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4621 N Ravenswood Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640
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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.

Your learners are not stupid. they are bored.


Your learners are not stupid. they are bored.

Matt Young

One of the most frustrating elements of my job is dumbing down the custom e-learning we create (these examples not withstanding). We create courses, simulations, games, and experiences that require different levels of feedback, interaction, and guidance, and not all of these things are equal in terms of how you interact with and give feedback to your learning audience. In some situations, your learners stand to learn much more with less guidance. And sometimes even no guidance. 

Sometimes, granted, feedback needs to be overt, and other times it is built directly into the actions that they take in a game or a simulation. By recreating a real situation with real consequences or creating a game with intrinsic relationships that define the winning outcomes, direct feedback spelling out what the learner got wrong is often not necessary, cumbersome, and even a distraction from immersion in the experience.

Yet time and time again, clients ask us to explain to learners exactly what they got wrong. We need to tell them exactly why they didn’t succeed in a game. We have to hand hold them through every step of an e-learning experience.

Personally, I can’t imagine a more boring experience than being told what to do every step of the way. It undercuts the entire reason for creating a custom e-learning experience in the first place. If this is what your learners are accustomed to, then chances are they are bored out of their minds. If they complain about your e-learning–no, when they complain about your e-learning–it’s probably because it talks down to them and is boring. 


Right now, some of you are thinking, but MY audience really does struggle. We DO need to walk them through it. My learners really ARE abominable imbeciles who just walked out of the ooze of life and started breathing oxygen.

You’re wrong. (I know most of you are kinder than that too, but this is the kind of stuff we really hear.)

If you respect your learners and give them engaging, dynamic, challenging, and (gasp!) fun learning, they will rise to the occasion and love you for it. It’s up to you to fight the specter of learning boredom.

Granted some people will complain. But some people will always complain. There will always be outliers, people who resist a certain method of learning. Allowing a vocal minority to dictate your learning choices for the rest of your learning audience is doing the bulk of your learners a major disservice.


Do you remember being a kid? Being bad at something until you finally learned how to do it? I thought I was never going to be able to ride a bicycle without training wheels. I was scared to do it and then I was bad at it, but I kept doing it and once I figured it out, I was proud. I had to fail, and then get back on that bike until I got it right.

It might be frustrating at first, but it’s the best way to learn. Can you imagine your learners feeling proud about completing your course? Yes, they might need to restart a simulation or game after failing it. But that is going to stick with them far longer than reading a block of text that lays out everything they were supposed to do.


Repeating the game or simulation and learning from their mistakes until they master it guarantees everyone learns at the pace they need. If I am already a master, the game will be easy and I’ll be done lickety-split (and saved from the frustration of slogging through content I already know). If I’m not yet up to the challenge, I have a fail-safe environment where I can fail over and over again until I get it right. If you take away that basic opportunity to learn by spoon-feeding answers, it’s a guarantee that everyone–master or novice–will tune out.

The need to take additional time to repeat the learning is probably why most clients ask us to hand-hold the learner through the experience. After all, time is money, right? Truthfully, this is a straw-man argument. First of all, there are plenty of design considerations to accomodate limited time/computer access/resources for training.  It comes down to this: if everyone will win the first time around without fail, why go to the trouble of building a gaming or simulation experience? Surely the costs of failure to learn (i.e. a mistake in front of real-life customers) are greater than, say, 50% of your learners taking an extra pass through the course.

The simple truth is that most audiences, even if they experience some initial shock, will love a challenging and engaging course that excites their senses, demands their attention, and makes them want to get back on that bike.

Challenge yourself and your learners. Accept boring e-learning no more.