While the world fusses over video and other rich media, debating durations and platforms and other factors, one medium sits on the throne, quiet and confident:

Words, the verbal foundation of all that we do.

In format terms, I refer to text.

Text will always be the lowest cost, highest reach, fastest-to-market medium, with the simplest means of production.

There are benefits to moving up the production ladder, to be sure, but we should question every rung – the cost/benefit of climbing. Or not climbing.

Like the glossiest Hollywood blockbuster, text has the power to gain and sustain attention, all by itself. It casts the same spell, immersing an audience in a multisensory experience, causing the reader to wrestle with conflict and, especially, to identify.

Identification is key. (Not entertainment, and not any of the other reasons people think they want to watch that film or read that book.) No, we crave identification. We must relate to what is set before us. We must sympathize with, even become, in some mysterious way, the subject set before us.

But to achieve identification in our audience, we first must learn to communicate.

Communication is the transfer of emotion.

In my world of learning and development, we generally don’t know how to do it. In L&D, it can be all cart before horse. Our attention and priority are upon a specific and mechanical form of writing. Then, upon tools and technology. The emphasis is upon many concerns, but not where it ought to be, which is upon inducing that state of identification so well known to the dramatist and marketer. The affective power of words is underappreciated and seldom harnessed.

From an educational perspective (the education of the practitioner), there is a gaping hole in the instructional designer’s skillset. We are not formally taught how to write. Not in that affective way, the way that copywriters and screenwriters home in on the emotional epicenter of their subject.

And that’s a shame, because we are too distracted, by and large, to easily aquire these skills, which should have been taught as rudiments and fundamentals. We were diverted from the start with standard ISD craft. Then dazzled with tools and tech. And now strung along by the dangled carrot of trends, trends, trends.

This is time, energy and attention we might invest in learning how to communicate via words, to transfer information AND emotion, to cause a learner to identify deeply with the role in which they wish to project themselves.

For all its purported advances, I see an entire industry moving backwards, ever backwards, all for a lack of understanding of how communication works.

My advice to my colleagues in Learning and Development is to learn your ISD craft as one, but only one, foundational concern. Learn your learning theories. But especially learn how to write. I’m not talking grammar, essential as it is. Study the dramatists and the copywriters and the marketers. Learn how to induce that state known as identification, for it is one of the master keys to learning.


Anthony Rotolo is a content creator who works in the realms of publishing, podcasting and pedagogy.