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If the words we use matter so much, perhaps we need to be bilingual.

It's ok to have philosophical debates about words within the L&D community, but externally we need to use the language of the masses, starting with the word "training".

Is it a “learning experience” or a “training session”? Are they “goals” or “learning objectives”?

A few days ago, a non-L&D friend of mine was telling me about a company newsletter she had to release and an internal L&D person insisted that she use the term “learning” instead of “training”.

“What does the even mean? People understand ‘training’.”

She was right. This whole idea that we want learning to be a lifelong experience and that “training” represents an event, is a concept that gets a lot of mileage within L&D circles, but there are very few other people who actually care about this. 

As a sort of experiment to see what kinds of words I use most, I went back and examined the titles of all 629 blog posts that have been published on Train Like A Champion and turned it into a word cloud. This is what the word cloud generator generated:

learning & development word cloud

As I stared at this for a while, I wondered what this meant. It was an interesting image, but so what?

L&D is big and in the middle, which makes sense because that’s my audience. The next biggest words are PowerPoint and training.

In a world that rolls its eyes at poor PowerPoint use, and begs people to find more engaging ways to present, there seem to be a lot of posts on this site focused on PowerPoint. That’s because PowerPoint (which is the catch-all phrase for Apple users who use Keynote, too) is a reality in just about every training (or is it learning?) program in the world today.

In a world where L&D professionals gleefully boast on Twitter or LinkedIn that they “don’t do” training, but rather they engage in learning experiences, the fact is the rest of the world participates in training sessions. Maybe those sessions are one hour, maybe they’re a week or a year, maybe they’re in-person or maybe they’re online. Whatever we want to call learning experiences, the rest of the world calls it “training”. And we should probably be using the words that resonate most with our customers (or are they learners, participants, attendees, students or audience members?).

Let’s make the highest quality professional development we can, but when it comes to delivering those professional development opportunities, let’s not get caught in the SME jargon trap. Let’s use the language that the rest of the world uses.

I’m curious about your observations on this word cloud. What jumps out for you? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comment section.

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