What’s in a word (or words)?

This post sees me continuing a theme from previous entries on language and words. I think some people are getting a bit sick of the debate around jargon and not without reason. But I’m going to continue the discussion here and it would be great if you can stick with me and follow me through my thought process.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked on Twitter what people thought of the term ‘digital learning’. It’s not one I’d ever really come across before, or not one I’d ever taken any notice of at least. I didn’t even include it in my language of learning pecha kucha. But I’m seeing it mentioned more and more – I’ve read a few articles, come across it in face to face meetings and seen it mentioned in Twitter feeds.

The reason I’m interested is not because I think we need a new buzz word, indeed I fall down on the side of the argument that says we need less jargon not more. What I’m interested in is raising the profile of the learning industry. The power of learning technologies can be unparalled. At the E-Learning Awards I heard about some fantastic projects that have delivered real business benefits and made a huge impact on organisations which are at the forefront of UK plc such as Boots, Sky and the BBC. So why is it that learning and skills are still not getting enough coverage?

Against a backdrop of financial uncertainty, austerity measures and record youth unemployment, UK plc continues to strive for greatness. And to tackle these challenges there surely can’t be a day that goes by that training or learning is not discussed at board meetings of our brightest and best organisations. Compliance, customer services, hitting sales targets and staving off the competition all require staff who are integrated into their organisations, know their jobs and have the right skills to perform their roles well. But open the papers (or access them on your tablet or PC) and have a read. There might be the odd mention of skills shortages – but training? Not a whisper. Or if there is a mention, a whisper is all it merits.

Lesley Price was kind enough to send me a link to a research paper from Capita entitled ‘Learning to change’. In it, Capita proposes that ‘A firmโ€™s Learning & Development (L&D) function has a critical role to play. It is L&Dโ€™s responsibility to deliver the training and development that will support changing strategic objectives and business needs.’ The report goes on to reveal that 7o% of the respondents identified inadequate staff skills as the greatest threat to their firms’ financial recovery. 70%! Although this research is not new, it reflects the current situation with the press coverage – the symptoms such as skills shortages are talked about and mulled over, but what is offered up in terms of a solution? Not e-learning or learning technologies, because the media don’t know, or care to know, enough about these subjects. And as an industry we don’t do enough to make it easy for them.

So why is this the case? I feel it’s because we don’t communicate what we do well enough to the wider world. We talk about our achievements to each other in our own terms and don’t shout loudly, or clearly enough for everyone else to hear.

I’m not saying I’m a fan of a term like ‘digital learning’, and Paul Simbeck-Hampson actually pointed out that this was originally a term used in the 80s so it’s not even new. But we need to find a way of expressing the merits of learning technologies so that the wider world stands up and take notice. And if it means using a phrase of this nature to appeal to particular audiences or media, then so be it.

I know this might sound self-serving as a marketer, and maybe it is to a certain extent. But imagine if a CEO came in to work one morning having read a snippet of a fantastic case study in the Times that morning about how e-learning or mobile learning had helped a company save money and delivered a great training solution with measurable results. Imagine if having read that and wondered about how it could apply to her organisation, she subsequently dropped the L&D department a line to see what’s cooking and how they’re using these solutions, if at all. Wouldn’t that be nice?!

I’m being a bit facetious I know. These things are never that straightforward. But you’ve got to admit that if the topic is out there in the first place, it can only help the cause. Can’t it?

Your thoughts, as always, are most welcome.



About kategraham23

Start-up founder, writer, connector, librarian's daughter. Interested in learning, HR, technology, online, media, marketing, fashion and cricket. Not always in that order. The views expressed here are solely my own and do not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the company I work for currently, or those I've worked for in the past.
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3 Responses to What’s in a word (or words)?

  1. Great post, Kate.

    With your marketing experience, how do we go about getting these sorts of articles and case studies into the wider media?



  2. kategraham23 says:

    Thanks Mark. I think we need to stop just talking to ourselves by avoiding jargon and trying to get to the heart of what we do such as explaining business benefits or the impact L&D can have on people within organisations. When we’re putting out news or case studies or articles, we should be thinking ‘what’s the bigger story’ here and ask *why* the media and their readers/viewers/listeners should care. Often stories are too obvious and lazy such as ‘XX company launches XX product’ which is great for their customer base who’ll be interested, and fine for the industry to a certain extent, but nobody beyond that is going to be that bothered frankly. It sounds brutal but the media is a competitive area and getting coverage isn’t easy. We need to step outside our bubble and come at things from a different angle.

    I believe that Towards Maturity and their ambassadors are doing some lobbying at central government level to draw attention to some of the great projects that are happening in the learning technologies space which is great. And activity like that could make a real impact.

    But from my marketing side, I’m on something of a mission to get the ball rolling and break out into the big wide world a bit more!


  3. Lesley says:

    Super post Kate and thanks for mention. I’m certainly with you on on avoiding jargon and talking about benefits. To throw in my tuppence worth, I think that we need to find ways to measure the business impact and then shout about success from the roof tops internally as well as externally. Senior Management are not the only people that L & D people don’t connect with – they very often don’t talk to the communications experts they have in their organisation – the Marketing team!! In my experience L & D think of Marketing as only having an external focus. So they let Marketing know If the company has won an award in order to spread the word in the wider community. However many L & D people don’t approach Marketing to help with the submission. They also don’t seem to realise the Marketing people have the skill set that could help L & D get the messaging right for an internal audience. The challenge is going to be to get L & D beyond the back office of HR and out to the front line of the business!


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