Words Matter

Hello Friends,

Skills. Course. Microlearning. Design. How would you define these terms? How would your boss define them? How would your second cousin’s best friend’s sister define them?

Every person reading this has their own definitions of these words. Everyone brings their own experience, knowledge, and strengths to the conversation – and we think that’s great.

Words are important. American novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, once said, "Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them!” Words help us to paint a picture in the mind. They allow us to share our feelings. They give important instructions or encourage us. Words can help people, or they can devastate them.

Words can be confusing. Sometimes the same words can have lots of definitions and debate and disagreement around those definitions. Jargon can be overwhelming for someone new to a field or an organization. Sometimes we play along and pretend we understand what someone is saying for fear of being seen as unintelligent. Sometimes we simply don’t take the time to make sure that we share a common understanding before continuing a conversation.

This type of miscommunication can be lethal in the workplace. In fact, in Heidi’s PhD research, miscommunication was the most cited factor in unsuccessful instructional design projects – with 44% of interviewed instructional designers citing a breakdown in communication as directly contributing to project failure. On the other hand, 84% of interviewed instructional designers said that communicating and collaborating successfully with subject matter experts (SMEs) and stakeholders directly contributed to instructional design project success.

It’s not enough for us to be able to understand the words used in our industry. The way we speak to our SMEs, our stakeholders, our colleagues throughout the business matters. Many times, we can do a better job explaining our terms and our jargon to others so that they can understand what we’re doing and its value to the business overall. Another way to avoid miscommunication is to better learn the terms that are being used throughout the rest of the business – communication works both ways – if we want the business to understand our words, we also need to make an effort to understand theirs.

Because we believe in being useful and in the power of words, we wanted to address the terms we hear in L&D and throughout the business. So, we’ve started the L&D Word Project to capture definitions of words that are important to us as L&D professionals (and let’s be honest, learning nerds).

View over 300 terms and definitions here. 

But this is a conversation – a living project that will expand and change over time, just as words and language do. And we want your help! At the end of the list, you can find a form to submit new words, suggested changes, or even more context to definitions. We know that with your help, this project will just become more useful over time.

So, until next time, be aware of your words and define your jargon. Take some time to be sure you’re speaking the same language, and let’s keep the conversation going.

- Heidi and Matt 

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