I’ve been saying in my blog and in tweets over the last few months that those of us in the learning and development field should never allow labels to drive our designs. We should understand needs, assess context, extract requirements, and then draw from all the tools in our tool box (regardless of what they’re called) to craft the best design possible. It’s a sad thing to use our shiny new wrench to pound nails, just because that’s the need we find.
I’ve also said we should avoid labeling our designs when done, at least for purposes of mass consumption. Learning is learning, whether an approach includes social, collaborative, instructor-led, or online components. But labels, I concede, can help describe an approach to peers and others who understand learning strategies, helping to quickly focus attention on the core techniques we used.
The problem is we often use labels outside our industry. Whether it’s management or our intended audience, people outside our industry care very little what we call our programs. A label then has unintended negative consequences; it alienates, making us sound like we’re trying to be more important than we are, speaking a language nobody else in the business speaks.
But labels, used outside our community, have the potential to do something much worse. They serve to brand our products. Loosely interpreted, a brand is a name that identifies one service as distinct from another. Bluntly, we’re not doing well with branding. Consider the following “brands” we’ve abused:
- E-learning. This technically means learning through electronic means, and today encompasses a wide variety of techniques. But our “brand” is applied to products that we then call, “learning.” First we applied the “e-” because it was in vogue at the time. Then we dropped “products” from “e-learning products,” so learning became the product itself, not the activity. In short, we turned learning (a verb) into a noun. It just makes no sense. No wonder there’s a growing sense we’ve, “screwed up e-learning.”
- Blended learning. This is a close second on my list of erroneous branding in our industry. Simply put, blending implies the integration of two or more methods that stimulate learning in different ways into the same design. But what instructional design today doesn’t integrate more than one method? “Blended” is one of the most overused and irrelevant brands we use, and it says nothing about what methods are being “blended” in our design.
- Learning 2.0. Learning with Web 2.0 tools. I’m not even going to give examples here. You tell me, what does “2.0″ really mean? Learning 3.0? Learning 2.0 with a mobile emphasis. Please stop now, because it means absolutely nothing to anyone outside the L&D industry.
- Mobile learning. I love mobile learning, but can we create mobile learning? No! See e-learning, above. Mobile learning is learning while mobile. We may design learning products for mobile use, but we don’t create mobile learning any more than we create e-learning.
- Social learning. This is basically learning interactively with others. The problem with “social” is somewhat different than the brands listed above, because whatever learning is implied is probably social: the term is appropriate. My issue, and that of several others, is that the term is indiscriminately applied to mean more than this, presuming online social media are involved. See other posts by David Kelly or me on this topic.
In short, let’s leave branding to brand managers and marketing experts. After all, they leave instructional design to us.
Thanks for reading! @tomspiglanin
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.