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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.

Three things pixar can teach us about developing custom e-learning


Three things pixar can teach us about developing custom e-learning

Ryan O'Neill

A few weeks ago, we tweeted a great article about the creation of the upcoming Pixar movie The Good Dinosaur. In the movie, a dinosaur and his pet boy must make it back home after being swept thousands of miles away in a storm. I’ll spare you the metaphor that custom e-learning development is like an epic journey, but know that I thought about it and stopped myself.

There are, however, three key lessons that the article touches on that I will relate to our process.


Creators of the film visited Wyoming and Montana to get an idea of the landscape they were using in the movie. During these visits, they not only found inspiration for the environment, but they met real people who lived there. These ranchers influenced the way that the filmmakers depicted cowboy-type characters in the movie. These characters became deeper and more realistic. 

When we create a custom e-learning course, we visit the place we are making the course about and talk to the people for whom we are making it. This gives our writers and instructional designers a stronger foundation upon which to build everything else.

Because of the creators' visit to the location they were using, not only did the environments in The Good Dinosaur come out fully rendered, but the characters did as well. We want to do the same thing in our courses.


Environment can help create a mood. It can be a realistic representation of what an audience is used to seeing or a stylized and colorful background to draw an audience in. The director wanted these huge landscapes that the crew was visiting to be a character in the film. Ultimately, what he is saying is that the environment is a key component in getting your audience engaged. In this film, it draws the audience in with its scope and beauty.

In an e-learning course, we could (and often do) use the environment to represent what the learners see everyday. For instance, we might have animated characters on a photorealistic retail background for a simulation. The thing about doing this is that you can't get it wrong. If you're going to create a virtual OfficeMax, it had better look like OfficeMax. You have to determine the most appropriate and effective environment in which to place your learners to engage them.


Much like a vacation photo slideshow, you only want to include the things that really matter. Nobody needs to see pictures of every bus, you know? These animators found the most beautiful backdrops and tweaked them so they fit the larger story. They used the Grand Teton Mountains as a backdrop for the main character’s home, but added fictional mountains that were necessary for the story. They manipulated the environment to heighten the drama (engagement) for the audience.

As far as e-learning goes, we want to take the opportunity to create scenarios that represent issues or situations that your learners see on a regular basis. This way, everyone will be on the same page and know how to handle them.

Using these lessons from the development team at Pixar…fine, I guess I’ll say it: e-learning development is like an epic journey with a happy ending.