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4621 N Ravenswood Ave.
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.

Fun problems: Building engaging e-learning


Fun problems: Building engaging e-learning

Geoff Hyatt

I’ve always been fascinated by thinking about games as self-selected problems. They can be as simple as laying out card sequences in Solitaire or as complex as progressing through an online role playing game. From workplace projects to household chores, we all face daily responsibilities. What is it about games that motivate us to perform tasks recreationally? And how can these dynamics be applied to custom e-learning in order to engage your audience?


When I taught storytelling strategies in a media-arts program, most of my students regularly played video games. Many hoped for careers that involved creating them. When they sat down to play a video game, I explained, they presented themselves with problems that they did not previously face. A game usually required them to learn rules and undertake tasks—that is, to willingly introduce new obstacles into their lives.

There would be puzzles to solve, or environments to navigate, or conflicts to negotiate that demanded time, effort, and attention. And, heck, most of the time they would have to play the game over and over in order to become any good at it. Why do this? Wouldn’t it be easier not to play? Games are fun and empowering, sure—but why? 


A basic hallmark of a good game is that people want to play it, and this metric applies to e-learning as well. Few things are more empowering than choice, and the first choice is whether or not to engage in something at all.

At NogginLabs, we believe that if you think the only way people will take your course is by requiring it, then you have problem with engagement. By forcing people to take the course, regardless of their motivation to do so, you establish the interaction by depriving them of choice. And who likes that? Now, there are certain legal and training aspects that require compliance and completion, but custom e-learning content should feel useful, rewarding, fun, and empowering. The experience should provide its own motivation.


When Delta Air Lines sought to embed learning throughout a fully functional game, they came to NogginLabs. “Ready, Set, Jet!” was our solution. The game places learners in a vibrant, gamified world. They visit landmarks, help travelers, discover collectibles, and engage in various types of gameplay—all while acquiring and applying practical workplace knowledge. The course won multiple awards. Even more importantly, it was a hit with Delta's employees.


Non-gamified courses can still be rich with positive interactivity. NogginLabs partnered with the Cicerone Certification Program to create BeerSavvy for people preparing for the Certified Beer Server exam. Covering everything from history and culture, brewing and storage, to tasting and serving, BeerSavvy’s content comes to life in varied screen types with a full-bleed, magazine-like style.

Learners set the course’s pace, progressing as quickly or as gradually as they desire. Guided but not controlled, BeerSavvy feels like an exploration, not a mandate. Its visually pleasing and diverse experience engaged learners and received an enthusiastic response—including a Brandon Hall Excellence Award.


A well-designed game shares many aspects with engaging e-learning, and one of the most important dynamics involves choice. An inviting and rewarding experience motivates learners to participate. The ability to progress at an individual pace instills a sense of control. These things combine to create a sense of empowerment. All games involve learning, and all learning is, in a way, a game. The art of both begins by creating something people want to play.