Yesterday, while I was posting on how words could be transcended by presentation, there was an ongoing twitfest on terms that have become overused and, consequently, meaningless. It started when Jane Bozarth asked what ‘instructionally sound’ meant, then Cammy Bean chimed in with ‘rich’, Steve Sorden added ‘robust’, and it went downhill from there.
I responded to Jane’s initial query that instructionally sound cynically meant following the ID cookie cutter, but ideally meant following what’s known about how people learn. I similarly tried to distinguish the hyped version of engaging (gratuitous media use) from a more principled one (challenging, contextualized, meaningful, etc). (I had to do the latter, given I’ve got the word engaging in my book title.)
Other overused terms mentioned include: adaptive, brain-based. game-like, comprehensive, interactive, compelling, & robust. Yet, behind most of these are important concepts (ok, game-like is hype, and Daniel Willingham’s put a bucket of cold water on brain-based). I should’ve added ‘personalized’ when a demo of an elearning authoring suite I sat through yesterday could capture the learner’s name and use it to print a ‘personalized’ certificate at the end.
And that’s the problem: important concepts are co-opted for marketing by using the most trivially qualifying meaning of the term to justify touting it as an instance. Similarly, clicking to move on is, apparently, interactive. Ahem. It’s like the marketers don’t want to give us any credit for having a brain. (Though, sadly, from what I see, there does seem to be some lack of awareness of the deeper principles behind learning.) I invoke the Cluetrain, and ask elearning vendors to get on board.
So, before you listen to the next pitch from a vendor, get your Official eLearning Buzzword Bingo™ card, make sure you know what the terms mean, and challenge them to ensure that they a) really understand the concept, and b) really have the capability. You win when you catch them out; a smarter market is a better market. Ok, let’s play!