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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.

Songs in the key of custom e-learning: Music and course structure


Songs in the key of custom e-learning: Music and course structure

Ryan O'Neill

I’ve been thinking about music lately. I sit here at my desk and have Spotify running for a good chunk of my day. There are parallels that can be drawn between music and e-learning. Maybe less of the trashing hotel rooms and drugs part of the music world and more along the lines of structure. Let’s think about the structure of a song and how it relates to e-learning courses.


A song begins with an introduction. This introduction is meant to establish the pattern of the song. It introduces listeners to the key of the song and lets them know what rhythm to expect. It gets them in the right mindset for what they are about to hear. Will the song be exciting and fast paced? Or beachy and chill? Typically, the introduction is not as complicated as the main part of the song, but still contains interesting elements that “hook” listeners and gain their attention.

Course introductions play the same role. In a course hook, you hear the narrator for the first time, and get an idea of the tone the course is taking. You get familiar with design elements that will likely appear throughout the course. Also, you get a sense of what the course is going to be about. It’s unlikely that you’ll get a beachy and chill e-learning course hook, but who knows? Maybe there is a resort chain out there who wants us to train their bartenders how to make a mojito. 


Verses are the bulk of the song. They repeat the structure, using the same pattern, but use different words each time a new verse starts. E-learning courses do the same thing. Each module is like a verse in a song. We use familiar screen types within modules but use them to teach different things.


The chorus of a song returns listeners to a familiar place. It gives them a break from new information and sounds and returns them to something they have already heard.

Our chorus in a course could be the menu screen. After each module is complete, the learner returns to the main menu. It is their home base. It’s a familiar touchstone before moving on to the next module, as well as a place to review content as needed.


The guitar shreds, the drums beat, the bass…does bass stuff. This is the part that is fun, but is still true to the rules that have been set by the song.

In a course, this would be a mini-game. It is a piece that operates independently from the course itself, but still plays by the rules. It is fun, but still relates to the course content.


Some songs end abruptly, but some contain conclusions or outros, which put a button on everything that has been said in the song. At the end of our courses, we often have a summary video that neatly ties everything together, or, depending on the purpose of the course, a post-assessment, which just double checks the learner’s knowledge. 

So the next time you are listening to a beachy, chill tune, think about how it can relate to a custom e-learning course’s structure, and then go make a mojito.