The Transformative Power Of Plain Language In Organisational Learning

Plain Language And Learning Design

In the fast-paced world of workplace learning, clear communication is key. Many professionals may not have the time to spend hours on training or personal development, and it’s essential that when they focus on their learning experiences, it is as straightforward and hassle-free as possible. So, we’re going to take a look at the impact of plain language on our learning experiences.

It’s Time To Put The Learner At The Forefront

Imagine this: you’re handed a dense, jargon-filled training manual, with lots of text and long-winded explanations with a lack of visual appeal. Your task is to grasp many complex concepts in a very two-dimensional way. The language feels overwhelming, maybe even intimidating, or perhaps draining to comprehend. You spend half your time Googling what words mean or feeling tired by having to concentrate so hard. It isn’t an easy process, and it doesn’t feel fulfilling or memorable.

Learning shouldn’t feel like hard work from the outset. It shouldn’t feel tricky or confusing to navigate. It should be positive and accessible for all, and if possible, fun and a great escape from the everyday grind!

Understanding Why Plain Language Is Essential

Plain language is simple, clear, and straightforward communication. It’s about using words, phrases, and sentences that anyone can understand, without unnecessary complexity or jargon. It’s also about ensuring the reader feels at ease when accessing the information and that the message is getting across in the most straightforward way.

An Example

Complex and jargon-filled language:

The pedagogical framework employed in this educational institution, characterised by a constructivist approach to learning, facilitates student-centered knowledge acquisition via the scaffolding of cognitive processes, promoting metacognition, and fostering the development of critical thinking skills.

Simple, plain, and clear language:

At this school, we use a teaching approach that helps students learn by doing things themselves. We guide them as they build their understanding. This approach encourages students to explore and reflect on their own thinking and become better at solving problems.

The second example is clearer (and better) because it simplifies complex language and replaces jargon with straightforward, everyday words, making the content more accessible and easily understood by a broader audience. It eliminates unnecessary complexity, allowing the message to be conveyed more effectively.

Why Is This Important?

Plain language has been around for centuries, from the works of Shakespeare to modern-day legal documents. In the corporate world, it’s increasingly recognised as a vital tool for efficient learning.

  • Complexity creates confusion: Plain language promotes clarity, making learning materials more accessible to a wider audience. And ultimately this means learning can be more efficient and more enjoyable.
  • Simplicity is best: In the past, we often drowned in convoluted language, and this has felt tiring and time-consuming. Today, plain language is our lifebuoy in the sea of information overload.
  • A global approach: In an increasingly international environment, we need to ensure we are welcoming to everyone throughout our learning experiences and we avoid any unwanted confusion or ambiguity.
  • Prioritising accessibility: There are many techniques we can (and should) adopt in eLearning to ensure that everyone feels included and that all types of learners can access information. Plain language is at the forefront of this approach.

So, What Are The Benefits Of Plain Language?

  • Clarity and comprehension: When jargon and complexity are replaced with plain language, learners can grasp concepts faster and with greater accuracy. Think of it as turning on a light in a dark room—everything becomes clearer.
  • Retention and engagement: Plain language doesn’t just help learners understand; it helps them remember. It boosts retention rates. Engagement flourishes when learners are confident in their understanding.
  • Data speaks: Studies show that the great majority of people (80%) prefer sentences written in plain language (ONS). And organisations embracing plain language report higher levels of productivity among employees. [1] The numbers don’t lie: plain language yields tangible benefits.

Our 6 Top Tips For Implementing Plain Language

Whilst we’re talking a lot about how simplicity is best, we acknowledge that it’s not always easy to make language within the learning environment simple. Here are a few tips to help you and your L&D team adopt a plain language approach:

  1. Start with a language audit of your learning materials. Identify jargon and complex terms.
  2. Create a style guide that encourages plain language use. Share it with your team and vendors.
  3. Ensure everyone is on board. From Instructional Designers to educators, everyone plays a role in promoting plain language.
  4. Regular training and awareness are key; make it a part of your organisational culture and revisit it often.
  5. Resistance to change is common. Combat it with training and examples of success with a focus on the benefits.
  6. Stay patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a plain language culture.

A Real-Life Example

A couple of years ago, we had the opportunity to re-evaluate and revise a suite of onboarding modules for a fun and energetic brand. The original modules had dense and text-heavy content, which not only hindered learners’ comprehension but also dampened their engagement.

Recognising the need for change, we embarked on a mission to harness the true power of plain language.

The result was a rebranded and updated version of the modules, meticulously crafted to be more concise, clear, and comprehensible. This transformed learning experience was subsequently rolled out to learners who eagerly embraced the revitalised materials.

The organisation reported increased engagement from learners and a deeper understanding of the onboarding content.

This case is just one example of the countless possibilities that plain language can deliver in your learning experiences. By reducing and simplifying the text within the modules, the client not only improved the overall clarity of the content but also enhanced the efficiency of their onboarding process. This successful transformation exemplifies how adopting plain language principles can lead to a more effective and enjoyable learning experience, ultimately benefiting both the organisation and its workforce.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, plain language (or plain English) isn’t just a buzzword. It’s a powerful approach to success in organisational learning. By embracing clarity and simplicity, you can transform your learning materials and elevate the educational experience for everyone involved.


[1] Plain Language: Its Effect on Organizational Performance

Additional Resources

There are many resources available to support you and your organisation in improving your approach to plain language. We encourage you to be active with your learning and research and regularly search academic databases such as JSTOR, ERIC, or Google Scholar using keywords like “plain language in online education,” “clear communication in e-learning,” or “plain language for instructional design.”

In addition to this, websites dedicated to educational technology and eLearning often publish articles and guides on effective communication in online courses, e.g., EdTech Magazine and eLearning Industry.

Here are some examples of helpful resources to begin your plain language journey:

  • Center for Plain Language – Check the resources and publications section on their website. They often provide guidelines and best practices for using plain language in various contexts, including education.
  • National Center on Disability and Journalism – While their primary focus is on journalism, they often touch on broader communication issues, including plain language. Look for articles and guides related to accessibility in online content.
  • U.S. Department of Health & Human Services – Plain Language – The Plain Language website by the U.S. government provides a wealth of information on using plain language in communication, including educational materials.
  • The Plain English campaign – This campaign started in the 70s in the UK to pioneer plain English and campaign against “gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information.”
  • A Guide to Using Plain Language in Writing by Grammarly – Grammarly is a writing tool that supports you to write in the most grammatically correct way. It also has lots of resources and guides to help you be the best writer you can be.


Kineo helps the world’s leading businesses improve performance through learning and technology. We combine quality in learning with award-winning customer service and innovation. We’re here to take on your learning and performance challenges – and deliver results.

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