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Warning: This Post is Rated PG (Practitioner Guidance Suggested)

I am writing what’s turning out to be a very long report that’s thinking about the evolution of training into learning. And I’m very much enjoying the late night research part, which flicks me serendipitiously through many of the grainy midnight channels of the World Wide Web, as well as into some brighter and more highly produced mainstream offerings.

Last night on my channel surfing, I clicked onto Jay Cross’ newest article on Chief Learning Officer called, “Dirty Words” and have not stopped thinking about it. It wasn’t the title that got me, it was the story, of course.

It was a cautionary tale.

There is indeed something deliciously self-perpetuating about a new field of work, once you can get past the nay-sayers and eye rollers, into a set of early adopters who can help to develop the shared vocabulary, the group of interconnected concepts, the specialised actions that can be attributed to “practice” in the field.

These people start to move ahead with it. They spin off a set of correlated concepts, further definining the field, making distinctions and boundaries that set the new off from the old. There is a sense of identity of the group, and a set of short hand terms and labels emerge. You can get pretty far into it before you notice that the buzz is contained in a small (but hopefully growing) group of practitioners. The attractiveness of the cache sits rather uncomfortably with the kick you get from proselytising the new message (dooming you to putting yourself out of an elite job, and into a historical role as one of the First).

That is what I hear Jay Cross talking about in his article on Dirty Words. As learning and informal learning, rather recent in their more specific usage (several years, short in the grand scheme of things) has developed this far, with its pantheon of leaders, its specialised journals, its sub-themes, and key words. In his article Jay reminds us how other people in our institutions (those with the money as well as the need) might hear their learning teams talking and what they think when they hear some of our accepted buzz words.

I am writing my report, fully pro-learning and full of venacular for me, to an audience that has yet to be convinced (not about learning, but about the subtle difference between what we are talking about now and what went before – such as training and capacity building.) I say “A Field is Born!” but they might hear it as “#$%^&*!”. This advice from Jay is coming at a good time. When I go back through my report, I will have to remember to use my PG filter (Practitioner Guidance Suggested).

2 replies
  1. jay
    jay says:

    Hey now! Glad to help if I can. I really feel that we've been mis-marketing learning. There's nothing stronger but we package it as just so much administrivia. Time to wake up. BTW, I enjoy your fresh viewpoints.


  2. Gillian Martin Mehers
    Gillian Martin Mehers says:

    Hi Jay, Thanks so much for your comment and good feedback – as you can see from my post, I really agree with you – we need to be very careful about the communication/advocacy part of our work.

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