For the online learning world




Labels are really just words? They are harmless. But are they? What about the words ‘Geek’, ‘Nerd’, ‘Techy’ and ‘Whizzkid’? Are they labelling a given individual in a negative way? Is this a good thing and are they a slippery slope towards something worse like ‘bullying’ or ‘sidelining from society’?

I have never liked those terms. To me they are derogatory and a means of one human hiding the fact that they don’t really understand but acknowledge the skill and yet want to make themselves appear better and more important in society than the human they’re applied to.


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When you label something or someone then you’re immediately sub-setting them from the general set of the element to which they belong. This can have both a positive and negative impact from the elements that remain in the general set or the sum of the other sub-sets.

Beyond labelling

Once we have attributed a label to an individual or a group of individuals with the same trait, what happens then?

Positive labelling can lead to admiration, respect and signalling out one or more individuals that hold values that should be aspired to.

Negative labelling can lead to bullying, exclusion from society and the worst forms of human behaviour and actions.

After labelling

As labels are just words that convey meaning, then it is the impact of those words and any actions performed as a result of them that we need to be aware of. By attributing a negative label to someone we are in effect segregating them to the side of society and placing a glass ceiling above them, making it more difficult for them to progress and reach their full potential.

Another consequence is the potential for bullying to start or escalate. And that is where long term issues can happen.

Off and on-line bullying

When bulling happens offline then there should be local support to help to prevent and deal with the issues. However, how do we cope in the online environment? How as people do we detect, prevent and assist someone from being bullied? I suppose the answer this depends on if we are empowered within an electronic system to detect bullying without invading somebodies privacy. So I believe, because of this we have lots of ‘report this’ type functionality in social interaction systems. The Moodle.org forums have the ‘Report to moderator’ option for bringing to the attention of Moodle HQ anything that violates the site policy: moodle.org/mod/page/view.php?id=7080.

But what about our own Moodle installations? Should we disable messaging for example? Should we have a similar ‘Report to organisation’ piece of functionality? After all, bullying can happen at any age.

Reduced negative labelling

As negative labels are the start, then what can we do to reduce or even stop using them? Thus de-escalating the problem. I would like to see less use of labels like ‘Geek’ being attributed to people (like myself) with technical skills, and indeed individuals feeling the need to use them to describe themselves.

From now to the future

If we all make an effort to not use these labels but instead treat each other fairly and respect that individuals have skills that form a part of the societal solutions for us all, then perhaps we can make things better and not ostracise, diminish or grade somebodies value.

Gareth Barnard
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Gareth Barnard

Gareth is a developer of numerous Moodle Themes including Essential (the most popular Moodle Theme ever), Foundation, and other plugins such as course formats, including Collapsed Topics.

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