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August 2017
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TD Magazine
Word Wiz: Ignotum per Ignotius

Have you ever attended a training session where it felt like the instructor was trying to teach you how to use a new software system by explaining the finer points of rocket science? If so, you could have invoked the Latin phrase ignotum per ignotius, which translates to "the unknown explained by the unknown."

Alright, you might ask, what does that phrase really mean?

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In practical use, ignotum per ignotius means explaining one thing a person can't understand by telling him about something else he can't understand. And for obvious reasons, it's an expression that should make talent development professionals queasy: The goal of a training program is to make information simpler, not more complex. That doesn't always happen, though, especially when trainers use analogies.

So, the next time you plan on using an analogy in your training session, don't worry about whether it makes sense to you. Instead, think about your audience and ask if it will make sense to them—which images, concepts, and ideas do they know that you can use to drive home your lesson?

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About the Author
The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.
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