A New Word for Learning?

Category: LearningTags: , , , , , , 61 comments

Snake in basket / CC BY-SA

Why do I need a new word for learning? Well, according to the experts in the learning consultancy branch, every time the word learning is used their clients dive under their desks and refuse to come out until they’ve gone… thanks LMS & the Snake Oil salesmen. So, the hunt is now on for a new word that is less scary.

Here are some ideas that came out of @lrnchat last night…

evolving via @olliegardener
working via @jonhusband
iworking via me
weworking via @c4lpt
living via @tdebaillon


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  1. Grey Drane says:

    @simbeckhampson Interesting problem. I’m not sure you’ll find one word to replace “learning” that doesn’t sound forced or sound like marketing-speak. Maybe using words that match each specific situation? With more of a “problem-solving” orientation? So words geared specifically towards the reason a given client needs to do the L-word…. ;) FWIW

  2. @simbeckhampson too funny, I was just thinking how Consulting, Coaching and Mentoring all have a similar bad connotation just tonight while writing up some new content for my business website. I am not sure how you will get around the stigma without using other buzz words. I’ve concluded that training, establishing and improving are good substitutes for my quandary, not sure if they help you :)

  3. Grey Drane says:

    @hackmanj Yeah, I suppose “training” takes the responsibility off of the client and puts it on the consultant and might me an option.

  4. .@simbeckhampson wow tough question I’ll have to give that some thought but I will try and throw something at you. Teaching has some merit but it would be nice to get something unique but yet not to “business speak” sounding. But I understand your problem very well I do accounting and business consulting and just saying those words puts people to sleep. I guess I should get a job as a sleep therapist.

  5. Hi Paul – what a great debate! My take: if there’s something wrong with the word ‘learning’ then changing the word won’t fix the problem. We need to change approaches, and attitudes – others’ as well as our own.

    Managers think ‘I want to get things done. That means people with the right abilities and motivation working in the right environment.’ They don’t think about learning.

    So we need to persuade managers that a systematic approach to skills building will help them get things done, and that we are the professionals who can make it happen – directly, and through supporting them. We also need to accept ourselves that what we do is only part of the solution to getting things done.

    Once we’re on that path we can stick any name you like on it.

  6. Grey Drane says:

    @DonaldHTaylor Actually, “skills building” is a nice term. :)

  7. @simbeckhampson Re: I love the response by @donaldhtaylor. Until you arrive on that righteous path, here is a tepid suggestion: “support”.

    This simple word evokes empathetic caring, while implying the need for effort on the part of the recipient. Sounds like a teacher, to me :)

  8. @simplygrey Not sure we’ll find a word either, but perhaps the way is the goal :-) I like your idea about matching words to situations that require solutions – more focused and less general… btw, it was worthy of your thought, thanks.

  9. @hackmanj Thanks Joe, funny how this conversation was topical for you too – minds thinking alike an’ all. The word training is another one that causes a reaction that is not always positive. I think creating an environment where learners are self motivated to learn and have the opportunity to gain knowledge from those with more experience better describes the process of training… from trainer to master knowledge provider ;)

  10. @simplygrey Some time ago the #lrnchat community complied a great list of myths and truths about training and learning – if you’ve not see it here’s the link –

  11. @kstaxman lol – An alternative profession perhaps ;) When I think of the word teaching I think of schools, uni’s and education… you?

  12. @DonaldHTaylor Thanks Don for that insight. The mindset change is without a doubt the key to reversing the stigma attached with the word learning (and training). Very important point you make about changing your own attitude, especially as changing others’ attitudes can really only be achieved by that person themselves.

    So, managers’ main focus is on matching motivated people to key organisational tasks. Interesting that they do not think about learning as a vehicle to that happening – that could be a huge shift in consciousness. We now have the technology to facilitate such change, but applying techonology without a mindset change is, imo, likely to have little effect, and would only add unnecessary costs and in the worst case scenario could reduce performance, competitive advantage and lead to a demotivated workforce, ie. the opposite intention, therefore creating the term Snake Oil (someone needs to be blamed).

    If the results of learning can be better tailored to specific core business objectives which demonstrate real tangible results, perhaps managers will begin to see the benefits of learning and training and we can keep those words as they are ;) Thanks again.

