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Chicago, IL 60640
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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.

Constraints and innovation: Cooking up some custom e-learning


Constraints and innovation: Cooking up some custom e-learning

Katie Markovich

In a recent turn of fortuitous events, I was able to obtain the Food Network. Wait, wait, let me get ahead of this: our new channel is paid for and totally legit, the events leading up to it just felt, I don’t know, fortuitous. Magical, even. I guess I like Food Network more than I realized. Anyway, this is all to say that I’ve been watching A LOT of Food Network. I come home from a long day at the office, kick off my shoes, and begin the decompression process with a little Chopped. “Chefs, please open up your baskets,” I mouth along with Ted Allen. It’s a nice end to my workday, a welcomed distraction after hours of working on custom e-learning and top-notch business simulations.

As the chefs unpack their mystery ingredients, I find myself trying to play along. Okay, squirrel meat, a bag of cotton candy, rosemary, and a Jack-o-Lantern. Got it. The constraints of the challenge are fun to watch, especially when it gives you an excuse to get creative and solve problems. And then that’s usually when it hits me: I’ve already been thinking like this all day at work.

Constraints force innovation. This is something we believe in and use to create our stunning custom courseware. Sometimes I open my own “basket” as a Content Producer (CP)—which could include limited source material, a large seat time, and a client’s desire to gamify all of it—and I, too, have to get creative. Just like the Chopped contestants, I find myself harkening back to skills I know I have, and lessons I’ve already learned.

So much of a CP’s job is assessing the project components we’re given, and then choosing and applying the best treatment. I might think back on a project that effectively used multiple-choice questions that tested learners on their real world application of the content. I might think back to a time that using video was the exact right way to treat the content. I might even think back to that one time when, no, writing 17 custom animations was not a good idea. But in my mining of ideas, odds are, I can come up with something that might work again.

Once the Chopped contestants have decided upon a menu, they get to work. They start slicing, dicing, sauteing, pureeing, and reducing. There’s a kind of relief in knowing exactly what you have to do in order to accomplish a goal. Our production teams spend a lot of time brainstorming and pitching ideas, hammering down the exact right details in order to make an e-learning course near perfect. Once we have goals established across all 4 pillars of learning development, the real magic starts.

The chefs present their dishes to the judges for feedback. We present our courses to clients for feedback. I don’t think I need to hit this metaphor any harder than I already am. But know that my point is this: For all the times I’ve watched Chopped and wondered what the experience is like, I’ve had to look no further than my day job for a similar experience. Building these courses can be challenging, sure, but sometimes this is how we come up with the best products. Having to think outside of the box—or the basket—is what keeps NogginLabs at the top of the e-learning game.