Written by:

Holly Macdonald


July 27, 2011

This month’s question is about making e-learning fun.

Here’s my story…

I’m currently working with a client to develop training for a new system.  Systems training. Always fun.  As a matter of fact, this isn’t just any system, it’s an HR system. I think that’s double fun, isn’t it?

Anyway, this system requires training and they want to do all “virtual”.  They’ve relied on the webinar approach up to now, but I suggested that we broaden the approach.  Design to the rescue!

Now, stickmen are kind of verboten in the e-learning world, but being a #lrnchat #rebel, I thought this was a rule to break. You see, there are a couple of aspects of their business that are changing because of the new system (think new processes for people getting paid) and we needed an attention getter.  So, sticking my tongue firmly in my cheek, I crafted a series of stick characters and used some of Tom Kuhlmann’s great hand drawn thought clouds and speech bubbles to round out the effect. And this stickman shows up on all training and communications that we are producing, plus other distinctive design elements.  I did consider downloading and using Pivot to create animated stickmen, but my timeline was too tight, so I opted not to, but may for future…By the way, I was inspired by (wait for it) a series of ads here in Canada about tax.  Yes, tax + stickmen.

My rationale: my client is in the leisure business (think beach and ski resorts), so the audience should be a pretty good match for a fun solution.  Yes, it’s clicky next button e-learning, using stick men, but with a fun story to drive it, trying to tear a page from Cathy Moore’s book (and we’re also considering providing the template for employees to make their own courses in the future).  It also pulls no punches (character is a manager and assumes HR is going to make things complicated) and creates simple dialogue that resonates with the users, and in the end, combined with a suite of performance support, it will ensure that they are well prepared for the Go Live date, but also in the future.

So the e-learning product/solution can be fun, but I think there’s other aspects to consider too:

  • Your own professional development – I have to say that developing e-learning is fun, I am constantly learning new tricks and really enjoy the sense of camaraderie that others seem to bring to the communities that I hang out in. When I managed a team of 12 instructional designers, we had quarterly professional development days, annual boot camps and they always had a fun component.
  • Instructional design process – you can ensure that the design sessions are fun (but maybe not frivolous) and that working with you is fun/enjoyable. I start every conversation with a personal greeting and ask people about their lives and what they do for fun.
  • The instructional development process – another client that I’m working with has communication challenges across their global operations and we are considering giving the regions an “assignment” to create a short film about their offices, themselves and insider’s knowledge about slang and business practices.  We’d then create a framework to host and share these (and potentially a “cultural sensitivity” type of training for all employees).  Could I create something serious instead? Of course, but a little fun isn’t going to hurt.

As e-learning developers, we have an opportunity to make lasting change, but we need to be smart about how to use the opportunity. In fact, some learning leaders say it’s a strategic advantage.  Sure not every topic is going to be a good candidate for fun e-learning product, but that doesn’t mean we have to be boring, all the time.  Does it?