  13. @Anklebuster Support is cool, made me think of encouragement, and yes, Donald know’s his stuff ;)

  14. @DonaldHTaylor I’m in agreement here. If a word has a negative connotation, then changing the word won’t fix things; the negative baggage will merely get shifted to the new word. (A Dalek will stll cause six year old to dive behind the sofa, even if we re-label it as a pepperpot). The key is to address the reasons why the word has negative connotations and deal with those, ‘reform’ the word, if you like. (unless it’s a Dalek, those won’t ‘reform’ ;-) ).
    I wrote a bit about this recently:

  15. @janet_frg Love the Dalek explanation and thanks for the link to your excellent post – This is just for you…

  16. @simbeckhampson :-) Thanks – that’s definitely going up on my “wall of important reminders” by my desk :-)

  17. Greg Cannon says:

    @simbeckhampson I think the issue is one of connotation. Leaning is something you did as a child – learn your times tables, learn to tell the time, learn to tie your shoe laces, learn to ride a bike, swim etc. So learning could be perceived as being a childlike state. You are told to do it. I think adult learning is about facilitating [self]-discovery and enabling “eureka” moments.

  18. @GJCannon Definitely self discovery, especially informal learning – it’s up to individual as much as anyone else… thanks for your comment :-)

  19. @simbeckhampson Personally, I dont have any negative connotations with the word learning. Training on the other hand gives me connotations of the classroom – the practice of getting an expert’s speaker-notes onto the learner’s study-notes without bypassing the brain (more often than not).
    I think that the reason many are searching for yet another word is that a lot of people that were delivering training are now doing exactly same thing under the learning label – not realizing that you cannot “deliver learning”.
    Learning cannot be forced – it comes from each individual learner’s interest and motivation for learning.
    Many struggle to accept that learning cannot be controlled or managed – to make the shift onto creating the environment in which learning can occur. We need to enable, nurture and facilitate learning – on the job, by the water-cooler, online and in the classroom.
    We need to recognize the learner’s role in learning – not as an empty vessel to be filled, but as wood that needs igniting (quote from Plutarch, greek philosopher).

  20. @olliegardener Wow! I agree wholeheartedly with all you say, and how you say it is quite beautiful… thank-you :)

  21. Some good discussion going on here: RT @simbeckhampson Help! #CrowdSource: Need a New Word for #Learning? #lrnchat

  22. Hi Paul,
    the simplest questions often are the toughest, and this one doesn’t escape the rule ;-)
    Wether positive or negative, each word comes with its connotations and limitations, so I don’t think that “learning” could be replaced by another existing word.
    Let’s try a bit more… For me, learning evoques a life-long ongoing and informal process. The fact that you are trained does not imply that you learn, so learning is about self-fulfillment. It is also about a positive shift in mind, even if it involves unlearning. Learning is always turned to a ppositive direction, wichever way it takes..
    I often compare people who do not learn as dead people, that’s why I suggested “living”, but I am conscious this isn’t descriptive enough. They learned… then they stopped. So learning is about movement. A little other suggestion, with a built up word: metamoving.

  23. @simbeckhampson Re: You might expect me to contribute “#Rightshifting” :)

  24. Barry Sampson says:

    @simbeckhampson We don’t need another word for learning.

    I wrote a comment on our blog just before I saw this conversation (serendipitous timing)

    “We are in an industry in which most people are trainers, or are responsible for training, who deliver training courses, or provide training materials (traditional or e-training) and manage it all using training administration systems. It’s time to let go of the word learning, and give it back to the learners (to whom it has belonged all along).”

    The rest of it isn’t that relevant to this conversation, but it’s here:

  25. Barry Sampson says:

    @simbeckhampson Sorry, I’ll add poor link handling to my growing list of things I don’t like about Amplify.

  26. Niall Gavin says:

    When I’ve learned something, I feel expanded – so maybe “Expanding”? As in ‘I’ve expanded my knowledge of…’ or ‘my understanding of…’ or’ my skills in…’

  27. @tdebaillon Life-long learning, a living event, no stopping, informal process, movement and metmoving… insights to die for – thank you so much… and to think we were searching for a new word, funny…

    I’m hoping that people landing for the first time on #amplify are beginning to see why this is such a very special platform for conversation.

