“Now that you’re in the beginning phase, you need to untap.”learners

When was the last time you tried explaining something you were familiar with to someone who was new to it? Maybe you were orienting a new team member, trying to summarize your favorite show, or teaching someone how to play a game. Lots of things have their own “in” terms. If you try using them with someone who has no clue what they mean you’re going to lose that person’s interest. Fast. Or they’re probably going to be pretty confused.

The opening sentence describes a very small part of how to play the card game Magic: The Gathering. In “plain English” it means, “Since it’s the beginning of your turn, reset your cards.” Okay, that makes sense.

So why not just say that in the first place? It definitely makes the explanation easier right off the bat, that’s for sure. But it’s not the terminology the game itself uses. The text on the actual cards says “untap,” not “reset.” So just explaining it as resetting without providing a definition for “untap” puts the learner at a disadvantage. They need to understand and speak the language to play the game successfully.

The same is true for organizational training. You and your SMEs might know what ROI stands for or what “drilling down” is, but learners aren’t necessarily going to know. This is especially true for onboarding, rollouts of new products or services, or any other circumstance where learners are introduced to something for the first time.

This knowledge gap is usually addressed with one, or both, of the following:

  1. The terms are defined one-by-one as they appear in the course

This allows them to be covered one at a time, in context. It can help keep the learner from being overwhelmed by a lot of jargon at the same time.

  1. A glossary provides definitions for all of the terms

They’re often provided as job aids or quick reference sheets. Glossaries can be used during or after a course and usually help with performance support in the moment of need.

If there are only a few terms I like to introduce them early in the training. An overview can be a nice place for this. That way the learner will recognize them as they progress. Even if they don’t fully understand the terms at the beginning, it gives them something familiar to latch onto. When covering a completely new topic it’s nice to build in little moments of, “That sounds familiar.” They serve as mini confidence boosts and can help the learner start seeing connections between related terms and concepts.

It’s a good idea to have someone “from the outside” read through the content and point out any words or phrases they’re not familiar with. Sometimes those will be good candidates for definitions. Other times, it may just mean that the sentences are confusing and need to be revised. Either way it’s great feedback to have.

In summary, don’t speak to learners in a language they don’t understand. You’ll lose and confuse them. Teach them the words then speak the language to them. After all, it’s hard to learn anything when you have no idea what’s being said.

If you’d like to read more about training, learning, and instructional design check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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