Definition Confusion


I am a firm believer that definitions to words matter. It matters that we are on the same page when we talk about important topics. It matters that I understand what you are saying to me and to do so I need to understand the vocabulary you are using. What I am realizing as I begin to look at the instructional design world is that the definitions of certain words change ever so slightly in different industries. I am going to give a couple of examples from the past couple of months.

Formative Assessment

In the K-12 teacher world, formative assessments are used to make sure the information you conveyed is being understood by the students in your classroom. The way I have always understood it as a teacher was making sure the students are understanding the lesson. In this case, we are looking at the students learning as the potential issue, so if the message is being lost we look to things like scaffolding activities to help their understanding. If enough students are not comprehending the material, the teacher would look at reteaching material, but the main issue (from my point of view) is the student’s ability to understand the content.

In the instructional design world, formative assessments are looking at the instructional process to understand why the training effective or not. This is a big difference. Instructional designers moving from education might be looking at the learners not the training process as the issue. While that might be true, we should also be looking at the process to see if that is where the problem lies.


I have heard this term during my research into instructional design and have heard multiple definitions for the term. What it amounts to is small bits of learning that people can self-select to participate in voluntarily. This also seems to be very fashionable currently in the instructional design world. The technology that seems to be driving this is Twitter. Learning through Twitter chats seems to be a big part of microlearning.

I have been aware and (lightly) participating in Twitter chats for almost a decade. I am not trying to brag, but speak to how long it has been around. I am not sure that microlearning is drastically different than participating in learning through Twitter. Understanding that can help understanding the point of microlearning.