WHY I DON’T MIND USING ‘LEARNER’ UNTIL A BETTER WORD COMES ALONG

L&D has long had a history of coming up with solutions that fall woefully short of achieving our goals. But changing a word in order to make up for a shortcoming in the way we do our work is not the answer. Instead, I strongly suggest that we focus on improving our solutions by using thoughtful strategies and approaches. Here are some counter arguments for the proposal to stop using the word ‘learner’.

Share This Post

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email

We all have a pedant inside of us. While we ourselves may not find the most suitable words to use on every occasion, we take pleasure in pointing out the nitty-gritty of mistakes made by someone else.

At least, that’s very true of me. And as I’m writing this, I can almost hear the collective groan from my family as I pointed out the 23 mistakes in a written recipe that was shared in our WhatsApp group.

What I am trying to say is that when someone questions a word or phrase that’s been in common use, I tend to jump right in and join the questioning brigade.

But, not so in this case.

A recent topic that has come up on social media – LinkedIn, primarily – is that we shouldn’t refer to our audience (the recipients of our content) as learners. Here are the arguments for changing it:

  • They are humans, or just people, not learners.
  • Learning is not something that you can do to someone. It’s something that they need to take upon, and do for, themselves.
  • We’re assuming active participation on the part of the audience where none probably exists.
  • They are learning all the time, not just when they are participating in your solution.
  • The term is used only in L&D; not anywhere else.

And here are some alternatives suggested for the word learner:

  • Audience
  • Participant
  • Trainee  
  • Consumer
  • Employee

While the sentiments listed above are all valid, I would argue that none of the suggested alternatives capture the essence of what we’re trying to do. Here are my counter arguments:

They are humans, or just people, and not learners.

If this thought is coming from a place of saying that we are catering to real humans, and not just a cohort of nameless creatures called ‘learners’, I completely agree.

Like everyone else, they have their motivations and challenges, and we absolutely need to take them into account while designing solutions. That’s our job.

But then, every profession uses a word to describe the recipient of their services. There are readers for newspapers, guests in hotels, patients in the medical field, passengers in travel, and so on. So why shouldn’t we use a special term (a really appropriate one) to refer to the beneficiaries of our work?

Learning is not something that you can do to someone. It’s something that they need to take upon, and do for, themselves.

Once again, I agree. However, isn’t that what we’re aspiring for?

We’re not aiming for a simple transfer of information. Instead, we are putting our heart and soul into shifting perspectives, leading to an improvement in skill, or a change in behaviors and attitudes. Why, then, shouldn’t we deny ourselves the pleasure of calling learners by the name they truly deserve to be addressed by?

We’re assuming active participation on the part of the audience where none probably exists.

My answer here is the same as above. We WANT learners to actively participate in the learning process. The fact that they aren’t currently doing so points to a shortcoming in the solution, not that the name learner has to be changed.

They are learning all the time, not just when they are participating in your solution.

Absolutely! All the more reason to call them learners. Isn’t it?

The term is used only in L&D; not anywhere else.

For the fifth time, I agree.

Nearly every profession has terms that are not necessarily used with the customers of that profession. Or even those that are on the periphery of that profession.

For instance, the terms used by two doctors to discuss a patient’s condition may not be used while communicating with the patient or their relatives. Or even with non-medical staff in the hospital.

Similarly, while we need to be aware that this word is neither used nor recognized outside L&D, I don’t see why it should be changed internally, within the context of L&D.

Now let’s look at the alternatives proposed:

  • Audience, participant, trainee and consumer are too passive. We want people to engage with the learning, partake in it, benefit from it, and see a positive change because of it. None of these terms do justice to such an involved pursuit of learning.
  • Employee is too generic. It’s something similar to human, or just person or people. Yes, they are employees and they are humans, but they have a specific role to play in this context, which is to learn. So why not use that?

I agree that sometimes our solutions fall woefully short of achieving our goals. But changing a word in order to make up for a shortcoming in the way we do our work is not the answer! Instead, I strongly suggest that we focus on improving our solutions by using thoughtful strategies and approaches.

Unless of course, a better word comes along.

In which case I’ll be very happy to shift.


Written by Srividya Kumar, Co-Founder @ Learnnovators

(Visited 252 times, 1 visits today)

More To Explore

E-Learning

ZSOLT OLAH – CRYSTAL BALLING WITH LEARNNOVATORS

In this enlightening interview with Learnnovators, Zsolt Olah shares his pioneering insights on the integration of technology and learning in the workplace. As an expert in blending gamification with psychological insights, Zsolt discusses the evolution of learning technologies and their impact on creating engaging and effective learning environments. He emphasizes the importance of not letting technology dictate our thinking and the need for learning professionals to master data literacy and ask the right questions to harness AI’s potential. Zsolt’s forward-thinking vision for utilizing Generative AI to create seamless, personalized learning experiences highlights the transformative power of these technologies.

E-Learning

MARGIE MEACHAM – CRYSTAL BALLING WITH LEARNNOVATORS (SEASON II)

In this engaging interview with Learnnovators, Margie, known for her innovative use of artificial intelligence in educational strategies, discusses the integration of AI and neuroscience in creating compelling, personalized learning experiences that challenge traditional methods and pave the way for the future of training and development. Margie’s vision for utilizing AI to facilitate ‘just-in-time’ learning that adapts to individual needs exemplifies her creativity and forward-thinking.

Instructional Design

INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN BASICS – GOALS

This article emphasizes the importance of goals in instructional design. A goal, at the macro level, answers the WIIFM for the business. Broken down into a more micro level, it defines the specific actions learners need to take to reach the goal. This article focuses on the macro, business, goals and lists the characteristics of a good goal. It also discusses how to derive a good goal from a bad one by asking probing questions.

REQUEST DEMO