The jargon of eLearning

What are the basics and jargon of elearning?  This article provides an introduction to the key elements and their interactions in the process.

This article gets in most of the key terms used in the area without getting into too much detail about how to use the ideas.

Each of the following three areas could be a blog on its own but I put them all here to give you a single source for the lot.

  • The Jargon of eLearning
  • Examining the Content
  • Standards in eLearning


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The Jargon of eLearning

Keeping it simple

There are a number of basic parts that make up the area of learning.  Words such as teaching, testing and tutoring form the basis of the jargon of elearning.

In order to make these parts easier to identify we can put them in the follow layout

Green Section – Who is being taught and why?

The whole process requires a need or a direct requirement for training.  Once there is a need what are the elements to the request?

  • Direct requirement.  A person has training needs because of desire or legal requirement.
  • Person.  The person who requires the info and skills.  If the person doesn’t want to we’re wasting our time.
  • Resources.  Money, time and availability to do training.  The day job isn’t going away.

Each person comes to training with some life training and experience already.

  • Skill set.  Physical skills, such as guitar playing, how to use a chisel, etc.
  • Knowledge.Information, facts and figures and procedures.
  • Preferences.  People have preferred learning styles (out of a book, video, audio, etc), language requirements, disabilities and also availability times.

When all of these parts come together then there is a need for training.


Blue Section – What will be accomplished?

The most declarative and import jargon of elearning and training in general is a Learning Objective or LO.

An LO is a clear statement of what the person will be able to do after the training has finished.


Yellow Section – The materials and method to deliver the training.

How and what is being taught to you?

  • Material. The primary info taught. (fact, concept, process, procedure, strategic principle)
  • Medium.  The delivery of this info (image, audio, text, video, interactive multimedia content, teacher led class)
  • Methodology.  The psychological approach used to deliver the material also known as Instructional Design.

Let’s make these terms a bit easier to understand with a very simple example.  Basic maths, addition,  1 + 1 = 2

  • Material.  A fact i.e. 1+1 = 2
  • Medium.  Written text is probably easiest
  • Methodology.  A behaviouristic approach of “Drill and practice” is probably most effective.  That sounds complicated!  Don’t worry I’ll come back to this.

Testing has exactly the same elements but has a different focus.  Instead of teaching, this is validating something stuck in the students head.

Tests and Courses operate hand in glove and are referred to as a Module.

Again using our examples:.  We have a basic module called “Simple Addition”  This teaches how to add 1+1 (content) and then examines the student’s knowledge with an exam (test).


Bringing the parts together

Modules group together to be a Course which provides a single, or multiple, LOs.

Using our example we can break up what happens into very simple statements.

We have a person who wants to learn basic maths.  Their job requires them to learn maths.  The company is willing to afford the person time and pay for the course to learn this information.  There is a course available that teaches maths.  So the person does the course, with the view that at the end of it, they will be able to do simple maths.

The reason each item is broken into parts is to allow it to be looked at closely and the options in each part to be explored.

This collection together is called Content.


Examining the Content


Delivery of material

Diamond Sutra
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Since the first printed books, like the Diamond Sutra of 868 AD, the content of books has been prized .

Technology joins words and pictures with sound, video and interactive elements.  How material is presented is vital to engaging the reader’s interest.  Marketing students, alongside graphic designers spend years, learning the principles of catching people’s attention and delivering messages.

Smashing magazine provide free articles on how to better improve presentation and create more effective messages   In one article alone, they list fifty considerations for a designer to make content more attractive and engaging.

A Learning Management System or LMS delivers the material electronically whilst also supporting traditional delivery methods.  All elearning is content delivered by an LMS and is therefore a key phrase in the jargon of elearning.



eLearning principles

When you are making material for eLearning, there are a number of design principles Colvin Clarke & Mayer state put forward as “you really should do this”.

Their experimentation proves that some principles are worth implementing and therefore forms a huge portion of the jargon of eLearning.

The Multimedia Principle details that using words and pictures help students engage in active learning.

The Contiguity Principle states that words placed near images help integrate concepts.

The Redundancy Principle says that graphics explained by audio alone works better than with text.

The Coherence Principles removes unneeded words, pictures and sounds.

The Personalisation Principle says that a conversational 1-to-1 style is more effective than a neutral conversational approach. Students participate more effectively when encouraged to engage with the online instruction as a social conversational partner.  So the author should deliver on a one to one basis rather than depending on passive voice.

The Segmentation Principle clarifies that breaking instruction into smaller chunks is a more effective teaching approach.  Pretraining on key words and phrases prepares students for complicated concepts that may follow.

Victor Jeurissen clarified that “for 70% of employees’ learning is learning by doing” supporting the idea that examples should be leveraged.



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Richard E Mayer
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Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer define learning as active processing or rehearsal, prior to encoding for later retrieval.

This segues nicely into “the Multimedia Theory of Cognitive Learning” proposed by Mayer.

A person achieves learning through comprehension of material by channel.

Doesn’t that sound easy!  In English, a person learns by hearing words and reading words and images.





This theory goes on to get into the idea that learning certain material is easier through some mediums.

For example, reading printed maths tables is easier to learn from paper in a table format.  Sign language training on the other hand is best delivered through video with sound.

Delivering either set of content through the other’s medium is possible but may not be as effective in helping the student take on board the knowledge.

Using different mediums can achieve better results.

The elements of mediums can be considered as text, images, audio, live audio, interactivity, animation, video, interactive material, live video, live video interactivity and virtual reality.

Each medium has different challenges and benefits:  cost, time to develop, availability of developers and appropriateness.  So when choosing the medium of delivery these are the key considerations.

