“Stop talking about learners, it’s wrong.” I was on a call with Lance Dublin recently and he pulled me up for using the term. My first reaction, “what’s wrong with learners”?

Lance DublinI first saw Lance speak at the ASTD conference in Chicago in 2010 and I’ve kept in touch with him since then, because he really understands that learning is about performance.  He also has great expertise in how to engage people in learning and the role of  design in learning plans.

Our conversation had started to explore the language we use professionally in Learning and Development (L&D) and Lance got me thinking about whether a lot of it was actually helpful or not. Do we talk the language of learning or the language of work? Do we use buzz words and terms that are clearly understood by everyone? What impact does this have on the design and implementation of learning?

All professions have their own terminology and buzz words, but if the role of L&D is to improve performance at work should we not adopt the language of work rather than develop a terminology that separates us from the people we are employed to work with?

‘How?’ is probably the most asked word in organisational performance. How do I do this? Not in some obtuse way based around a competency matrix, but in terms of the issue or challenge I face today. Does the language we use to describe the learning we provide match the workers map of the world and internal language or a professional one we want to create for ourselves?

There is also the issue of whether learning and development actually have a shared understanding of even simple phrases such as e-learning. Electronic learning covers a very broad spectrum of learning delivery, but too often we each have our own view of what is being talked about when we say e-learning and believe everyone else shares it.

Back to the ‘learner’. At work, we all learn, all the time and Lance’s point was that to use the word ‘learner’ is derogatory. It separates us from the work and puts learning in a different space. It creates a category of ‘learner’ and subtly changes the focus away from work and performance. So ultimately, it’s a lazy shorthand that doesn’t help us focus on the real issue of helping workers and colleagues understand how to do something and perform better.

Here’s a challenge that Lance set me; “Next time you are designing a learning project, try to do it only using words about work and ban any use of learning jargon.” Give it a go, the results may surprise you.