Do Adults Hate Challenges and Fun?

Changing the Notion of Learning Content, Access and Management

It seems the larger a corporation is, the more project managers it has on board debating the content of an e-learning course. For some reason, plot points disappear,  humor is erased and sterilized, and complexity is added.

I was talking to my developer Matt yesterday, and we agreed that if users really hate what they’re going through, they’ll find a way to ignore the content, skip the slides, and, in the end, they always have the option of clicking the little X/close button on the browser window. To think that we, as educators, don’t also need to entertain — and make it a priority — always amazes me.

Corporate-level projects tend to use visuals of multi-raced adults standing on white backgrounds, or someone in a cubicle hard at work … it’s almost too realistic and definitely not a fun and engaging visual to entice your employees. Setting an analogy outdoors, telling a story through a mythical character, and/or using light humor that can’t possibly offend will only make people pay more attention. Once you have their attention, you can begin to layer on the challenges.

When a learner is disengaged, the chances of them wanting to solve a problem are slim. They might poke around at it, but they really don’t care. Entice that same learner into a story with mildly dramatic plot points — you’re saving the company from disaster … you’re helping people overcome a problem, you’re negotiating a sale with a virtual customer — suddenly, there’s another aspect (usually character driven) that looks back at users and spurs them on to conquer the challenge. This is something that no number of multiple choice tests will accomplish.

There’s a reason why people cringe when they have to sit down in a soundproof room with a camera over their shoulder when taking some e-learning certification test. It’s not fun and it brings back haunting memories of high school.We have the potential to truly teach people these days. Sure, it might take a little longer to develop and cost a bit more — but would you rather spend $5,000 on a course that people forget, retaining no information whatsoever, or spend $12,000 on a course where people spread the word on how fun it was to learn a concept, actually got buzzed about the learning experience and looked forward to the next course?

Suddenly you have an engaged employee who is open to learning and excited about solving the next challenge that comes his or her way. Motivation is a powerful tool. It’s just a shame how often the opportunities to motivate are passed up. Without the proper motivation, all we can expect in return are mediocre results.

—Eric Bort is owner, creative director and Flash developer at Clearly Trained, which creates custom interactive training programs that use Flash technology. His e-learning blog can be found at the

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