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Zen & the Art of eLearning Maintenance

or: How Wabi-Sabi Saved My Sanity

How many times has it happened?

You set out to make minor updates to an old eLearning module…Just update some text, remove a few pages that are no longer relevant, and republish. Or split an old, excessively-long module into standalone, bite-sized learning chunks.

“It should just take an hour or two,” is nonchalantly, fatalistically bantered about while discussing the needed course edits.

The reality is the course is broken like Gordon Hayward’s ankle on opening night of last season. For non-NBA fans – it is broken like Garrett’s heart on The Bachelorette season 14 finale. For non-reality TV fans – it’s broken like the healthcare system in the USA (sorry I went there).

And usually it is unclear who created the course, perhaps a vendor (and not a good one with the eLearning development haunches of 5k’s), but it was probably a simpler time as it goes with eLearning authoring tools. Heck, the leading tools of today (Articulate, Lectora, Captivate) still have their bugs and annoying quirks – the weird things that happen to assessment questions and completion status variables are just waiting to f*%# up your day and/or take up precious time you probably didn’t anticipate spending on a course that has been around for 7+ years.

It’s safe to say that we learning & development pros can use all the zen moments we can get. It was a situation like this that made me really reach for the wheel of dharma, and I was not disappointed.

Not to get too theological, but I stumbled upon the concept of wabi-sabi and The 3 Simple Realities:

  • Nothing lasts

  • Nothing is finished

  • Nothing is perfect[1]

Wikipedia defines wabi-sabi as a world view centered on the acceptance and transience of imperfection; it is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence, specifically impermanence, suffering, and emptiness.

Does nothing define the career of L&D pros better than impermanence, suffering, and emptiness?!

But seriously, I thought about all the times that I wanted to do more with a course but ran out of time; the times I had ideas for more simulation and immersion that weren’t feasible because of technology and/or budget; I thought about that course that just nearly sent me into a downward spiral; and, all the training I’ve ever created that has either met its shelf life and been retired, or is out there needing updates.

The 3 Simple Realities seem to have immediate relevance to eLearning development and maintenance, especially in the sense that wabi-sabi is a material representation of Zen Buddhism and eLearning is attempt to connect learners to the real world via the abstract.

Having found some serenity through my changed perspective, it became obvious to me that I should rebuild the course from scratch, be spared the code gremlins and whatever bad voodoo was breaking the course, while also making the course more modern and consistent with current company branding.

Next time you find yourself in this position, let 5k help align your training’s chakras and put some qi in your CBTs. 5k Courses can work with you to produce and update polished Storyline, Lectora, or Captivate courses, or take the work off your plate while you focus on new training initiative or the million other things L&D professionals get tasked with.

Talk to us today, like RIGHT NOW; or email Jeff. We’ll get nachos, and build you some kick-ass courses.

[1] Powell, Richard R. (2004). Wabi Sabi Simple. Adams Media.

Author: Greg Moore at

Sucked into the seedy underworld of corporate training and development as a tech writer and personal learning advisor for a successful eLearning company, Greg has found lifelong friendship and gratification doing everything from building online courses, apps, games, to media production and editing, voice over, animation, traditional as well as virtual instructor-led training, and [HIS TRUE PASSION] strategic organizational design work such as competency mapping, career pathing, and creating fluid org charts....and he makes a mean cocktail!


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