Jay Cross helps people work and live smarter. Jay is the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning. He wrote the book on it. He was the first person to use the term eLearning on the web. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix.

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The glossary helps to clear up mis-interpretations of key phrases or words I use throughout here.

Adjacent Possible. Things that are ready to be combined into a new innovation. Coined by Stanley Kaufmann at the Santa Fe Institute. See Stephen Johnson’s popularization.

Bandwidth. Rate at which information can be squeezed through a data pipe. Also used anthropomorphically, e.g. “He has low bandwidth” is equivalent to “He is a taco short of a combo plate” or “Her elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top.”

Beta. Not ready for final release. Life is perpetual beta.

Bipolar thinking. Classifying things as black or white when they’re really shades of gray.

Blended. Applying more than one learning modality, often adding face-to-face instruction to online training. The apologist term became popular after the failure of computer-only eLearning.

Blink. Rapid cognition, AKA gut feel. Making snap judgments, often valid, on the basis of a few data points. Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in a book of the same name.

Blip. Amount of time a radar ping stays on screen.

Blog. Great way to narrate your work to enable others to learn from your example.

Boiling the ocean. Trying to cure all problems at once, often with a single tool. Don’t even try.

Brain Rules. Don’t design learning experiences that defy human nature. John Medina’s book lists ten of basic truths about how people learn.

Career Limiting Move. Refers to any incident that puts a roadblock in your career path. “Jack spilled coffee on the boss. It was a major CLM.”

CASE. Copy and Steal Everything.

CAVE People. Colleagues Against Virtually Everything.

Certification. Pass the test, get a certificate. Certifications simplify hiring decisions; on the downside, they encourage “studying to the test.” Many trade organizations issue meaningless certificates to people who attend conferences, the non-profit equivalent of diploma mills.

Clip. A short video, i.e. less than 3 minutes.

Cloud. See here. I’ve looked at cloud from both sides now.

Complexity. It’s a nonlinear, interconnected, unpredictable world, and you will never figure it out. Use the Cognitive Edge’s great glossary on complexity science.

Corporate dyslexia. The inability to read the writing on the wall.

Course. Rigid unit of learning, generally expressed in hours or days and ‘led’ by an instructor. Opposite: ‘Just enough.’ Vendors use it as a unit of measure for pricing their offerings.

Doggie treats. Incentives, targets, measurements, and other directional signals. These drive organizational behavior. Coined by Art Kleiner in Who Really Matters.

Dynamic information. Information that’s assembled on the fly in real time.

eLearning. Meaningless term. Originally, the convergence of learning and the Internet. Learning on Internet time. See the eLearning FAQ.

Emotion refers to a relatively specific pattern of short-lived physiological responses. Emotions arouse, communicate, direct, and sustain behavior.

Entropy. Disorder. Closed systems decay over time. Margaret Wheatley has proposed that this is why scientific managers are so hung up on control.

Eudaimonia. Living well, psychological well being.

Explanatory style: how we explain the nature of past events. People with an optimistic explanatory style interpret adversity as being local and temporary while those with a pessimistic explanatory style see those events as more global and permanent.

Explicit knowledge. Knowledge that’s easy to communicate. (Opposite of “tacit knowledge.”)

Feeling refers to the subjective experience of emotions; feeling can be complex experiences, involve several different emotions at once.

Fermata. From music. Stop as long as you like. Good advice for presenters.

Flow. Why you cannot step in the same river twice. Nothing is permanent; everything flows. Also, the euphoria that accompanies flowing in sync with your reality.

Free-range learner. Someone who learns as he or she chooses. Often discovery learning.

Frog boiling. Apocryphal science experiment. Drop a frog in a pot of boiling water; he jumps right out. Put a frog in a pan of cool water and slowly heat it on the stove; the frog never senses a big change in temperature and stays in the water until poached.

Gifted. All children are gifted but they open their presents at different times.

Grades. Random numbers used by academics to exert social control over students.

Happy. Well-being, flourishing, thriving, content, joyous, etc. See the list. Happiness = Hedonic pleasure, an emotion.

Hedonic adaptation. Habituation. After a while, anything seems ordinary. Also known as the Hedonic treadmill.

Hospicing. From Nancy White, “We are hospicing things we no longer need/should do. Sometimes that means turning them over to others to care for until they die. Heh!”

Informal/formal learning. Formal learning is based on a curriculum by developed by someone other than the learner. Informal learning is self-directed and unofficial – over the water cooler, at the poker game, asking the guy in the next cube, collaborative problem solving, or mimicking an expert. All learning is part formal and part informal.

internet. Geeks have spelled internet with a lower case “i” for a number of years now. Abbreviated “the net.”

internet cloud. The network is the computer, and when all computers are connected, there will be only one of them. That’s the cloud.

internet time. The accelerated timeframe of the new economy brought on by eBusiness and the Internet. In 1995, a year of Internet time was said to equal seven years of calendar time. Time has sped up since then.

Instructional design. A systems approach to designing a learning experience. Traditional instructional design is under attack for fostering slow development, waterfall design, a printed-paper mindset, and insufficient attention to informal learning.

Intangibles. What you see is less that what you don’t. See bottom of this page for more.

Jimmy Swaggart Syndrome.

Legendary rocker Jerry Lee Lewis’s first cousin Jimmy Swaggart was pulling in more than $100 million a year as a televangelist before being exposed in an incident involving a cheap prostitute, a sock, and a seedy motel room. It was neither the first time nor the last. What’s with that? And with all the other sick preachers? In Jimmy’s eyes, every member of his flock was vulnerable to the same uncontrollable urges as he. Jimmy felt compelled to scare his congregation out of sinning. When he beseeched millions of viewers to adopt Christ as their savior, the sermon was first and foremost for him. Giving other people advice that’s meant for us is commonplace. That explains why most psychiatrists are nuts and why most great learning designers have learning disorders. My father-in-law was one of the original Volkswagen mechanics yet his own car was always breaking down; he saw his role as fixing other people’s cars, not his own. The cobbler’s children never have shoes because he thinks his customers are more needy. It’s always something.

