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Navigating the Instructional Design Terminology

In my doctoral courses these past few weeks, I've learned a few things in regards to terminology. For example, some common phrases that I'm used to saying are now considered 'wrong' or incorrect by academics in my field. I wanted to take this week's blog to focus on what I've learned and share with you all. Mostly a) to ensure my understanding is correct and b) to see if similar trends with these words are occurring in your environments.

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Student: A growing trend is to get away from the word 'student.' A new and recent push has been to use the word learner as student is typically associated with a K-12 environment and in today's culture, a 'student' can be anyone of any age. Therefore, 'learner' is the new word to use. While this is not a new concept to me, I do find myself still using student in some contexts. Some believe that the word student links to concepts of compliance and being required to learn. In some areas, students can be learners. Learners on the other hand, are people who want to learn in any environments (getting away from the typical brick and mortar). They can learn from technology, trainings, readings, the internet, informally... honestly the list goes on and on. This has been a easy transition for me - as I've found that I have been using the word learner for a while. I do recall making a deliberate change in my writing and speaking skills when first trying to change my understanding of student vs. learner.

Learning Styles: This has been one that is a bit more difficult for me to transition from. I did not know until recently that the idea of 'learning styles' is apparently a myth. It looks like back in the 80s and early 90s people started using this terminology. For example, people are coming up with that they are a 'visual' learner or that they learn better by discussing topics with people... where that stems from no one really knows. Recently, researchers and academics have been trying to put a stop to the use of the phrase 'learning styles' which isn't supported by evidence. You can read more about this from the article, Learning Styles Debunked: There is No Evidence Supporting Auditory and Visual Learning, Psychologists Say.

Best Practices: Speaking of terminology not supported by research, we now move to the newest terminology no-no I just found out about... 'best practices.' This phrase is something I use quite often so I was really surprised to know that we shouldn't be saying this. While discussing with some peers, I argued that everyone has 'best practices' that they follow based on their own understanding and own experiences of the task at hand. It was quickly noted that while this is true, these practices are not always based on evidence. Therefore, in order to avoid confusion, we should be using the phrase 'evidence-based practices.' This now brings the practices into a category that can be supported by evidence. That evidence can be research, individual practices, etc. By adding the element of evidence-based, people know there is some sort of reason behind why these practices are being used. It also allows for a conversation to be had at a later date regarding how an individual came to believe these are the 'best practices.'

As I continue on my educational journey, I'm sure there are more terms I'll run into as using incorrectly or are now considered outdated. I'll be sure to update you all when I learn these because I feel it truly is important to help spread the knowledge of the field and try to keep all instructional designers aligned with what is current.

Are there any phrases that you have been using incorrectly? I'd love to hear more about what is out there and your opinions on the topics!


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