In my experience, one of the most frustrating challenges an e-learning professional faces is battling the barrage of buzz words that are often used to describe an online training solution.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in a meeting where a request has come up along the lines of:
‘We want the course to be highly interactive.’
‘We need this course to be innovative and dynamic.’
On the surface these may sound likely perfectly reasonable adjectives to describe a course, but when it comes to actually getting a sense of what is needed for development, they give away very little.
The two main reasons I flinch when these words come up are:
- Because they so often get in the way of gaining a real understanding of what a client actually wants from a course, and what approach will be suitable for their organisation
- Because they are universally meaningless.
By ‘universally meaningless’ I mean that, depending on who you are speaking with, individual interpretations of what these words actually mean can vary significantly.
There is no ‘universal meaning’ that can be applied to these statements that would be true for all organisations and learners. ‘Innovative’ for example is relative to the experience of an organisation. For an organisation that has been effectively using eLearning as part of their training strategy for some time, ‘innovative’ would be to push the boundaries of what is considered standard by their learners. An organisation that is just discovering eLearning might simply mean being able to distribute the same course to every learner at the same time.
‘Interactivity’ is another highly subjective term that is widely perceived as a key feature of online training. I often find that a client will ask for something that is ‘highly interactive’ based on a pre-conceived notion that the wider the variety of interactivity in a course, the more enjoyable and engaging a course will be. I always challenge this as wildly incorrect. Imagine that every time you picked up the phone to ring someone, all the buttons on your phone changed and you had to learn how to dial a number each time. Would that be engaging? Far too often the variety of ‘bells and whistles’ squeezed into a course is directly, and falsely, connected to the quality and effectiveness of that course. Good design is far more subtle than that.
This is a reality today’s eLearning professionals must face. The challenge is to look beyond the buzzwords to gain an understanding of what is motivating someone to use them. We need to challenge our clients and ask them how they interpret these buzzwords so that we can help them understand what they need and design accordingly, rather than assume their interpretation is the same as ours. We need to avoid perpetuating this cycle of ineffective, but trendy sounding online training.
So here are a few examples of the top buzzwords I hear as an eLearning professional, and what they mean to mean to me.
This usually means that within the organisation there is already a culture or attitude that exists towards eLearning. What they are looking for is something to disrupt from the norm and present the learners with something they don’t expect. From here we need to better understand what the organisation is doing already with eLearning and understand the attitudes and expectations of the learners and decision-makers.
Often I find that ‘interactive’ and ‘engaging’ are used interchangeably. This is common in a lot of organisations and what we need to do is lay the groundwork that the path to learner engagement is relevant content rather than polishing a course with the eLearning equivalent of sparkles.
This is a challenging one as, depending on the client, it can either speak to a client’s expectations of content delivery, or functionality on mobile devices. When a client says this, they are typically referring to something that is responsive. If we are talking about content delivery, the client is usually looking for a solution that has a lot of energy in how the content is presented to the learner. Animation and visual treatment are what we end up discussing.
There is no ‘this usually means’ for this word. The underlying meanings I’ve heard for it are so varied it shows that this is very misunderstood word. The concept of gamification is still a challenge not only for clients, but also for some eLearning providers. Some people interpret this very literally, which means that we need to help them understand that gamification is all about changing the motivators for the learners. The aim of game-based design is to motivate the learner to want to do the eLearning, rather than relying on the ‘stick’ approach of ‘if you don’t to this, this bad thing will happen’.
While all of these buzzwords are a challenge I also see them as an opportunity for doing something that all eLearning professionals love to do – talk more with the client and better understand what they mean, and what they need.
Know any eLearning buzzwords? Share them with us by leaving a comment.