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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 make difficult content more interesting

Matt Trupia

Do you feel like your content is dry, difficult to grasp, or dense with knowledge? It’s a common challenge and one we love to puzzle out. No matter how scary, any intrepid vendor should be digging deep into your materials in search of a strategy for bringing the most important elements to the surface, making them compelling to read and listen to, and translating them into behavior change. Here are some specific ways to let the best of your content come blasting through.

Get to the point

Difficult content becomes even harder to understand if you belabor the point. A lot of times it seems like being extremely thorough is critical, like you are doing the learner a service by giving them a completely comprehensive presentation of each topic. Then there’s no reason they could misunderstand since it’s all right there in detail! They have everything they could possibly need to change their behavior!

But that often backfires. In regular life, people usually want the key facts, the big important parts laid out clearly for them, and then some convincing supporting steps or details to close the deal. Don’t make people wait by creating long, thorough introductions before digging into the meat of the skill or knowledge. Trust people to process stuff at a reasonable pace, and then give them the best bits of info that will help them practice it and see the benefits and consequences.

Stuff like long historical context, deep technical details, or extensive policy documentation may be important in some training, but often that content can be pared way back to keep focus on the parts that impact the learner’s life or job the most. Otherwise learners start to scan the content, sizing it up as a long stretch of inessential info that they can safely tune out.

Once you have the most compelling or useful learning points identified, highlight it, repeat it strategically, or even just put it nice and big on the screen. Lay it right out there, boldly and purposefully. Also, there's no need to explicitly state that everything is “important” in text or audio - if everything is positioned as equally important, people start to suspect that nothing is. Let’s take this example of a classic-style e-learning sentence:

“In order to understand how to best keep the reactor lid from becoming dangerously loose, it is important to learn how the latches inside the reactor lock together to create a secure fit."

First off, if you can make it all the way through, holy crap yes, I don’t want the reactor lid to come loose. On board with that. But why bury the lede by using all those extra words to explain it? Let’s shout it out. Keeping the voice concise and active will make your learning points sharper and more precise. Maybe like:

“A loose reactor lid is incredibly dangerous. Take a look at how the reactor latches lock together to keep the lid secure.”

You could say “very" dangerous but “incredibly” is a way to add a little extra mustard by using a stronger sounding, less common word the learner isn’t expecting. You could even go harder in the paint: “A loose reactor lid can be fatal.” Assuming that is true. Be honest and don’t pull any punches. However you do it, consider getting your message across without an extensive lead-in and by using shorter, more powerful sentences that each have clear intention.

Add good examples

It’s not a shocking new suggestion to support your content with good examples. It’s just a persistent, universal truth. Examples and scenarios should be realistic, match the environment and responsibilities of the audience taking the course, and have a good detail or two to make it memorable. Don’t choose anything so obvious that there is no value in describing it, or that seems too simple or storybookish. Learners need to relate and take it to heart quickly, even if they don’t quite agree or understand completely.

“Claude eats his lunch in the atrium every day after his 11:30 status meeting. He sets his laptop down at a table and then grabs an iced coffee from the nearby kiosk. Is Claude creating any potential security risks?”

There are obviously lots of ways to go, but in this example, we use a distinct name for the character and describe him doing a routine, relatable task in a specific way. Let’s break it down:

  • Everyone has particular habits for how and where they eat lunch. Eating in the atrium is a plausible choice. Lots of natural light. You know he has a favorite table, too. Probably behind a planter.
  • You are definitely going to eat after the status meeting. It’s the perfect transition to lunch.
  • Pretty common to bring along your laptop, which you already have in hand from the meeting. Maybe browse the ol’ internet over a middling Caprese sandwich.
  • Getting an iced coffee is a nice mid-day treat and something you can’t do holding a laptop.
  • Kiosk is a fun word that helps paint a clearer image of the environment. It’s nearby so it seems like a safe move...or is it?
  • The scenario is written in a present tense to add immediacy. Claude needs your advice RIGHT NOW.

These details and choices come together to establish that Claude is a normal coworker doing normal things, but is still susceptible to creating the serious security risk of leaving his computer unattended. All without going on and on or sounding too awkward. So even though this is a simple scenario set-up, there are still small but worthwhile opportunities to make it resonate a bit more with the learner. Which is unabashedly great.