Making the best use of one or more of these mediums requires technical skill.  This is a challenge to most businesses as writing a quick document in Word, poses less obstacles than developing video training.  Video training through web cam recording is just as feasible if the business knows how to use the technology.


Methodology (Instructional Design)

Gus Prestera
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The real heavy weight jargon of eLearning comes in the form of Instructional Design also known as ID.

Psychologists have been reviewing how people react to different teaching approaches.

Instructional Design (ID) can be defined as the philosophy, methodology, and approach used to deliver information.

Gus Prestera’s graphic below provides a pictorial representation of the theoretical Instructional Design landscape

Behaviourism, Cognitivism, Constructivism and Connectivism

The are four major philosophical foundations of ID.   These approaches apply when you need to develop eLearning material as well.


Jarhead - Training scene
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Behaviourism focuses on repetitive action to drill home an idea.  It does not promote creative thinking.  Strategies and tactics include: instructional cues, negative reinforcement, punishment and shaping.

This approach drills the soldier over and over again.  When you hear gun fire keep your head down so you don’t get your head blown off.  As per the dramatic example in the movie Jarhead.

!! Warning that video is rated R, with adult language, watch at your own discretion.  Hopefully your training isn’t as harsh. !!



Cognitivism focuses on the memory of the student, following lists and pattern recognition.  Strategies and tactics include: chunking information, concept mapping, mnemonics, outlining, pattern recognition and summarisation.

The simplest example here is a teacher standing at the top of the room delivering lessons and planned material to help students learn.  The teacher also gives home work and tests to make sure the information is sticking.




Constructivism promotes more creative thinking by building a framework of knowledge from which the student can derive the answer. Strategies and tactics include: coaching, encourage curiosity, exploration, learning by discovery, problem solving activities, role-playing and self-directed learning.

This approach describes a student diving into an encyclopedia at the letter A.  When you see a word you don’t know you go look that up and so on.  This approach let’s the student explore and build their learning as best engages their mind.



Connectivism expands upon constructivism with the idea that links in documents such as in Wikipedia allow the learner connect nodes and information sources.  This approach is dependent on technology and leans on the Internet.  It also include the idea that people learn from people, where students suggest “ohh have a read of this”.


Which one is best?

There are different times and places where different approaches appear to work.  This is an area of professional debate but there is one academic winner.

Modern eLearning teaching suggests that Constructivism is the only proper approach which holds true for pure academic learning.

Unfortunately business training has cost and time limits so training needs to deliver the business strategy, not necessarily what is best for the individual.

If you consider the behaviourism example above, we can’t really wait for you to come to the epiphany that keeping your head down is a good idea as a result keep your head down is the drill.

Small businesses can’t give ID too much consideration due to the overheads it generates.  Consulting an expert is always beneficial when developing reusable material for large groups for the reason that they know this area and can apply it for you.


Standards in eLearning

Why bother?

The M16A1 Rifle: Operation and Preventive Maintenance
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Not so much the jargon of elearning and more the ability to reduce waste, eLearning standards allow material to survive beyond one use.

Developing material is a costly and involved process and making material reusable is desirable, especially from a cost and time perspective.  Reusability is always a good idea.

Businesses create modules which become assets consequently businesses package and sell assets to other businesses where the content is appropriate to share.

Modules can easily transfer between systems that comply with a standard.  So what standards are available?


A quick why bother story

An anecdote I picked up but cannot find an authoritative source for…

The american military produce manuals for M16s.  It’s important you know how to use and look after your weapon if you’re a soldier.

The manual was printed and distributed to every soldier in the army.  Technology moves on and as soon as the M16 manual was printed and distributed, the M16A came out.

Now there needs to be an M16A manual and they started all over again.

The military realised the issues cost and logistics and quickly figured there had to be a better way and as a result technology was leveraged and a standard emerged.



In 1999 Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) developed the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) while under the oversight of the American Department of Defence (DoD)

SCORM has become the most popular in no small part to the American Military, Federal Agencies,  K-12 education and by educational delivery systems around the world adopting the standard.

The standard separates the content from its delivery system as a result packaging the content is possible.

SCORM has adopted elements from the Institute or Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) , Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee (AICC) and Instructional Management System (IMS) specifications.



“The AICC exists to provide and promote information, guidelines, and standards that result in the cost-effective implementation of computer-based training (CBT) for the aviation industry. “

Anne Montgomery, AICC Technical Director 2010

The AICC standard was first developed in 1988.  Aviation heavyweights Boeing, Airbus and McDonnell-Douglas had to manage their costs.  Developing multimedia training and giving global customers access to the training was a serious challenge.

Servicing a plane needs you to know what is in the plane and how the bits work.  Not everyone speaks English and there are a lot of planes around the world. If they go wrong it results in a lot of trouble for everyone.

The AICC guidelines provide direction for development, delivery and evaluation of Computer Based Training and Web Based Training.  In 2007 AICC and ADL formally announced plans that they would be working together.



“In service to the community of organizations and individuals enhancing learning worldwide through the use of technology, IMS GLC is a global, nonprofit, member association that provides leadership in shaping and growing the learning and educational technology industries through collaborative support of standards, innovation, best practice and recognition of superior learning impact.”

 IMS Global Learning Consortium  first came into being in 1997, following on from the National Learning Infrastructure initiative of Educause of 1995.  Its more recent developments have seen the creation of the “Common Cartridge” standard for content.


Standards allow numerous Learning Management Systems deliver the same content thus removing dependence on a single LMS supplier.


If you’d like to chat about any of the terms or points raised in this article please get in contact here or through social media.


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