Adjective Bingo is Eating Education

About a year ago, I heard Will Richardson talk about how education was continuing to throw more and more adjectives in front of learning (adaptive, blended, connected, etc.) in an effort to describe the modernization of the formal education process happening in schools today. Since then, the momentum hasn't stopped, and there are now more adjectives than ever to describe what is happening in our classrooms and beyond.


Most of these adjectives are just lipstick on a pig, but they could be meaningful in creating new mental models for educators and communities. Mental models that in turn could be a springboard to excellent practices. Unfortunately, we rarely rest with a certain adjective+learning long enough for it to reshape the dialogue in education. Instead these phrases start to mean everything and thus they mean nothing. Terms like blended learning have become like the term Kleenex and Xerox in many places, and this weakens its impact on the development of solid systems, processes, and routines that can be replicated and scaled across the educational community. 


Other phrases like adaptive learning are getting lost in legacy terms like adaptive schools. If adaptive learning wants to truly make an impact on the educational landscape, it needs to free itself from the legacy terms and understanding of these terms that have already seeped into educational lexicon over time. If adaptive learning is about tools that help student grow at their own pace, then it should focus there instead of being about change leadership and cultural shifts in schools. 


Connected learning is suffering from it being defined as bringing more technology to schools. Though technology plays a role in connected learning, connected learning is truly about connecting kids to people, ideas, and resources, all of which require a deeper learning (another adjective for the pile).


All of these adjectives are creating deep confusion beyond the walls of the schools and districts. They are another layer of jargon that education has created that impacts trust, understanding, and partnerships between districts and communities. Adjectives blur the story in a time when telling a clear, concise story about our work with kids is more essential than ever. Don't think that adjective soup isn't one of the reasons that we can't elevate the national debate on the modernization of our classrooms.


Can't we move to a time when cyberbullying and bullying are both seen as BULLYING? Can't we move to a time when digital citizenship and citizenship are both seen as CITIZENSHIP? And most importantly can't we move to a time when blended learning, adaptive learning, connected learning, and deeper learning are all seen as LEARNING?


Lose the adjectives. Grow the conversation.