Learning about Learning

I came across an article recently that outlined the number of words that different societies have for “snow.” I’m not a linguist or anything, but I guess it’s a pretty hotly debated topic. According to Richard Brooks, a blogger on The Language Blog, there are 40-50 different Inuit/Yupik words for snow. If that sounds like a lot, consider the Scots who have over 400 different words about snow. In his post, Brooks quotes Dr. Susan Rennie, a Scots language researcher, who explained the linguistic heritage of snow-related terms. In an interview with The Telegraph, Dr. Rennie explained,

“The words are all sorts of things to do with snow – the way that snow moves, the types of snow, types of snowflake, types of thaw, clothing you might wear in snow, the way that snow affects animals – we have even got a category for snow and the supernatural.”

While the diversity in snow-related terminology might seem surprising, I would argue that the field of education has a lot of different terms for learning. Maybe there aren’t 400, but there are a bunch. Consider the following:

service learning, cooperative learning, project-based learning, problem-based learning, situated learning, collaborative learning, distance learning, active learning, experiential learning, discovery-based learning, hands-on learning, blended learning, flex learning

You get the idea. There are a lot of different terms for learning. Like the Scots who have different words for snow, these descriptors help us better categorize the type of learning that is occurring. If you are involved in education in some way, you probably recognize most of those terms for learning. Maybe you couldn’t provide a textbook definition for any of them, but I’d argue that you could do a decent job of describing the root elements or features for most of them.

You may be wondering where I am heading with all of this. As someone who works in education as a teacher, researcher, and leader, I’m really familiar with all of those terms. It’s my work. So, it surprises me when I come across a term for learning that I haven’t heard before. But it happened yesterday.

agentic learning

My colleague and podcasting partner, Scott McDonald, dropped the term in an episode we were recording recently, and I had to pause to google the term. A quick search sent me to a bunch of different sites that describe the importance of giving students more agency over their learning. Agentic learning means allowing students to take more ownership over their learning, which can lead to greater motivation. At its core, agentic learning means putting the student in the driver’s seat by giving them more control over their learning. I’m still working through what that looks like from a teacher’s perspective, but I can definitely see intersections with other types of learning (like personalized learning and blended learning). More than anything, I’m writing this from the perspective that despite working in education for a while, I’m still learning. I’m still finding new terminology and working to grasp new ideas. And while that might not be as cool (pun intended) as having 400 different words for snow, it’s not a bad gig, either.


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