Microlearning, xAPI, And Training ROI (And Other Jargon) Is Not A Thing

Learning Jargon: Should We Even Even Use It?
Summary: Are you desperately seeking to build business credibility for your learning initiatives? Stop using, creating, or trying to impress decision-makers with fancy learning terminology. Speak in terms they understand and respect.

Learning Jargon—Should We Even Even Use It?

Yes, jargon exists everywhere. If you work, you hear jargon. And in business, there's certainly no shortage of it. It's been around for as long as people had a need to simplify complex ideas and concepts. But those involved with Learning and Development seem to have stepped up the jargon rhetoric. Sadly, some learning practitioners believe manipulating learning jargon will build their business credibility and impress leaders.

The jargon approach could work if the jargon itself is credible and appropriately applied. This is evident in many business disciplines. This is often not the case for learning terminology. Regretfully, there are learning "experts" willfully conflating or manipulating a variety of existing business and learning terminology with the hope decision-makers will take L&D seriously. Naturally, this misinterpretation further undermines L&D's fragile credibility rather than nurturing it to what leaders expect it to be.

Conflating, and worse, manipulating accepted terminology is not something you should ever do. You know what I'm talking about; terms such as microlearning, gamification, xAPI, and training ROI, for example, are used without thought to gain some sort of street credibility with leaders.

Even the word "eLearning" is now a catch-all term for any type of learning not delivered in a conventional context. This is where some will say it's the operational leaders using it as a catch-all. While this may be true, it's up to learning subject experts to help them define it appropriately and not to simply bow their heads in compliance...that's why an organization hires learning practitioners.

Rarely would you witness such an act within any other business disciplines. I know that as a CPA I encounter jargon regularly but always in the appropriate context. Jargon manipulation and conflation aren't doing Learning and Development any favors. Actually, they are actually doing the exact opposite.

What Exactly Is Jargon?

Let's attempt to define what jargon is. Simply, it is used in one of two ways:

  1. Summation of verifiable business concepts
  2. Terms used out of desperation for credibility and validity

Again, it is true that this occurs in many business and technology disciplines and professions. Point two, however, occurs more so in Learning and Development, albeit anecdotal. Taking it a step further, there are those who understand and apply jargon properly, and there are those who are just trying to sound like they understand.

I get it. Learning and Development reminds me of myself when I was growing up, the nerdy school kid trying to fit in with the cool kids, however, in this case, it's operational leaders. But when I tried to use the cool terms the cool kids used they quickly saw right through me and further distanced themselves from me. Those in Learning and Development are facing the same dilemma.

After a while, my need for validation from the cool kids waned, and I just wanted to be understood. When I began to speak to any of my classmates, cool or not, I spoke to them as myself and gained their favor by learning what was relevant to them. As a result, many of my classmates wanted to hang with me.

How To Use Jargon Correctly

This is the lesson I share with the future accounting professionals I teach. Jargon impresses no one except yourself. Speak jargon and chances are you'll make the person your speaking with feel inadequate. Worse, if they understand the jargon and you fail to use it appropriately, your credibility begins to erode. Speak in direct, understandable, and more importantly, relatable terms.

So, when you're trying to impress operational leaders with "microlearning" don't bore them saying that it is learning in small segments. Rather, don't use the term and relate to them saying the things they require.

For example, tell them the employees will learn the new skills with minimal impact on department productivity. Or say, work downtime will be reduced because employees will have access to the knowledge when and where they need it, in a timely manner. Don't promote "gamification." Consider stating how you'll design an environment where employees will be able to reinforce key job skills without risk or harm to client interactions. And try not to befuddle them saying xAPI. Think about what you expect to deliver to the operational leader using xAPI and how your reports will monitor improvements in key performance areas.

Jargon that irritates operational leaders is the inappropriate application of Return On Investment, or ROI. Let's be clear, there are only two interpretations for ROI:

  1. Doing something that delivers a greater, overall intangible benefit—essentially, if we spend the money, it will make us better in some way
  2. The literal financial Return On Investment calculations—and not the misleading training ROI calculation propagated by learning practitioners

This is where learning practitioners take jargon conflation to the next level. First, stop believing training ROI is a valid financial calculation. You're attempting to convince formally educated business professionals with a fabricated ROI calculation they will never accept as valid. Furthermore, their financial education provides a clear definition of what it means to calculate ROI and your training activity is part of it (read: The Real ROI Evaluation Business Leaders Apply).

When leaders ask about the return your initiatives will deliver, they're referring to the first point, specifically, how will it improve performance, not how it will cover its costs (read: The 4-Letter Word Learning Practitioners Hate Most... Cost!).


Consider those people that are able to communicate a clear and concise message. Chances are they avoid jargon and focus on what is relevant to those they are speaking with. They apply Stephen Covey's habit, seek first to understand, then to be understood. Speak to people in direct terms. And, if you have to use jargon, find a way to define what the terminology means so everyone possesses a common understanding. Incorporate these simple tactics when communicating your learning efforts and you'll quickly gain the confidence of those depending on your solution.

Please share your thoughts and feedback with us. We’d enjoy hearing about your efforts. And who knows, it may be the topic of our next eLearning Industry article. Also, please check out our LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing your business credibility for your learning efforts. Please share your thoughts, and remember #alwaysbelearning!