Ten Words We Must Keep Saying About the Science of Learning (While We Still Can)

Vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, science-based.

These seven words created quite a stir when it was reported that the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued an internal style guide advising employees to avoid these words if they wanted to get their programs funded by our current Congress. While official statements attempted to minimize the fallout, the recommendation to avoid them remains. I’m more than a little bit nervous that my tax dollars are deliberately avoiding programs that rely a bit too much on science for the comfort of my elected representatives. How did we get here? Just when did it become a detriment to say that your recommendation was based on evidence?

I must point out that there are probably people on both sides of our political divide who cringe when they hear testimony from scientists. After all, as Stephen Hawking points out, we haven’t done ourselves much good by making science and math frightening to many folks. In recent years, attempts to either dumb down or over-complicate explanations haven’t helped, nor have “pay to publish” outlets and the rush to publish before findings can be replicated in duplicate studies.

As learning professionals, we are science workers. We live and breathe science, technology, engineering and mathematics every day, although we often use different terms to describe what we do. Instructional design, learning management systems, authoring tools, training analytics and other tools of the trade are also given to us by science. We accept them because we know that there is evidence to back them up. But something strange happens when we get ready to make a presentation to a stakeholder group.

Typical Scenario

Let’s say you’re a training director getting ready to make your case for next year’s budget. You’ve done your homework, completed your analysis and aligned your plan with the goals of the business. As you start working on your presentation to senior leaders, you probably have conversations with colleagues that go something like this:

Consultants Have an Obligation

I believe we are doing our colleagues and clients a great disservice when we censor our updates by trying to tell them only what they want to hear. As consultants, we have an obligation to use our education and experience to uncover the evidence and put together a plan that is based on that evidence.

Tips That Will Help You Sleep at Night

Here are a few strategies to help you fulfill your audience expectations while meeting your obligation as a learning consultant.

Ten Words You Can Still Say

In support of the scientists at the CDC, the EPA and elsewhere, there are thankfully many terms it is still acceptable to say in the learning profession. So, let’s use them with pride:

Any similarity to the CDC is list intentional. After all, science is the same everywhere; it just pursues the answers to different questions through its expression in different disciplines. Let’s keep pursuing the questions about learning with integrity and see how far it will take us.