Job. Increasingly obsolete way of packaging work.

Job aid. Cheat sheet. Checklist. Process map. Training embeds knowledge in workers’ heads; job aids build the knowledge into the job. It’s a vital trade-off for assessing how to improvement performance.

Knowledge Management. Whatever you want it to mean.

The Law of Diminishing Astonishment. Over-stimulation dulls the senses and increases expectation.

Learning Management System. Glorified database.

Learn. Gain the capacity to do something.

Learning. Work.

Lecture. Ineffective, one-way delivery of content. Listeners zone out in ten minutes or less.

Logic. Context-free blather used to justify emotional decisions.

LOMBARD. Lots of money but a real dickhead. (From the Economist!)

Long Tail.

Losada line: 2.9013 = the ratio of positive to negative interactions necessary to make a corporate team successful. This means it takes about three positive comments to find off one negative one.

Metadata. Information about information. Often, “metatags” that describe what’s inside a chunk of learning. Generally machine-readable. Analogous to a barcode on an incoming shipment.

Meta-Learning. The process of learning. Learning to learn is a major component.

Mindful. Opposite of mindless. Take a deep breath. Pay attention.

Mood refers to a relatively long-lasting state of feeling. A mood sets the emotional backdrop for one’s experience of the world.

Narrate your work. Share what you do. Others will learn and they will know when to help you.

Next Practices. Guidelines for building a sustainable future. Best Practices look backward, providing advice on what worked in the past; Next Practices focus on what to do in the time ahead.

Nurnburg funnel. Metaphor that training is akin to pouring knowledge into a person’s head.

Opportunity Cost. The cost of not doing something, e.g. the sales the rep didn’t make because she was away at a seminar. Often the largest cost associated with training programs.

Overclocking. Running something faster than it was designed to go.

Paradigm drag. When old thinking holds back new. From David Gelernter’s Machine Beauty: Elegance and the Heart of Technology.

Performance. The goal of learning. AKA productivity, results. It’s relative to context. Decide what constitutes performance, then design the learning to support it.

Presence awareness. If the urinal in the airport bathroom knows when I’m there and when I’m not, should we expect anything less from our computer networks?

Pronoia. The belief that the world is conspiring to make you happy and successful.

Pull. Choose what you want. Self-directed. Pull learning = informal.

Push. Take what you’re given. Directed by others. Push learning = formal.

Shelf-life. Knowledge is perishable. Some suggest it be labeled with pull-dates, like cartons of milk.

Selective attention. Also, inattention blindness. You see what you are looking for.

Signature Strengths. Character strengths: talents you enjoy using, things you’re good and feel good using. Generally, the skills you’re using when you enter Flow. Find them and assess yours at Authentic Happiness (see VIA Signature Strengths.)

Social Learning. What eLearning was supposed to be.

Subjective well-being: Ed Diener’s term for judging life positively and feeling good. A person has high SWB if she or he experiences life satisfaction and frequent joy. Diener chose it because studying happiness sounded frivolous.

Synchronous. [pretentious] Live event.

Talent management. Ideally, the entire process of developing people from initial recruiting to learning and development to keeping the alumni informed. In practice, synonym for recruiting.

Tacit/explicit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is knowing how; it’s impossible to transfer to it you in words. Explicit knowledge is the opposite – you’re reading it right now.

Technophilia. The belief that technology will solve all ills. Especially prevalent during the dot-com delusion, fostered by Wired magazine.

Timing. The first 90% of a development project takes 90% of the time. The remaining 10% takes the other 90% of the time.

Trust. The foundation of human connections.

Tweet. 140-character fragment of a global conversation. #1 learning tool on Jane Hart’s list.

VUCA. Volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. Bulky synonym for complex.

Unlearning. Make way for the new by throwing out the old.

WikiLeaks. Warning shot to all secretive organizations. There are no secrets. Might as well go transparent.

Work. Learning.

Working Smarter. Executives rail against informal learning; I’ve yet to find one who is not interested in having people work smarter. Synonym: common sense.

Workscape. Performance ecosystem. Metaphorical environment where work and learning converge. Covers the entire ecology: could include the water cooler, the break room, the Friday beer bust, the conversation nook at the office, wi-fi in the cafeteria, the enterprise

YMMV. “Your mileage may vary.” Recognition that your results may not be the same as mine. (Other things are never equal.)



Google stock is selling for $450/share which makes its market capitalization $137 billion. That’s Google’s value to investors because it’s what they are willing to pay.

Googles’s book value (assets less liabilities) is $23 billion.

Where’s the $114 difference between market value and book value come from? It’s the premium investors are willing to pay because they expect Google to be worth that much and more in the future. It is 100% intangible.

A quarter century ago, intangibles accounted for less than a third of the value of the S+P 500 companies. Ten years ago, intangibles made up more than 80% of the value of the S+P.

Managers who refuse to manage intangibles because they are sometimes tricky to measure are keeping their eyes on the wrong thing. Are they trying to add value or add numbers?

Grades. Random numbers used by academics
to exert social control over students.

Jay Cross

words matter

tag index

The Internet Time Alliance site also contains a tag index which covers many of the glossary words - the is site will also get a tag index shortly.

Take a moment to look at the Tag-List on the Internet Time Alliance site by clicking here!