Jargon buster

Posted: January 18, 2019 in Discourse, ed tech

With the 2019 educational conference show season about to start, here’s a handy guide to gaining a REAL understanding of the words you’re likely to come across. Please feel free to add in the comments anything I’ve omitted.

iatefl conference


Keeping the money-people happy.

AI (artificial intelligence)

Ooh! Aah! Yes, please.

analytics (as in learning analytics)

The analysis of student data to reveal crucial insights such as the fact that students who work more, make more progress. Cf. data

AR (augmented reality)

Out-of-date interactive technology with no convincing classroom value. cf. interactive


A word for standard that makes you sound like you know what you’re talking about.

blended (as in blended learning)

Homework. Or, if you want to sound more knowledgeable, the way e-learning is being combined with traditional classroom methods and independent study to create a new, hybrid teaching methodology that is shown by research to facilitate better learning outcomes.


A non-unionized, cheap teacher for the masses.


A word used by people who haven’t read enough neuro-science.


Getting other people to help you, and getting praised for doing so.

CPD (continuous professional development)

Unpaid training.


A good excuse to get out your guitar, recite a few poems and show how sensitive you are. Cf. 21st century skills

curated (as in curated learning content)

Stuff nicked from other websites. A way of getting more personalization for less investment.


The correct way to refer to students. Cf. markets


Information about students that can be sold to advertising companies.

design (as in learning design)

Used to mean curriculum by people selling edtech products who aren’t sure what curriculum means.

discovery learning

A myth with a long-gone expiry date.

disruptive (as in disruptive innovation in education)

A word used in utter seriousness by people who dream of getting rich from the privatisation of education.


Handy for speaking and writing exercises, according to elearningindustry.com. They open up a new set of opportunities to make classes more relevant and engaging for students. They can in fact enrich students’ imagination and get them more involved into the learning process.

ecosystem (as in learning ecosystem)

All the different ways that data about learners can be captured, sold or hacked.


The go-to site for ‘news’ about edtech. The company’s goal is ‘to promote the smart adoption of education technology through impartial reporting’ … much of which is paid for by investors in edtech start-ups.


PowerPoint, for example.


A fancy word for efficiency that nobody bothers with much any more.


Not connected to power in any way at all.


Sticking with something.

flipped (as in flipped classrooms)

Watching educational videos at home.

formative assessment

A critically important tool in the iterative process of maximizing the learning environment and customizing instruction to meet students’ needs. Also known as testing.


Persuading people to push buttons.

global citizens

Nice people.


Used to describe a learning activity that is less boring than other learning activities.

inclusive (as in inclusive practices)

Not to be confused with virtue-signalling.


A meaningless word that sounds good to some people. Interchangeable with cutting-edge and state-of-the-art


With buttons that can be pushed.

interactive whiteboard

A term you won’t hear this year, except when accompanied with a scoff, because everyone has forgotten it and wants to move on. Cf. 60% of the other terms in this glossary by 2025

(the) knowledge economy

Platform capitalism.


A smokescreen for poor pay and conditions. Cf. 21st century skills

literacy (as in critical literacy, digital literacy, emotional literacy, media literacy, visual literacy)

A jargon word used to mean that someone can do something.

MALL (Mobile assisted language learning)

Chatting or playing games with your phone in class.


Another contemporary way of referring to students. Cf. customer


Translating, interpreting and things like that.


An ever-growing industry.


U.S. education technology companies raised $1.45 billion from venture capitalists and private-equity investors in 2018 (according to EdSurge).

outcomes (as in learning outcomes)

‘Learning’, or whatever, that can be measured.


A meaningless word useful for selling edtech stuff. Interchangeable with differentiated and individualized.


A euphemism for sellers. Cf. solutions


An obsolete word for providers of educational learning solutions. Cf. solutions


A bit of management jargon from the last century. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t know exactly what it means – you can define it yourself.


A slippery word that is meant to elicit a positive response.


Also known as grit, the ability to suspend your better judgment and plough on.


Something to do with Vygotsky, but it probably doesn’t matter what exactly. It’s a ‘good thing’.

SEL (Social-Emotional Learning)

A VA (value-added) experience needed by students who spend too long in CAL in a VLE with poor UX.

skills (as in 21st century skills)

The abilities that young people will need for an imagined future workplace. These are to be paid for by the state, rather than the companies that might employ a small number of them on zero-hour contracts.

soft skills

Everything you need to be a compliant employee.

solutions (as in learning solutions)

A euphemism for stuff that someone is trying to sell to schools.


A teacher in need of a reality check.

thought leaders (as in educational thought leaders)

Effective self-promoters, usually with no background in education.


Nothing to do with Transformative Learning Theory (Mezirow) … just another buzz word.


Technology that makes you dizzy.

  1. Arthur Rubin says:

    If, as I suspect, this list of definitions was created as a tongue-in-cheek exercise, then it is REALLY well done. Some definitions even fit reality. Good job!

    • nmwhiteport says:


      Something to do with Vygotsky, but it probably doesn’t matter what exactly. It’s a ‘good thing’.

      Puh ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha literaly can’t breather over here ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

  2. jmackay says:

    Innovative (also) – doing the same as everyone else but with ankle-length trousers and a hipster beard.
    Coach – someone who doesn’t teach, but tells the student what to learn.
    Consultant – as in ELT consultant: rebranding for underpaid teachers who work in-company. Also trainer, facilitator, provider.

    • Akiba says:

      Kudos for the entry on ‘coach’! (^^)b
      progress manager – a sales assistant who will first ask how you like the ‘solution’ you’ve subscribed to and then prompt you to make a further payment irrespective of your answer to the first question

  3. Intercultural awareness activities – publishers virtue-signalling

  4. Tom Wogan says:

    ELT Expert: anyone with a blog.

  5. Tom Wogan says:

    TBLT: a methodological approach based on SLA research evidence championed by ex-teachers.

  6. […] Jargon Buster from Adaptive Learning in ELT […]

  7. Chris B says:

    (2) The pursuit of professionalising in a s̶e̶c̶t̶o̶r̶ industry that will never reward you with a decent contract, nor the pay that your skills deserve.

  8. Akiba says:

    PLP (personalized learning plan) – a colourful graph that illustrates the link between your assumed future ‘learning outcomes’ and the amount of cash you’ll pour into the ‘solution’ – OR – a table documenting unkeepable promises linked to non-existent learning conditions to be used later in order to explain that the absence of ‘learning outcomes’ is all your fault.

  9. N says:

    What a post! *star-struck* Quite uncompromising but also a very reasonable reaction to this mad world where the tail wags the dog, and the invention is the mother of necessity.

    To chip in on the list:

    LEARNING EXPERIENCE – a wow effect that has just as much to do with learning as ’empowerment’ does with power [see above].

  10. These definitions reminded me of Ambrose Bierce’s THE DEVIL’S DICTIONARY. A lot of buzzwords created lacking knowledge about what they deal and mean have been created and go around repeated in a stupid way by everyone who wants to be ‘updated”.

    A nice effort here to “desecrate” them. Congratulations.

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