Home > Similarities between Course Design and Magic (!) > The Magic of Instructional Design – Thought #4: The Right Words

The Magic of Instructional Design – Thought #4: The Right Words

Are the words the right ones?

Many magicians use the phrase “Here I have just a normal deck of cards…”

Firstly, is there any other type? Even if there were, we should not be “telegraphing” this fact. Secondly, whilst magicians call them “decks”, most normal people call them a “pack”. Pursuing this point even further, I am not sure that people looking at a magician need an explanation of what the 52 things you are holding are. Just get on with the trick.

At the “Design” phase of some eLearning, it is critical to understand your audience and their understanding of language. By “language”, I mean the subject of the learning, including the abbreviations, colloquialisms, “buzzwords” and country-specific words. I recently had to explain to an SME from the US that Europeans do not use the phrase “often times”. In Europe the “times” part is just never used. If there is a word or phrase that could be misinterpreted or misunderstood by some of your potential audience, find another word or phrase.

This means you have to understand, completely, the linguistic boundaries of your audience. This is why many excellent stage-magic performances are silent or with music only – words would just confuse the issue. When designing a course – pay particular attention to the words as well as the content – they are different things.

Cathy Moore covers this in detail within her “Dump the Drone” presentation, which covers Buzzwords, Blather, Bogus, Boring and Big Words – http://blog.cathy-moore.com/2008/01/dump-the-drone-available-for-download/

True Story – I drove to a client office yesterday, and listened to the radio. The news was read by Moira Stewart, one of the most beautiful female newsreading and commentating voices I have ever heard. It contained the following statement:

“Permission will be given to some UK farmers to kill badgers, if they have the right credentials”

I would assume the credentials would include having four legs, living in a set, having black and white fur colouring, and snouts. Ah! You mean if the farmers have the right credentials. Say it then…

When I arrived at the office, I went to get a coffee from the machine. It had a sign on the front – “Please do not move, as this breaks the machine”. I stood there like a statue for 7 minutes before someone helped me with the correct interpretation. I then went to the empty presentation/meeting centre. On the table in the foyer was a large folder – on the front cover it said “Press” – I did so, nothing happened – it is obviously broken….

My point is simple – the incorrect choice of words is all around us. At best, the words that are used could perhaps be chosen with a little more thought. If creating a “learning script” of any sort, (especially a presentation), always get it reviewed by someone else before release to trap things such as this.

When creating classroom training, and especially eLearning, do not just use words, use the correct words.

  1. September 20, 2010 at 4:45 am

    By way of introductin, I am an Instructional Design and Technology Masters student studying by distance learning at Walden University.

    The concept of cultural literacy is very important in helping learners retain knowledge or information presented to them. With the right cultural cues the audience can transfer information into long term memory, and recall it easily through the use of the “tags” or cues presented with the information. There must also be an awareness of what cues work for what audience. A cue that is effective for an office worker in Washington DC may not be effective for an office worker in Houston Texas, or New York. An awareness that there is a difference in speaking English and speaking American or Austrailian is important. The same is true in any lingistic group that has more than one dialect. When designing material we should consider the importance of culture in learning.


    • September 24, 2010 at 3:27 pm

      Many thanks Richard – some good thoughts.
      I wonder how many corporate or other learning departments EVER include this in their SME or peer review phase!
      The interesting thing for me is how, in a large multinational company (for example) do you ever find all these cue variances?
      Thanks again for your thoughts.


  2. January 6, 2011 at 1:04 am

    Hi there, I just wrote a guest blog about storyboarding and thought it might be of interest to your readers. You can check it out here: http://www.articulate.com/blog/elearning-storyboarding-101/

    I hope its of value and adds to the subject area. Thanks!


    • January 6, 2011 at 11:35 am

      Thanks David – I read it with great interest, some good insights on a topic that is debated often, with many different views.


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