I want to learn about

What would you put in eLearning room 101?

by David Cameron - March 23, 2017

This blog is about the 'pet hates' most of us have about poor eLearning content. From awkward dialogues, wordy learning objectives to clicking past the boredom, we've all been there. For too many years, eLearning content has been sub-standard. If you want to see how modern eLearning should work, check out our Content development services. In the meantime, this blog will help you spot the worst eLearning mistakes and take steps to stamp them out. 

eLearning could do better

This blog isn’t my idea. It’s someone else’s idea. It’s a good idea.

‘Which aspects of eLearning would you put in Room 101?’ she asked.

She is the cat’s mother. Well, I’d put unnecessary preambles like this one in, for a start.It could have been worse. It could have started:

'Welcome to this blog on hated aspects of eLearning. It should take you approximately 5 minutes to read. In case you don’t understand that, here is a picture of a clock showing what 5 minutes looks like.’ 

You get my drift.

Who talks like that?

I didn’t 100% complete the first part of this blog – so, no gamification badge for me. If this had been an eLearning course rather than real life, the conversation with the cat’s mother might have gone something like this:



‘I’ve had a really brill idea.’

‘Great! What’s your really brill idea?’

‘It’s for you to write a piece on those aspects of eLearning which you feel do not contribute to the learning objectives and outcomes but which our clients and subject matter experts regularly insist on including, despite there being no evidence for their effectiveness.’

‘Like, the things that grate on my nerves?’

‘Aye, bonny lad.’

Sorry, I couldn’t keep up the awfulness all the way through that. When I read typical eLearning dialogue, I’m reminded of these satirical lines by the poet Martin Seymour-Smith:

We should say: ‘Dear Aunt, I am looking forward
Very much to my holiday this year,’
But we do not know enough about
The transformations and transmutations of Art.

So, those are my first two choices for eLearning’s Room 101: unnecessary - 
preambles and unspeakably bad dialogue.

The twins boredom and frustration in eLearning room 101

Bored eLearning

On a more sombre note, before it was ever a BBC comedy programme, Room 101 was the torture chamber in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984 – it’s in this room that the spirit of the book’s hero, Winston, is finally broken. Room 101 isn’t where you put your pet hates, but where your worst fear is made real. But before it was ever an Orwellian torture chamber, Room 101 was a conference room at the BBC: the boredom and frustration Orwell endured there turned it into the stuff of nightmares. In recognition of this, I choose for eLearning’s Room 101 those very twins: boredom and frustration.

When my kids say they are bored, I counter with the dad-mantra

‘Only the boring get bored.’ 

I believe this, but poor eLearning can test that belief to breaking point. Boredom is a state of mind. Some argue that boredom can be ‘a vital spur to creativity’, but even without going that far, we can turn this negative into a positive. The fact that people faced with a piece of eLearning expect to be bored is, for me as an instructional designer, alternately a cause of despair and a prompt to spring a surprise. If boredom is a blank page, we can – at the very least – draw interesting doodles on it. eLearning that is only slightly better than the average already has a lot going for it. And a really skilled team of graphic and instructional designers can achieve miracles that excite genuine interest.

I have another saying, borrowed from a psychotherapist friend:

‘Don’t frustrate frustration.’ 


The employee who sits frustratedly at his or her desk, logging into the clunky Learning Management System on which the required Compliance course squats, is in no mood to be messed about by unclear instructions and counter-intuitive navigation. 

What did you expect?

UX stands for user experience, but I also imagine it as the grunt the learner makes – perhaps festooned with a string of expletives – while clicking the wrong close button and unintentionally exiting the course. I must admit, I'm learning about UX  more and more every day. Once it was enough to think complainingly:

‘So what did you expect to happen when you
clicked that x in the corner of your screen?’ 

But those who insist on being bored by the content of a course will want to whistle through it at breakneck speed. I’d like to slow them down, invite them to stand and stare for a while, but the reality is that completion statistics matter to clients. If we are to treat learners as adults who are free to make choices, then we must respect the fact that some will choose not to learn. Putting obstacles in their path won’t alter that.


Last Friday was St. Patrick’s Day, so I took the kids to a local St Patrick’s Day parade. They were beside themselves with excitement. This was soon knocked out of them by the length of the walk in the drizzling rain. When we arrived at our destination, there was a too-crowded hall with plates of sandwiches they didn’t like and a tent in which absolutely nothing was happening. It wasn’t hard to interpret the look on their faces: 

‘You parted us from our screens for this?’

But just as we were about to leave, we came across a side room that had some fearful creatures on display, such as a snake, a tarantula, a couple of rats. And because this blog was forming in my head, I thought of the rats which poor Winston was threatened with in Room 101. Invited to stroke a tarantula and handle a snake, the kids were thrilled. Yet they have a dread of these animals. Here’s the point. What, in eLearning, can we do for the employees who dread the new process they have to learn, or the new set of compliance rules they must adhere to? We can create a kind of virtual room in which they get to handle the cause of their dread in a way that is engaging and fun. This room has no number.


Share your eLearning room 101?

If you agree, disagree, or want to add to our eLearning room 101, we'd love to hear from you - reply in the comments section below. Or if you would like to know how you can be more successful in your role and make a bigger impact in your organisation - read our corporate guide to digital learning. Our intelligent learning platform - Percipio is definitely not in eLearning room 101. Neither are our engaging Compliance courses. We promise!



Related posts

This month, two of our learning experience designers (LxDs), Niamh and Anna, chat about our new suite of compliance resources, Comply… Suffice to..

Talking LxDs
Read Article

Last year we endeavoured to have much more meaningful conversations with a number of our content development clients about the move away from SCORM..

Helen Cassidy
Read Article

Our Learning Experience Designers (aka the artist formerly known as 'Instructional Designers') have been instant messaging again. This time it’s..

Talking LxDs
Read Article

Most workplace learning happens on the job rather than through formal courses. Knowing this, our expert Learning Experience Designers tap into the..

Talking LxDs
Read Article