Why we don’t lock down eLearning

Why we don’t lock down eLearning

Locking down eLearning is universally considered a no-no if you would like your learner to actually enjoy the experience. In collaborative co-design sessions I used to try and explain why with a bunch of bullet points or sound bites – they never really seemed to cut through. Then I tried interpretive dance… but they won’t let me do that anymore because of the accident.

So now I tell stories.

Wavy lines, wavy lines… you’re being transported to a generic office space…

Lock it down Lucy

Eric sat down to do his training. Across from him was Lucy from the training team. After exchanging pleasantries Lucy handed Eric a single page with text on it.

“Let’s start your training session!” she said enthusiastically.

Eric looked at the page and flipped it back and forward, “Is this it?”

“Oh there’s more – 41 pages more. But you don’t get the next page until you’ve read that one.”

Eric stared at Lucy. “You’re kidding right?”

“Oh no, I’m  serious. You’ll get the next page when you’ve finished reading that one. Just say ‘Next’ when you’re finished.”

“Why can’t I just have all the pages?”

Lucy looked alarmed. “This is really important stuff. You might jump to the last page and say you’ve read it all without actually reading it.”

“So… you don’t trust me?”

Lucy went bright red “Of course I trust you. It’s just that… some people would do that… if we gave them the chance.”

“So you don’t trust anyone?”

Lucy stared at Eric. “Just read the damn page.”

Eric looked down at the page and after a few seconds said “Next.”

“That was pretty quick.”

“I’m a fast reader.”

Lucy handed over the next page and Eric glanced down at it.


“What do you mean ‘Next’, you only glanced at that page!”

“I’m a superfast reader.”

Lucy tentatively handed over the next page, Eric didn’t even break eye contact with her.


“You weren’t even looking at the page!”

“… peripheral vision.”

Lucy handed over the next page and smiled.

“Next” said Eric.

Lucy just stared at him and made no movement.

“I’m done, you can hand me the next page.”

“Aha! I’ve got you. There’s a learning check on that page that you have to answer before I give you the next one. I bet you wish you’d read the other pages properly now!”

Eric looked down at the question.

“The answer is A” said Eric.

“Ha! No. please try again” grinned Lucy.

“Is it B?”

“No. please try again.”


“No. please try again.”



Eric put his hand out for the next page.

“… wait, you just went through the options. You didn’t read the material at all!” said Lucy.

“Let’s be honest, you’re not interested in how I answer or why,” replied Eric “Just that I pick the right one before I can continue.”

“That’s a pretty cynical view. Of course we’re interested, we want you to learn.

“Really? You didn’t tell me why I was wrong with my first three choices, or show me what would have happened to me or others based on those choices. I’m not really learning anything here, just ticking boxes. So with that being the case, I’d like to get through this as quickly as possible, I’ve got other work to do.”

Eric motioned with his hand for the next sheet. Lucy begrudgingly handed it over. As it touched his fingers,


“Right!” exclaimed Lucy, “You do realise there’s an assessment at the end of this.”

Eric feigned surprise, “There is?”

“Absolutely” smiled Lucy, “You need to be able to prove that you’ve read all the material to be compliant.”

“So… it’s not in my interest to skip the material is it?” said Eric.

“No, not at all” Lucy replied smugly.

“So why have you locked this training down? Why can’t I go through the material in a way that suits me?”

Lucy thought nervously for a few seconds “… you might jump straight to the assessment and not read all the material if we don’t lock it down.”

“Haven’t we just established that I need to go through the material to pass the assessment?”

“Not necessarily” said Lucy, “… you could guess the answers.”

“Doesn’t sound like a very robust assessment if you can just guess the answers.”

“I can assure you Eric, that the assessment questions are quite robust.”

“Maybe I won’t be guessing the answers. I’ve done this type of training before, I’m an adult, I’ve picked up some knowledge along the way you know. Think of how much time we could save if I simply answered the questions I already had knowledge of and then reviewed the topics that relate to the questions I wasn’t sure of.”

Lucy blinked at Eric for a few moments and then stuck out the next page. He sighed, took the page and looked at it for a few seconds,


And the moral of this story is …..

Most people want to lock down eLearning (particularly for compliance topics) in the belief it encourages the learner to read everything. In my experience it drives the opposite behaviour. If learners feel the eLearning  is being forced on them, or that choice has been taken away – they’ll ‘happy-click’ through it. Not convinced? When was the last time you read all the mandatory-to-click terms and conditions of an online form?

Some of our most successful (learner uptake) and award-winning (blatant humble-brag) compliance modules are completely open… and a little bit bonkers.

Completely open (and a little bit bonkers) eLearning

Check out this Security Awareness eLearning we created for Spark. There is no locking down of content here and the gamification elements add to the enjoyment of the learner’s experience.


Locking down eLearning doesn’t get your message across or help with learning. Meaningful stories and challenging questions do. Treat your learners like adults – make them think.


*Unless you insist – it’s your dime after all J.


This article was written by Matt Bidwell, a Senior Learning Designer in our Wellington office who likes nothing more than working on storyboards that turn mind numbing “wish I could get my soul back after reading that document” content into something that will make you learn and smile.


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2 Responses to “Why we don’t lock down eLearning”

  1. David Blair

    Great way of getting the point across – I especially like your story, even as text it’s quite engaging and relatable. Clever way of explaining Constructivist vs Intructivist!

  2. Michael Pritchard

    Matt, this is awesome! A great look into the clever work you folks do.


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