    This conversation could not occur on Twitter… #justsaying.

  28. @niallgavinuk nice, like it… thanks for joining in :-)

  29. Off to the accountants… (yawn) please carry on – back soon… your comments and thoughts are making the hairs on my arm stand up! Thank you everyone…

  30. @barrysampson … a good craftsman never blames his tools :-o

  31. Barry Sampson says:

    @simbeckhampson if the tool can’t do what the craftsman needs, he’s right to say so (in which case someone may have the opportunity to fix said tool). Alternatively he can just go an use a tool that works.

  32. The key for me is not necessarily the word ‘learning’, but the context that most attach to it.

    In the past learning=training and learning=structured processes based (mainly) on knowledge acquisition and, sometimes, on skill-building.

    For many that’s what ‘learning’ still connotes.

    Learning, as described by Eric Kandal (who won the Nobel prize for his work on memory and learning) is “the ability to acquire new ideas from experience and retain them as memories” – and Kandel wasn’t talking about the sort of short-term memory required to regurgitate information in end-of-class assessments. He was talking about deeper long-term memory that results in persistent behaviour change.

    So it’s not the word (although ‘learning’ still carries a lot of formal ‘baggage), but its context and the messages that travel along with it.

    I think it’s better always to focus on outputs rather than inputs. Learning is an input. Behaviour change or performance improvement are the outputs of learning. That’s why, within ITA (, we’ve adopted ‘Working Smarter’ as a key term.

    People work smarter through a range of unputs, some of which are learning.


  33. @barrysampson I did make it to the link ( ) and it was well worth reading. Thanks!

  34. @barrysampson good point in general… but to date I’ve had no personal issues with adding a url link to a comment or a post on Amplify… will investigate later… also send @egoldstein a note if you think its a tech issue – he’ll advise – cheers… dashing out…

  35. @janet_frg Cheers Janet… perfect timing (as always) …look forward to reading @barrysampson link shortly.

  36. mark britz says:

    I agree that using the word “learning” usually results in yawns and disengagement from business execs… but smiles and cheers from parents and students…so its contextual. In my opinion the word needs to fit the situation, audience and environment. If you know your audience, the word “learning” can be perfectly appropriate. In business settings ears perk up when the words “solutions”, “results”, or “performance” are used.

  37. Re: organization .. is the aversion to the word “learning” at all related to the relative ignoring of the notion(s) of the Learning Organization promulgated / proselytized / promoted about 15 years ago when forward thinkers first began seeing greater complexity in the future’s cards ?

    Clearly, “learning” is one of the core means of continual adaptation to ambiguous and complex conditions. If that word doesn’t work well, we’d all better come up with a word or two that does ;-) because the conditions of ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty that we all face don’t seem to be going away any time soon.

  38. Barry Sampson says:

    @janet_frg Thank you, and thanks for the working link :)

  39. Barry Sampson says:

    @simbeckhampson I think it just doesn’t like pasting rich text.

  40. @barrysampson Ironically, because I can’t subscribe to comments on your blog, I end up seeing your reply here :)

    You’re absolutely right about giving the word ‘learning’ back to learners. (It kind of reminds me of teachers, trainers and IDs who write down the ‘learning outcomes’ on their plans. Sorry, but mightn’t it be a better idea to talk about ‘outcomes’ after the intervention?)

    For Paul, here’s the comment I left on Barry’s blog:
    What I’d like to see is people discussing not learning but our job. We all know that learning takes place all the time. We all know there are new opportunities for learning – even the most unreconstructed Twitter troll (naming no names) acknowledges the power of the web (whether for good or bad).

    But what does that mean for our work? I’m not convinced – at all – that it’s our job to get involved in the dirty business of ‘informal learning’ other than to facilitate collaboration and develop performance support systems (both of which we always should have been doing anyway). And nobody is going to pay us to ‘stay out of the way’.

  41. Barry Sampson says:

    @hypergogue Glad to catch up here, and thanks for pointing out about not being able to subscribe to comments Onlignment blog. You should be able to, which means I’ve probably broken something during a recent upgrade. I’ll fix it anon.

