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Rosie Scott

Senior Learning Designer

Learning Pool

Muddying the waters

OK, let's take a break from the 'big

ideas' for a minute and think about

some of the little things we can do to

help learners. I could embark on a

tortured metaphor here about mud

actually being lots of little bits of dirt and

it's that that ends up 'muddying the

waters', but I'll spare you that because…


Instead, let me ask you a question: have

you ever seen an e-learning course (or,

gasp…written one) that had so many

acronyms in it you started to develop

acronym-blindness? I bet you have.

Well, I'm in the middle of designing a

programme that has a similar problem;

but instead of creating an acronym for

every obscure process and piece of

regulation they subscribe to they have

created an entirely new word, or more

often appropriated one that already

existed and given it a whole new


I'm questioning the meanings of simple

words at this point; the world has turned

upside down and I don't know if I'm

coming or going…and I don't think

that's what they were going for.

In trying to make things clearer and

easier for learners to understand,

they've ended up doing the opposite.

And there are lots of small examples of

this type of thing that we often find

ourselves falling back on: an acronym is

shorter than spelling out the whole

phrase; a bullet point list is simpler than

a long paragraph; bolding key terms

and phrases helps people remember

them, but it's so easy to overdo it.

I've seen so many courses where a lot

of effort has gone into explaining a

mnemonic and presenting it visually so

that people remember it, whereas in fact

time would be better spent explaining

what it means for the learner. And then

there's all the 12-step processes and

models with catchy names - maybe

we're making the processes easier to

remember, but do they actually apply to

the learner in real life?

All these little strategies that we use

stem from the right impulses, but so

often we overuse them and achieve the

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