world.

It's not just nice, it's sneaky. The game play itself is deceptively simple, but by adding lovely design elements, it's just too much fun to stop playing. It just goes to show that even when the content might be a little dry, or the interactions pretty simple, we don't mind at all if we're sucked into the world. Give us a beautiful environment to learn in, and we're positively hooked.


When you play TwoDots, if you want a break from the main game play, you'll also get pinged about side quests that pop up from time to time. They're usually a little set of new levels, sometimes with a new game play mechanism just for this quest, and they always disappear after a limited time. One of the reasons this is so great is there's absolutely no penalty for not doing it, and it's completely up to you whether or not you choose to explore it. You really have the freedom to choose what you want to do, and it gives you the opportunity to explore new content in a self-directed way.

When we build courses, a lot of times we're afraid of this too. We want to put users on one exact, controlled path, with the full consumption of every last bit of information as a strict requirement. But when we learn, we often crave a little independence. It can be something as simple as choosing the order in which you explore different concepts, or being able to play (and replay!) mini-games that let us practice related skills without it feeling like homework. Paving our own way keeps us invested, and it gives us a way to consistently approach training with enthusiasm and fresh eyes.


You've got a limited number of lives any time you play TwoDots, but they refresh over time. It's a pretty simple mechanism, but it gets me every time. If you try and fail a level too many times in a row, you have to wait. Not that long, maybe just 10 minutes, but it's something. And those few minutes where you don't have access to the thing you're so close to getting are excruciating, tantalizing, downright exhilarating. The second you can access it again, you're so eager that you dive right in and get right back to it. It cuts down on the fatigue that comes with unlimited game play, and it keeps you energized and enthusiastic.

We're often so determined to get all of our content in front of our learners ASAP that we frontload every training experience. We put as much content as we can fit on every screen. We make giant blocks of content with no reprieve. But by giving your content--and your learners--a little room to breathe, you can keep your audience engaged and in the mood to learn even more. And, by the way, this kind of grab factor helps your learners get hooked and your training go viral.

These are just a few of the things we can learn from one of my favorite apps. Think about the apps that you spend the most time using. What is it about them that makes you want to keep using them? The user experience? The content? The graphic design? Think big, think small, but let the inspiration in and see if it doesn't make your e-learning even greater.