OGC e-learning. That’s two-and-one-tenth-of-a word striking joy into my heart, right there. I’ll put my hands up to technical ineptitude on some levels, but I’m a hands-down advocate of anything that increases an ability to use GI effectively – as long as it is, effective that is. The OGC Web Map Service (WMS) Interface Standard modules are now up and running. Can’t wait. Sad, I know. I’ve signed up to GET EDUCATED, and I will be live blogging (not actually *live*) the first tranche of this e-learning as I do it. Heady times, I know – but there’s a point to this.

I’m often asked to look at training materials, to see if the language being used in them can affect students’ appetites for working right the way through a course, and of course, their results. So, with much love for @spatialred and respect for everyone on the OGC team who’s put this great course together — I’m going to fisk these modules or at least some parts of them. 

[Fisking – it’s a term coined in response to Robert Fisk’s own work; there’s a good run-down of how it’s evolved as a ‘thing’ here, in the Spectator. In extremis, the dictionaries take fisking in its truest form to mean ‘the act of making an argument appear to be wrong or stupid by showing the mistakes in each of its points’, or similar. In writing circles, it’s a little less scary. We use the word ‘fisking’ to mean ‘the act of revealing how an original text might be changed to affect a different outcome’ — not improved, changed. But improved, usually.]

Here we go, then:


(I didn’t know WMS was supposed to feel like this.)

No, seriously: my first impressions of the modules, from a language perspective at least, are mixed. I can see how, and why, the OGC takes the steer it does on the content from the outset — there’s an air of ‘you need to familiarise yourself with the texts’ about the text, as it were. However, the course’s introductory page makes an un-nerving impression.

It makes a ubiquitous, giant leap. It jumps from being useful to being ever-so-slightly exclusive – in the truest sense of the word. Let me explain with an example; this the fisking I spoke of, earlier:

Hm. Guess what. The language of students is more effective than the language of teachers. Sohow about, we try this instead:

Can you see the differences and why they’re important? A student is – by default – devoid of knowledge. Their starting point is a position of vulnerability, so, trust me, there’s a HUGE benefit to including articulated reassurance in the opening salvo of any learning materials. “We’re nice people. It’s going to be okay.” 


On a practical note, there’s no harm in emphasising the need to learn diligently. Every training course is a one-horse race. You can be first past the post – or you can drop out and never run the course. There’s no point skimming through an introductory module like this one. If students don’t learn the basics, then it’s harder to take in more complex concepts later on. Getting over hurdles ain’t easy, and here endeth the racing analogy. However.

For trainers (course hosts), that time spent on learning the basics has a direct correlation to drop-out rates. I’ve always wanted to A/B split an e-learning module, just like this one, to demonstrate HOW powerful that emphasis is. ‘Slow down, take your time with the vocabulary please…’ . Commissions welcome.

Moving on, it behoves us to promote best practice (and I’m glossing over the glaring is vs. are error in bullet point 3). If you’re introducing an acronym of this significance in a text, you’d better explain it upfront, dammit. That’s only fair to the student.

And, of course, there’s the three bullet point rule. Now then. This is something I HAVE proved, many, many times over in language training. Haven’t lost a bet yet. Human beings struggle to retain more than three unfamiliar concepts in their minds at once. So, the rule of thumb is this: let’s say it’s six points that you’d like to communicate. Use three bullet points; introduce a breather or a break in your narrative – and then introduce three more.


The OGC is a great organisation. It’s going to be a good course – I can feel it in my bones. But I might be compelled to rewrite some of it. Here and there. Kind of…   :o) 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *