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  • Writer's pictureTraci Pate

Should eLearning Always Be Fun (Part 1)

Disclaimer: We aren’t suggesting that fun eLearning is bad! We love fun! It’s just not the right approach for all audiences, and it should be done thoughtfully. Part 2 will provide some inspiration for how to add elements of fun to eLearning in a way that supports your objectives.

eLearning doesn’t need to be fun to be effective. In fact, some learners would prefer that eLearning is less about being fun, and more about the facts. Audiences such as physicians, lawyers, executives, and sales professionals on a quota more often than not want only relevant content, and they want it quickly.

We aren’t suggesting that “it should be fun” can’t be a project requirement for you. We are suggesting that before it becomes your top priority, you make sure it is the right course of action.

  • First, learn about your audience. What do they expect? What would they appreciate? What do they have time for?

  • Second, if fun is what they want, find out what their definition of fun is before you proceed.

To accomplish these goals, start by reviewing level-one surveys of past courses. Keep in mind this is only part of the picture. More importantly, you need to hear from learners about their experience. You can do this with surveys, focus groups, and interviews.

As designers, we are often removed from the learners, and if we don’t find out what learners want and expect, our courses could fall flat. What we think is innovative, engaging, and fun can turn learners off from the content completely. For example, if you make a training video that features an actor in an animal suit explaining the material, it could very well be the source of some not-so-juicy office gossip. (True story!)

Now this example is a pretty extreme case, but this sort of thing happens in eLearning all the time. As designers we build interactions and games that we think are novel and fun. But if we aren’t considering what our audience wants first, they may just be frustrated with the extra time and steps we are requiring. And time in the course completing interactions does not equal learning.

  • Third, use the fun factor to reinforce the content and learning objectives.

We also want to avoid going so far in the “fun” direction that it’s all learners take away from the course. I’ve talked to several participants from retail who have really enjoyed different games in their eLearning, but claim that they don’t remember what else was in the course. Now, that’s self-reported and debatable. But if you have a module on customer service that incorporates a game that is similar to Atari’s Pitfall between quiz questions, it’s possible that they remember the game more than the content.


So in short, before you decide to focus on the fun factor for your eLearning:

  1. Be sure your audience is receptive

  2. Make sure you are using their definition of fun (keyword = their)

  3. Use the fun elements to reinforce the content

Stay tuned for the next installment with examples of fun elements that you can incorporate into your eLearning...once you determine that it’s a good fit for your audience.

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