Ban the Buzzwords!

“Buzzword: a word or phrase, often sounding authoritative or technical, that has come into vogue in popular culture or a particular profession”.  Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd.

BuzzwordsEvery profession has them, buzzwords; those words used over and again until they sound trite and empty. They’re catchy at first, then annoying, and end up clouding the real issues. One journalist wrote that buzz words “get in the way of education”. He has a point.  Should buzzwords be banned from education dialogue?  The Wall Street Journal posed a similar question in its At Work section in late 2013, “What Buzzwords Would you Ban in 2014?” The follow-up article published January 1, 2014 featured words and phrases business leaders words would ban from corporate dialogue altogether, which led me to think about buzzwords in education, where there is never a shortage.

Beyond the Buzzwords
I attended a conference in Toronto last November, Rethinking Higher Ed Beyond: {the Buzzwords} put on by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. The concept is a good one, digging below the surface, discussing the issues associated with the buzz, dissecting and analyzing the terms and words applicability and relevance. Sessions in Beyond the Buzz focused on entrepreneurship in education, ed-tech in the classroom and MOOCs.  Sessions were set-up as panel discussions; panels made up of an eclectic mix of four or five individuals—faculty, business leaders, students, program chairs, and community members. A moderator for each session posed questions, and encouraged questions from audience participants. Dialogues were instructive and enlightening. Key takeaways from the conference:

  • buzzwords hold different meanings for individuals, which poses potential problems, specifically when decisions makers engage in discussion about programs or policies associated with their institutions
  • buzzwords often reflect what society values or emphasizes at a certain point in time, which means concepts may be trendy and short-lived. People are fickle, what’s ‘in’ today is ‘out’ tomorrow
  • buzzwords can mask real issues or problems; buzzwords become red herrings.

Education Buzzwords of 2013

  • Entrepreneurial or Innovation skills. Often used in the same context, ‘we need to teach students’ entrepreneurship and innovation skills‘. Both overused. Yet few people fit the profile of entrepreneurs; they have a distinct and unique set of characteristics. Granted there is value in teaching select skills inherent to entrepreneurs, but do these skills warrant the energy and time? Or would we be better off teaching other [needed] skills?
  • Flipped. Flipping the classroom is no easy task. Teaching and learning methods are  different in a flipped setting requiring a significant investment of time, skill and energy. Furthermore, flipping requires a different pedagogical approach altogether. Yet the term is used rather…flippantly.
  • 21st Century Skills. What are these skills exactly? I have a general idea, but my idea of 21st Century skills will differ from several readers, yet be similar to others. Confusion.
  • MOOCs, massive open online courses.  Do you MOOC? Have you taken a MOOC? Have you taught a MOOC? Do you know what an xMOOC is? How about a cMOOC? What about a SPOC, or a SMOC? Need I say more?

What buzzwords did I miss that should have made the list?  What words, (if any) would you ban from discussions within your institution if you could? Share them here in the comments, or Tweet them to @onlinelearningi.


2 thoughts on “Ban the Buzzwords!

  1. LOL! I always love your blog, Debbie! So many great resources and thoughtful posts! I would add one I’m hearing quite a bit….”High Impact Practices”. I get that we want to highlight approaches that produce results or achieve outcomes, but in the “high impact practices” sessions that I’ve attended, I’m not see much that is terribly innovative or new. Just prior practices re-labeled as high impact.


    1. Hi Marsha! So great to hear from you! Ohhh yes that’s a good one ‘High Impact Practices’, so vague, yet sounds good, with the ‘high impact’, as if we are going to implement ‘low impact’ practices! LOL. Happy New Year to you Marsha!


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