eLearning tips

Twenty feet away, my coworker, Brother Todd, is blasting a nonstop playlist of ’80s music from his computer. Currently we are being treated to Duran Duran’s timeless “Hungry Like the Wolf” and attempting to power through the urge to get up and Jazzercise our way around the office. This blast from the past has reminded me of all the lessons we learned from that crazy decade. It was a time of plenty, unrivaled in its gaudy excess since the Gatsby-esque days of the 1920s. In many ways, it was a renaissance of media, culture, and technology that we owe in part for our technological abundance today.

A discerning eLearning professional who was around for the ’80s has learned some valuable lessons from that era, and those of us who wish to succeed in this business would do well to remember these enduring teachings from the past.

Style AND Substance

In the moment, that extra strength hairspray seemed like a brilliant idea. You’ve got hair that reaches the ceiling, and that requires a pressurized can full of volatile chemicals to maintain, doy! After the fire brigade leaves, however, you start to wonder if spraying a flammable liquid mist on your head while you burn incense maybe wasn’t the best idea.

We often hear that substance should come before style, but in certain situations it pays to have both. Take a mental trip with me back to your college days. If your biology professor came into class one day wearing a tuxedo and then spent the whole hour discussing his favorite ALF episodes, you probably wouldn’t take him seriously. If the next day he overcompensated by gliding into class on a unicycle, wearing a propeller beanie and giving the most thorough lecture on cell division you’ve ever heard… well, you still probably wouldn’t take him seriously. And by this point you’ve gone to the registrar’s office to transfer to different class. The point is, style and substance both have value, and you should remember that the presentation of ideas matters just as much as the ideas themselves.

Update Your Stuff

The ’80s represented the tail end of the Cold War, an era of distrust and fear that was nerve-racking to live in. Kids of the time surely remember the disquieting sound of air-raid sirens signaling the end of humanity by nuclear war, and one day it wouldn’t just be a drill. Add in power plant meltdowns and accidents like Chernobyl, and you’ve got yourself a powder keg of anxiety surrounding nuclear anything.

These days, though we certainly don’t live in a utopian society where nothing ever goes wrong and people never do bad things, nuclear power isn’t nearly as scary as it used to be. Barring freak accidents and acts of terror, nuclear power is arguably one of the safest and cleanest forms of energy, because we’ve refined the technology and methods we use to interact with it, and continue to do so.

We live in an an age of constant updates and upgrades, and your courses should be no exception. Information is fluid and constantly changing, so when you purport to give people the facts, you should be giving them the most up-to-date facts you can get your hands on. Be sure to go through your older eLearning courses every once in a while to make sure you don’t still have outdated facts and figures or maps that label Russia as the USSR.


Cassette tapes were awesome. (“You mean I can listen to Cyndi Lauper while I run!? Can this day get any better?!”) However, they were hampered by one crucial weakness: magnetic tape. While it was a revolutionary method of holding information, the cassette tape was prone to unraveling and spilling shiny black strands of tape all over the place, looking more like a velociraptor’s disemboweled prey than a viable format of carrying music. And heaven help you if this should happen while the tape was in the player. Gives me shudders just thinking about it.

Luckily, true audio lovers are a clever lot and came up with ingenious methods of counteracting this. Just jam a pencil in the supply reel and start twisting. Slowly, the tape finds it’s way back into the plastic housing, and—once it’s taut—you’re ready to jam once again.

Likewise, eLearning professionals need a little ingenuity when solving problems with their courses. Practice your art whenever you get the chance, no matter what part of the eLearning you deal with. Set up artificial constraints and see if you can think your way around them with clever solutions of your own.

Consequences and Rewards

Oregon Trail was a shining example of eLearning gamification and became a classroom favorite. The strength of this game comes through the natural consequences and reward systems set up within the game dynamics. Players are taught about the very real struggles that explorers, mountain men, and pioneers faced on the grueling trail west. On a smaller scale, you are encouraged to make decisions like the actual men and women who crossed the plains, pushing through by pure strength of will, keeping your eye on the destination, and avoiding tragedy along the way. Children of the ’80s will forever be troubled by those three haunting words: “You have dysentery.”

Like the creators of Oregon Trail, we should strive to heighten the stakes of gamified eLearning scenarios. We don’t need to add drama where there is none, but a little theatrics never hurt anyone.

What lessons did you learn from the 1980s? Share your insights with us in the comments!

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