  42. @jonhusband The difference between your experience and others’ experiences is at the root of the problem with the word ‘learning’. Ask many people what evolution is and they’ll tell you it’s natural selection and survival of the fittest. (The social Darwinists will even tell you that’s what evolution is for.)

    But this is how evolution happens; it’s a mechanism.

    You people in the ITA are right to continually highlight the conditions of ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty we face. But there are – still – some valid circumstances where organisations are right to stifle, for want of a better term, ‘learning’ and encourage ‘training’ and ‘compliance’. I guess a majority of the ‘learning’ professionals on the planet are still attempting to control complexity rather than embrace it – not all of them for reasons of ludditism or troglodyte tendencies.:)


    Nobody’s mentioned ‘sensemaking’. It works for the formal and informal, the complex and the controlled environment. And it gives the word ‘learning’ back to the learner.

  43. @simbeckhampson I think you could focus on that “creating an environment where learners are self motivated to learn and have the opportunity to gain knowledge” excellent way to overcome the stigma!

  44. @simbeckhampson Yes I think of all of those and worse is the terrible memories of way to much structure for my tastes. I think that is why teaching as a word carries so much baggage. We all still see someone standing there demanding of us to stand and perform while going over a curriculum that rewarded the reciting of facts not the development of ideas and seeking of enlightenment. It’s this picture that definitely isn’t attractive to the older adults that you are trying to reach. These people want free flowing ideas and to develop ways, processes, and methods that improve peoples performance not tie it to rote recitals.

  45. @simbeckhampson (sorry, still getting hang of using Amplify on my phone …

    Perhaps predictably, I’m going to agree with Simon that ‘sensemaking’ is a good phrase. I work in education and if it don’t make sense to the learner, it’s not worth opening your mouth in the first place. Watching learners find the sense for themselves (with or without help) is a joy. So, yes, sensemaking: APPROVED.

  46. jaycross says:

    The term learning covers many different activities. Learning to ride a bicycle is a different deal than learning to speak French, and that’s different than learning statistics or the way to San Jose. In the work context, I’ve been substituting “working smarter,” since that’s the desired outcome and unlike training, people don’t say they don’t want to do it.

  47. @finiteattention Thanks for your input Chris, I also agree with Simon, and with so many other of the excellent comments here :-)

  48. @jaycross Simple, clear, understandable – thanks for adding your take!

  49. @hackmanj Agree Joe… self motivation, play, enjoyment = all key factors influencing how we learn and ultimately effect how we retain knowledge. Thanks for sharing.

  50. Want to see crowd sourcing at work? Check out all the comments at #lrnchat #amplify #crowdsource

  51. @hypergogue … Simon, I think you are absolutely correct that there types of work where standards, compliance and an established body of knowledge are a fundamental focus of the learning that is needed. There are many areas of work and business processes to which your assertion applies, and I don’t think I’ve heard anyone arguing that those should be jettisoned, overturned, mothballed or anything else similar. And, I think social learning can and does reinforce the learning offered by formal content and delivery structures.

  52. @hackmanj Thanks Joe, appreciate the Tweet :-)

  53. @simbeckhampson OK, late to this party…first, isn’t it sad that the mainstream school systems have killed of all of our inborn/natural love/inclination for learning? As Seth Godin would say, all in the name of making us “compliant cogs”, even though that’s not really useful in the 21st century anymore.

    Second, as I was skimming through the comment thread here, I a possibly pretty good one popped into my head: Thinking for Keeps (TM… NOT :) )

  54. @simbeckhampson erk sorry, naughty words, comes from bulls!

  55. @gravesie Thought so… so what’s your angle, and who’s been rattling your cage?

  56. Carlos_LiveFyre says:

    Well, to pull from how Sesame Street and other PBS shows, “Edutainment.” I remember reading an article from I think the eLearning Guild or ASTD about combining Social Media type games into your CBT/LMS solutions.

  57. @Carlos_LiveFyre Adding gamification layers to learning is growing in popularity and with the uptake of QR Codes, this is likely to increase in 2011/12. A good chap to follow is hypergogue

    This post did show over 50 comments – just waiting for support from livefyre as to where they’ve gone! cc: jordan kretchmer

  58. Not as late as I am to reply, must be a world record! Compliant cogs… oooh, yep! Thinking for keeps is nice – think the little ones will like that, maybe the big ones too :)

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