Conceptual Clarity

Ok, so I can be a bit of a pedant.  Blame it on my academic background, but I believe conceptual clarity is important! If we play fast and loose with terminology, we can be be convinced of something without truly understanding it.  Ultimately, we can waste money chasing unwarranted directions, and worse, perhaps even do wrong by our learners.

Where do the problems arise?  Sometimes, it’s easy to ride a bizbuzz bandwagon.  Hey, the topic is hot, and it sounds good.  Other times, it’s just too hard to spend the effort. Yet getting it wrong ends up meaning you’re wasting resources.

Let’s be clear, I’m not talking myths. Those abound, but here I’m talking about ideas that are being used relatively indiscriminately, but in at least one interpretation there’s real value.  The important thing is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Some concepts that are running around recently and could use some clarity are the following:

Microlearning.  I tried to be clear about this here. In short, microlearning is about small chunks where the learning aggregates over time.  Aka spaced learning.  But other times, people really mean performance support (just-in-time help to succeed in the moment). What you don’t want is someone pretending it’s so unique that they can trademark it.

70:20:10.  This is another that some people deride, and others find value in. I’ve also talked about this.   The question is why they differ, and my answer is that the folks who use it as a way to think more clearly about a whole learning experience find value. Those who fret about the label are missing the point.  And I acknowledge that the label is a barrier, but that horse has bolted.

Neuro- (aka brain- ). Yes, our brains are neurologically based. And yes, there are real implications. Some.  Like ‘the neurons that fire together, wire together’.  And yet there’re a whole lot of discussions about neuro that are really at the next higher level: cognitive.  This is just misleading folks to make it sound more scientific.

Unlearning. There’s a lot of talk about unlearning, but in the neurological sense it doesn’t make sense. You don’t unlearn something.  As far as we can tell, it’s still there, just increasingly hard to activate. The only real way to ‘unlearn’ is to learn some other response to the same situation.  You learn ‘over’ the old learning. Or overlearn.  But not unlearn. It’s an unconcept.

Gamification. This is actually the one that triggered this post. In theory, gamification is the application of game mechanics to learning.  Interestingly, Raph Koster wrote that what makes games fun are that they are intrinsically about learning!  However, there are important nuances.  It’s not just about adding PBL (points, badges, and leaderboards). These aren’t bad things, but they’re secondary.  Designing the intrinsic action around the decisions learners need to acquire is a deeper and more meaningful implication.  Yet people tend to ignore the latter because it’s ‘harder’.  Yet it’s really just about good learning design.

There are more, of course, but hopefully these illustrate the problem. (What are yours?)  Please, please, be professional and take the time to get clear about our cognitive architecture enough to ensure that you can make these distinctions on your own. We need the conceptual clarity!  Hopefully then we can reserve excitement for ideas that truly add value.

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