Deciphering L&D Industry Jargon For Beginners

Transitioning into the Learning and Development (L&D) sector can feel like stepping into a new country where the language feels familiar, yet the dialect seems…strange. Buzzwords fly around quickly, acronyms are used in place of sentences, and you’re expected to nod along with understanding. But let’s be real: sometimes, it’s downright confusing. And it’s okay if you’re just plain lost. You’re not as clueless as you might feel, and with a little bit of work, you too can learn to understand for real. However, this isn’t really about learning a few key phrases or breaking out the L&D secret decoder ring. It’s about comprehending a language that shapes an entire industry. Understanding L&D jargon can be the difference between thriving in your new role or feeling perpetually out of step. So, let’s break down some of the most common terms to help you navigate the conversations and resources you’ll encounter on your journey.

L&D Jargon You Need To Know

1. Instructional Design (ID)

This is the practice of creating “instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing,” as per educational psychologist Robert M. Gagné. Think of it as the architecture of learning; it’s about structuring information so that it’s not just presented, but truly understood and retained. Though it’s called “design” in practice, it’s really more of a production-oriented role.

2. Learning Management System (LMS)

An LMS is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation, and delivery of educational courses, training programs, or Learning and Development programs. It’s the virtual environment where your L&D content lives, breathes and is accessed by learners. You might see the acronym LXP (for Learning Experience Platform) instead, but the technologies have effectively converged such that it’s pretty much the same thing now.

3. Synchronous And Asynchronous Learning

These fancy terms simply refer to when and how learning happens. Synchronous learning is live, often mirroring traditional classroom settings, like webinars or live-streamed lectures. Asynchronous learning means “not simultaneously”; think self-paced online courses and other learning where students don’t have to be in the same place at the same time.

4. Microlearning

Microlearning breaks down information into bite-sized, focused chunks. It’s based on the understanding that learners often benefit from consuming content in smaller and more digestible bursts. No one has ever agreed on how “micro” a microlearning unit must be to qualify, but a 2-minute tutorial video or a one-page infographic would probably qualify.

5. Gamification

You intuitively know what this word means already, and you’re right. When it comes to L&D, this is the process of adding game mechanics into non-game environments, like a learning platform, to increase engagement. It could be as simple as awarding digital badges for completing training or as complex as full-fledged simulations that turn learning into video game-like experiences with scores and advanced participation tracking.

6. Return On Investment (ROI)

In L&D, ROI isn’t just about dollars, it’s about measuring the effectiveness of training initiatives. It’s a way of evaluating whether the outcomes produced justify the resources invested. Typically this means showing something in terms of improved performance, efficiency, or satisfaction. Lots of people in L&D like to toss this term around like they know what it means, but very few have the business accounting understanding to speak sensibly to the folks in Finance.

7. Blended Learning

This approach mixes various teaching methods, typically combining traditional face-to-face classroom methods with modern computer-mediated activities. It’s about finding the right balance and integration to enhance learning. Most training utilizes blended learning and always has, but it became a buzzword somewhat as a backlash to so many elements of training going online.

8. Flipped Classroom

This is a type of blended learning where the traditional learning structure is “flipped.” Instead of first encountering new content in a live setting and experimenting or practicing on their own, learners engage with new material at their own pace through reading or pre-recorded content, then come together to discuss or practice applying that knowledge. This is also sometimes referred to as “learner-centered” learning.

9. SCORM

Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is a set of technical standards common in most eLearning software. Think of it as the DVD of the eLearning world, it ensures content can be shared across systems. The idea is that what plays on one LMS will play on another in the same way. Like DVDs with standard vs. Blu-ray vs. HD DVD, the reality is more nuanced than that. And like DVDs, you can still make them and play them today. But while SCORM courses are extremely common, they’re older technology at this point.

10. AICC

This is an even older way of packaging up courses into self-contained bundles, one of the first ways, in fact. So think of it like a reel of film. It might be old, but it still works if you have the right player, and as a viewer, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell what format it was in if you were watching it.

11. xAPI And Tin Can

In contrast to SCORM and AICC, the Experience API (formerly known as Tin Can but nobody really calls it that anymore) is more like video streaming. It allows for more detailed tracking of a wide range of learning experiences, and it is far more friendly to personalization and other dynamic needs. It’s also an entirely different concept that basically jailbreaks learning out of the course model and makes pretty much anything possible. Historically, support hasn’t been great. But it’s an official IEEE standard now so it should theoretically be better supported going forward.

12. cmi5

Computer Managed Instruction version 5 is technically an xAPI profile. Basically, it tames the wild possibilities of xAPI into a subset of more standardized and defined interactions, leveraging the same framework but keeping it on the L&D rails. Don’t worry about cmi1, 2, 3, or 4, which are not really a thing at this point. This is arguably the best of all worlds when it comes to course packages, though it’s not yet ubiquitous.

13. Learning Ecosystem

A learning ecosystem encompasses all the interconnected components of learning technology, from creation to delivery to tracking to analysis. It’s not just the tools used but also the methodologies and how they integrate to support organizational and individual growth. It’s a rich and ever-changing spectrum that encompasses the learning tech stack as managed by L&D and blurs into upstream and downstream systems managed by HR, IT, PMO, Coms, etc.

The Why Behind The What

Mastering this language matters because it’s about much more than being able to merely translate the words L&D people use. It’s about understanding the why behind the what. Why does microlearning work? Why is blended learning effective? What kinds of things can xAPI or SCORM track, and why are they different? The L&D jargon is shorthand for complex concepts that, when understood, can significantly improve your ability to create, deliver, and evaluate effective learning experiences.

Wrapping Up

As you journey into the dynamic world of L&D, knowing the jargon will help you grasp not just the culture but also the psychology that underpins effective learning. It allows you to step into the conversation with confidence, make informed decisions, and, ultimately, craft learning experiences that resonate and achieve measurable results.

Lost in L&D lingo? Not anymore. With this guide, you’re well on your way to not just speaking the language, but being a voice that matters within the L&D community.

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