Changing the learning vernacular

There’s something which has been hanging over my head for a while now about L&OD practice. And it’s all to do with how we refer to the learning events people go through. Yeah, that’s right, the exciting world of semantics.

Traditionally we call these events courses. And at one point in time, it made sense to do that. Let’s not forget that the word ‘course’ holds several meanings :

– a doctor will prescribe a course of medicine for you to take
-you will complete a course when entering various competitions
– and how we know it, you will attend a training course to learn or develop your skills

And maybe it is just me. Maybe it is just how I choose to see the world. But if the world of learning is changing, and it undoubtedly is, then calling learning sessions ‘courses’ needs to evolve.

Yes, I’m aware there are forms of courses such as workshops or masterclasses or seminars or lectures or programmes. But they all have certain meanings and purposes. I’m talking about the typical one day format of learning we would ordinarily call a course.

So this is an open question. I have no answer, and I’m keen to know what you all think.

If we changed the vernacular, and stopped calling learning sessions ‘courses’, what should we be calling them?

UPDATE 14:50

I wanted to capture some responses I’ve had via Twitter which help to build on the question raised, and on some of the comments below.

The first is from Roger Todd

The second two are from Andrew Jacobs

UPDATE 15:30

I totally forgot to include my e-learning and online learning colleagues in this post. Your input is equally valued, and it’s my own bias which meant I didn’t word it as such above. Please do include your thoughts.

On that note, Julian Staddon has provided his input here

UPDATE 22:38

There was a good discussion between Kandy Woodfield and Doug Shaw

And then Andrew Jacobs came back into the conversation

And Doug gave us something to really chew on

With final inclusion from Fiona Quigley


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

15 thoughts on “Changing the learning vernacular”

  1. I think there are two challenges in here Sukh… what works for buyers and what works for learners. For example…

    Course works more for the buyer I think, possibly not for the learner
    Learning session works more for the learner, probably not for the buyer.

    What about a learning day?

    1. You raise a good point, David.

      I didn’t consider the buyer/learner perspective.

      So, for vendors of learning, it might work better for them? So why can’t they advance their thinking and be more purposeful in their language?

  2. The implication of ‘course’ as something with a defined start and end may be problematic. Was thinking ‘experience’? Or would people consider this too ambiguous?

    1. The challenge I think we’ll face quickly is that no one terminology may suffice, and indeed we may just need to be more purposeful about calling each learning session what it is.

      I like the idea of an ‘experience’, although this may make people wonder what it is they’re actually attending. Alternatively it also may raise the expectation of experiencing something new.

  3. I like the idea that this word should evolve – I think one of the problems with the word for me, is that when I hear it, it automatically creates an image in my head of the some of the not so good courses I have been on over the years, in particular some fairly shoddy leadership development (have a blog pending on that!). In some organisations ‘I’m going on a training course’ is said in the manner one might use for ‘I’ve got to read the pension scheme trust deed and rules’. I shall ponder this……

  4. I”m always a bit “what’s in a name?” about these things.
    if it looks like learning, feels like learning and has the reputation of being something that might actually be worth attending because by the end you think or do differently, I don’t mind if you call it a course, a session, a workshop, an away day, a learning opportunity ( actually, I might snort into my tea a little bit if I hear that – Even though I suspect I’ve used that myself in slightly more pretentious moments) or Bob.

    I agree with David – When I’m suggesting a solution to a client, I might use different language to that which I”d use for the participant….. but I agree with Gem, in that I would rarely use “course” to a client for fear of the very reaction she intimates.

    Genuinely? I tend to say – well… this is looking like we need to run some days, with relevant content around X – what outcomes do you want or need from it?

    And I kind of work from there.

    As non answers go, this is a long one… my point is I use whatever language is useful or relevant to push good content and thought-generating, long lasting stuff into whatever client system I’m in.

    1. This is a good comment which reflects the range of conversation about this today.

      I can see why from a supplier side it makes sense to use terminology which helps to sell it in, and it’s useful to see you use whatever terminology the client needs.

  5. Excellent post, Sukh! It’s not only about changing the lexicon, but also the subtext of what the term “course” means and how its valued in organisations (as least the ones I work in).

    My experience (as a training consultant in government) is that people often come to a “course” with an expectation of what that term means and specifically what they will get. In my current workplace, for example, “training” is only considered “training” if staff are out of the workplace for the day; given coffee, croissants and a workbook; have a catered lunch; “trained” by someone they don’t know; issued a certificate; complete an evaluation; and never ever action any of their learning in the workplace (don’t get me started about leadership “courses” and ROI in the workplace). God forbid that training should be carried out by a well-qualified SME inhouse… at the very least I’d have an outcry of “we haven’t been trained” and at worst a mutiny (that’s extreme, but you get my point).

    What I’d like to see is a training “hack” that flips corporate learning on its head and gets away from the “course” paradigm. Online learning like MOOCs, TED talks etc. and social learning is only part of the puzzle. What I’d love to see is that organisations and ALL staff start talking about training (and learning and development) as an investment rather than a cost.

  6. Interesting post and it’s amazing that language denotes something in our mind based on our experience of it. For example, course could denote for someone a class…facilitator…seats….homework….hopefully a good morning tea provided….

    However for others, they may have images of an online learning course.

    Personally, I keep it generic when talking to clients. I use the word ‘learning’ but know full well that in their heads, they’re thinking facilitator led training but in my proposal I present and talk them through different “learning experiences” – one of which may be a course, an event, a coaching activity, an online assessment – whatever. I think once it’s explained that it’s not an ‘event’ – it’s a process – they are more open to it.

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