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

September 16, 2010 4 comments

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.

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