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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.

How to fix bugs and build better e-learning by puzzling things out


How to fix bugs and build better e-learning by puzzling things out

Jonathan Baude

When I was a kid, I always just sort of figured everything in the world was made, perfectly, by some machine somewhere. Cars, TVs, belts, lamps, books, blenders—if you can buy it at a store, then somewhere it was blinked into perfect existence by a team of professionals. That made total sense to me. Then again, I also thought my teachers lived at school and Beanie Babies were going to make me rich.

What I realized over time was that, of course, no product comes to life fully formed. There isn't just some magical Make Perfectly switch you can turn on and be done with it. That's why one of the best ways to develop a product—including, yes, custom e-learning—is with a formal, iterative process. We've got some tricks up our sleeve to make this process go as smoothly as possible, but the simple truth is that making something great often involves fixing bugs.

I've talked about my love of bug-fixing before. Big, small, whatever the issue is, you've got to be prepared to tackle it if you want to make something truly great. This kind of work may not sound like as much fun as blue-sky thinking or brainstorm sessions, but it's one of my favorite parts of the job. Here's a couple of things I always do that helps me stay engaged and fix bugs effectively.


Many times, our work involves fixing a bug noticed by someone else. Some of these bugs are simple: fix a typo, replace an image, double-check the compression settings on that video. But sometimes, you're not even sure what a bug is saying. Often, you'll find yourself trying to fix a bug that's exaggerated, or vaguely worded, or even logged in the wrong place. You may not be able to ask the person who noticed the bug exactly what they meant, so at that point the challenge is on to figure out exactly what they were experiencing and how you can fix it.

Nothing pains me more than being unable to replicate a bug. I always want to figure out how to recreate the bug first to be confident that I've fixed it. What clues can I use to figure it out? I always begin by trusting the bug. Bugs aren't just logged as random acts of mischief and malice; bugs represents a user's experience of your product. So don't be afraid of the tricky bugs, the edge scenarios. Try to make sure you understand why something happened, or else you'll never be able to fix it.


As perfect as our product may seem to us, of course, there comes a time when we have to release it into the wild for end users. And if your users are experiencing a bug, then it matters. Even if you've designed the most beautifully complex, intricate, breathtaking interactive that delicately explains the secrets of the universe with vibrant visuals and a stunning new drag-and-match-and-swipe-and-drop functionality like the world has never seen... if your users can't use it, you've got a problem. This is why quality assurance from fresh eyes can help so much. There's tremendous value in the perspective of someone who doesn't know all the ins and outs of your product like you do. Bugs from the outside are a huge asset in making your product rock solid.

This isn't just an act of compassion. It also helps you make your product better. Consider just how the user was experiencing your product. Is there something unique to their testing environment that might have caused this? Could they have taken an accidental action in the course that had unintended, buggy consequences? What if they misunderstood the way the interactivity worked, but in their misunderstanding, revealed an error they didn't even realize? Make sure you're thinking about the user's perspective and what you can learn from it. 


It can be easy to get tunnel vision when you're fixing bugs. If you're looking at a list of discrete problems, it's tempting to just get in, fix them, and get out. You will have done your job, right? But, of course, it's not that simple. What if your fix is totally inconsistent with how this functionality appears elsewhere? Or what if it throws off the rhythm you've established throughout your course? What if it's just a band-aid that won't solve the root problem the learner is experiencing? Bug-fixing isn't just about the bug in front of you at that very moment. It's a series of steps you're taking to take your product from good to great.

We spend our time building custom e-learning, which means the challenges we face are always unique to the project at hand. But no matter what bug you're taking on, just make sure you're going in with the right attitude. By facing the challenge head on, keeping your audience's experience in mind, and not losing sight of your end goal, you'll be on your way to success.