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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 your e-learning perfect: a q&a with QA


How to make your e-learning perfect: a q&a with QA

Jonathan Baude

Our work has a lot going for it. It's innovative, it's engaging, it's completely custom, and it's incredibly effective. But above all, it's awesome. And one of the ways we keep it awesome is with the help of our Quality Assurance Manager, Jessy Lauren Smith. Jessy and I sat down to chat about the crucial work of quality assurance (QA). We talked about building the ideal user experience, speaking your audience's language, and delivering perfection every step of the way. I also promised her I wouldn't make any typos. Wish me duck.

So what exactly does a quality assurance manager do?

I do a lot of proofreading, software testing, and user experience work. At a high level, what I do is try to make sure that the product looks as good as it can. Everybody at the company is doing such quality work, and my job is to make sure that it really shines.

Talk to me a little bit about proofreading. What are you looking for?

My first priority is ease of reading. I want to preserve the voice of the course and the unique voice that NogginLabs brings to courses, but I also want to make sure that it's straightforward. I want to make sure that a learner can just read it, get it, and move on so they can focus on the learning.

And as a writer, when you're too close to it, you may not realize that a certain sentence is actually seven lines long, with seventeen different clauses combined.

Right, James Joyce had the same problem. 

You're often dealing with such complex content, and you're trying to communicate a lot of things all at once. I think we've also become really good at maintaining style guides for all of our clients. Not just their internal style guides, but also their likes and dislikes. I always want to know, going into a project: What are the client's priorities for this? I think it's important to make sure that everything we write seems consistent in voice and adheres to the client's wishes.

Why is that so important?

We're always making a product for a client, right? They hired us to do this, and they want a certain type of experience for a certain type of audience. Our job is to give that to them, and to give it to them in an innovative way. Because the client brings really helpful expertise on their audience, we're able to write something that is specifically directed towards them. No one's going to be taking one of the courses and go, "This person clearly has no idea what it's actually like to work here." 

The last thing you want is somebody to be taking a course where they're supposed to be learning something, and to then suddenly have something that looks off. Because maybe they're in Internet Explorer 9, and the course wasn't tested in Internet Explorer 9. Or you don't want them to suddenly be like, "Oh, that's phrased weird," or "That's not a word our company uses." You don't want anything to distract them, because if they notice something is off, it diminishes their ability to learn.

We want to sound like we're speaking from the client's perspective directly to the learner. We want them to always feel that they're valued, that they're being spoken directly to, and that they're the ideal audience for this. I think that makes it a much more personal experience for them, and I think they're then more likely to invest in it whole-heartedly. They might not know why, but my job is to know why.

You can serve as a set of fresh eyes on a project. How does that help?

We work with a talented team of artists. I work with great writers, great designers, people who are individually and collaboratively experts in their fields. And I think anybody who's an expert knows that it's helpful to have somebody come along with another set of eyes.

A lot of what I do is pretending to be someone who's unfamiliar with the content or who may even be unfamiliar with using the Internet. Someone who may not be comfortable in an online setting, who may be taking their first e-learning course. There are things that I know from experience may potentially bother a client or the end user. And they might not know why, but my job is to know why.

You always want a user to know exactly why they're here or why they're taking this course. You want them to go in and be like, "Okay, this is the thing I'm doing in this course. This is my goal." They need to be very clear on what they're trying to accomplish. That's just another way that we make it about them.

Often, what you're doing is pointing out something that needs to be fixed. How does that feel?

Am I a monster?

Why are you such a monster?

I'm a certified lizard person. No, it was a little hard to adjust to when I first started working here. I felt like I spent all day just telling people what they did wrong.

Which they all really appreciated, I bet.

That is actually true. If you're going to spend all day telling people what they did wrong, NogginLabs is a very nice place to do it. Obviously, it's frustrating to be told, "You probably need to fix this thing." But people are really respectful towards the quality assurance part of the process, and I think that they understand that I'm just trying to make it as good as it can be.

What we do here is so collaborative, anyway, that it would be extremely weird to have anybody, like, writing a course in a closet by themselves and being like, "I made this course! We're gonna send it to a client now!"

Everyone cares so much about the product that they just want it to be the best. Even if it means that they have to do extra work, people want to do it.

Because at the end of the day, everybody's focused on making it as good as it can possibly be, right?


Hey, will you proofread this interview?

Oh yes.