misused buzzwordsInteractive


Innovative/ Creative/ Different



All of the above

These words get thrown around a lot. Frankly, it troubles me when they’re used incorrectly because it leads to misunderstandings. It’s important to realize that these can mean one thing to you and your association and something different to an eLearning vendor or instructional designer. I am not the final word on any of these definitions, but I hope they’ll provide some clarity. (Gamification and game-based learning were covered in their own post, so they’re not included here). With that said, let’s look at some common eLearning misused buzzwords.


Is: When the learner has agency. Let them evaluate information, make decisions, and meaningfully influence the outcome.

Is not: “Click here for more information.”

Example: A course on conducting audits allows the learner to make choices about how to conduct an audit. Their level of success is determined by whether or not the learner performs all of the steps correctly and gets the needed information. There may be multiple possible endings. A non-interactive version might be a recorded lecture of an auditor discussing how to conduct an audit.


Is: Realistic situations and activities presented in context. As a result, the learner will go through the same thought processes as if they were on the job.

Is not: 3D or virtual environments.

Example: A course on construction site safety is “set” at a construction site, covers content that applies to construction sites, and has activities that would take place there. A non-immersive course on the subject might have the same content presented on a blackboard and an assessment about the wording or numbering of the safety rules.

Innovative/ Creative/ Different

Is: Using “non-traditional” learning strategies. This often requires the use of different navigation, user interfaces, and visual design in general.

Is not: New visuals on the same old course format, “click next to continue,” tell-and-test, etc.

Example: A compliance course starts with someone being disciplined or fired because of a violation. Then it goes back in time and has the learner work through what could have been done differently to avoid the error. A more traditional course might list the rules the learner is supposed to follow and then ask some multiple choice questions about them.


Is: When learners are able to fulfill the learning objectives of well-designed training and then transfer what they learned to real life. This is the ultimate goal of all eLearning.

Is not: Everyone passes with 100% on their first try or positive “smile sheet” reviews. (Positive reviews are nice, but they don’t tell you anything about the learning that took place).

Example: Sales training where the learners are introduced to a new technique and then use it on the job after the training is finished. Sales go up as a result. An ineffective sales training might introduce a new technique, but the learners never use it and forget about it. There’s no improvement.


Is: Learners want to go through it more than once on their own, because they enjoy it. This will help them practice.

Is not: Cheerful background music and flashy animations with sound effects and lots of pictures.

Example: A learner replays a branching scenario, after they’ve successfully completed it, because they want to see the other possible endings. A course that isn’t any fun might be a narrated PowerPoint full of animated bullet points that the learner just sits through.

All of the above

Is: Either a very specific vision for a course or, more likely, a sign that there isn’t a clear enough vision.

Is not: A combination of a bunch of good things that automatically add up to create an awesome course.

Example: Someone goes to an eLearning vendor and asks for a course that’s interactive, immersive, innovative, effective, and fun. They envision a course for retail associates that’s set in a store, allows them to make decisions about what to do over the course of their “day,” pulls scenarios from real events, and has multiple paths through the day depending on their decisions. They have a vision. If someone else asks a vendor for a course with the same qualities but can’t describe what they’re looking for, they need to work with the vendor to figure out what will work best.

Buzzwords may be all over the place but they’re not always used consistently. Make sure you, your stakeholders, and any eLearning vendors your association works with are speaking the same language before you start working on your next course. Did this help? Do you have questions? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to get back to you.

If you’d like to learn more about custom eLearning course creation from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.

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

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