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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.

The design of my e-learning software is already outdated


The design of my e-learning software is already outdated

Matt Young

To a certain extent, it is unavoidable. Your custom e-learning–that you toiled over, that you loved, that transformed your organization–looks outdated. What year was it made? It might be time for a refresh if it has two or more zeroes in it. Definitely, if you are about to utter anything with a “19” in it.

If it was made more recently, you might wish that you had made some different decisions during the course’s initial development. If you want to create a course that feels as vital as the day you rolled it out, consider the following guidelines.


You really can’t go wrong if you start here. What are your audience’s expectations? Are they familiar with e-learning or is it brand new to them? If you already have an e-learning culture in your organization, what are they accustomed to seeing?

This is important because as your audience becomes more savvy, it’s harder to give them standard-looking courses. They get bored and start to tune out. One way to tune them back in is to turn the graphic design in your course up a notch. Fill it with animations and slick custom graphics and interactive widgets created specifically for the current project. The double-edged sword here is that the more custom you go, the shorter the shelf life may be. Pushing the boundaries might put your design squarely into the “fad” category. It might wake your audience up, but only until the fad fizzles.


If you have the choice to deviate from your organization’s brand standards, you may need to consider some factors before doing so:

  • Are your organization’s standards constantly in flux or about to change?
  • What value are you bringing to the project by deviating?
  • What do you stand to lose by deviating?

Breaking away from brand standards may also snap your learners back to attention, but making changes for the sake of making changes can lead us down some dark paths. Paths that do not age well. However, under the right circumstances, selecting design that deviates from your normal brand standards can be invigorating. Especially if the project itself is a bit of an outlier. Perhaps you are tasked with developing training for an initiative about change management or a charitable initiative in your organization. These are often good opportunities to mix things up.

But we have brand standards for a reason. They help us understand where we are and what we are interacting with immediately. Using your core brand standards can be very useful. There is a lot of room to play within the constraints of a well-considered and beautifully designed set of standards. It may seems safe or boring to you, but ultimately it should benefit those who are taking your training and help them have the best user experience possible.


If you have your own designers or are working with a vendor like NogginLabs, it can be very easy to review any design deliverables and think “I need to say something CONSTRUCTIVE about this.” However, “Great job!” is totally acceptable. You don’t have to give critical feedback where it is not needed.

When you are inclined to give constructive feedback, ask yourself, “Is this going to improve the experience that my learner has?” If the answer is no, then you probably are just experiencing a bout of “personal preference.” Unless you are also a designer, this is the time to let it go. This doesn’t mean don’t comment! Speak up and speak your mind, but if you don’t have a design background, don’t force yourself to say something just to look engaged. In fact, if you really want to say something, pick something positive. “I love the colors you are using here.” is GREAT FEEDBACK!

Oh, and ask questions! Questions are so great. Your designer and/or vendor can give you answers to those questions, and then your new understanding of why a choice was made may lead to you appreciate the design further or give voice to your criticism in a truly constructive manner. Dialogues are a great way to approach design. Don’t feel like you have to throw it back over the wall without a back and forth.


At some point, we’ll forgive a slightly dated course if it still delivers the goods. Content is critical to making your course evergreen. You need to have a solid instructional design as the backbone of any course, but a course filled with doohickeys, doodads, and thing-a-ma-jigs will seem pretty stale pretty fast (or immediately) if there is no solid plan for the learning.

Instructional design, good writing, and rock-solid programming can also lead you to design in some instances. Don’t be afraid to iterate as the other three pillars of e-learning evolve too.


Ultimately, design trends change. It’s simply unavoidable, but if your course and your plan for lifting your learners up is sincere, well-planned, and completed with gusto, we’ll look the other way at your course’s bell bottom trousers.