Language of the Field: Word Tiers and Learning Objectives
By Willette Brye Lamar
August 20, 2019

Every industry has their own jargon. Good instructional design will incorporate this unique vocabulary throughout the curriculum as appropriate. This language of the field for a content area provides learners with the declarative knowledge required for an informed and intelligent conversation. 

Instructors want their students to know the language of the field, so curriculum developers—whether it is the faculty or a curriculum team—must consider when and how to include this language or vocabulary. We recommend starting with the Learning Objectives 

In her article, Instructional Design for Vocabulary in Higher Ed, Dr. Maria Andersen (a.k.a. Busynessgirl and Coursetune Inc. CEO) proposes focusing on how the learning objectives are written for each level to create consistency and reinforce use and understanding of the industry terms.

Andersen cites Beck, McKeown, and Kucan’s (2013) three tiers of words,

    • Tier One: words commonly found in oral language
    • Tier Two: words frequently used by literate language users
    • Tier Three: domain-specific words

Over time, some of the vocabulary associated with a content area becomes part of common everyday use, think “norm” from sociology or “psychotherapy” from psychology. Other vocabulary used in a content area may be known mostly by people who have read in that area. Lastly, there is vocabulary that is domain-specific and therefore doesn’t have much visibility or experience much use with those outside that area.

Andersen gives helpful guidelines for developing vocabulary learning objectives within each tier,

    • Learning objectives for Tier One words should focus on differentiating Tier One words from other commonly used words and relating these words to newly acquired higher-tiered vocabulary. 
    • Learning objectives for Tier Two words should focus on context-specific comprehension, characteristics, and definition/function. 
    • Finally, learning objectives for Tier Three words should focus on recognition in context and the relationship between the Tier Three word and lower-tiered vocabulary.


Curious for more? Read Andersen’s full article here.

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