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20 Education Buzz Words and Phrases

The words and phrases we in the education biz love to hate

words-education For those critics who say education moves at a snail’s pace, they’re wrong…at least when it comes to terminology. From buzz words to phrases speakers love to use, it seems there’s a whole new vocabulary—that some call “edubabble”—developed every couple of years.

As education editors, managing editor Laura Devaney and I come across these buzz words frequently, especially over our eight-plus years reporting on education. Now, we’d like to share these words with you, our education-savvy readers!

Each buzz word or phrase is one we’ve either groaned over after attending a large-scale conference (where every story is littered with “edubabble”), or is one we think was pretty neat…at least while it lasted.

Can you think of any buzz words or phrases that didn’t make the list? Do you have a favorite one you love to hate? Or perhaps one you hate but can’t stop yourself from using? And be sure to check out the whole list: we’ve included a bonus word at the end that you don’t want to miss!

(Next page: Words 1-10)

[Listed in a very rough chronological order from older words and phrases to newer ones]

1. 21st-century

We get it: It’s about change. But we still have 87 years to go before the next century. We don’t think anyone is going to forget what century we’re currently in.

2. “Sputnik moment”

Almost a decade ago, the talk of education town was the Program for International Student Assessment’s (PISA) report on how the U.S. was underperforming compared to other developed countries. “This is our very own ‘Sputnik Moment’” said everyone after hearing about PISA’s revelations. We don’t know about you, but between the nation’s emphasis on STEM and LEGO’s amazing robotics kits for classrooms, we’re Sputnik’ing the heck out of education…and we love it!

3. Web 2.0

Used to describe web sites that use technology beyond the static pages of earlier websites, years ago Web 2.0 was used to describe resources and tools schools could use on computers. Just like “tubular,” Web 2.0 is now a term of the past.

4. College- and career-ready

According to education experts, there is a large disconnect between what students learn in school and what they’re required to do in the workplace—highlights include critical thinking skills and communication skills. Now, you can’t even mention the word ‘education’ without ‘college- and career-ready’ popping up in the next two minutes of conversation.

5. Right-brain thinking

A few years back, Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, was making the education conference rounds and educators couldn’t stop discussing “right-brain” thinking, which included critical thinking and ‘outside-the-box’ imagination. As editors, we tended to agree!

6. Future-proofing

Just like words, such as “synergy” or “benchmarking,” this buzz term was conceptually pleasing, but annoyed everyone who had to hear it. Future-proofing was especially used in conjunction with 3-D projectors and any other education investment that had a large up-front cost, but promised an equally large, if not larger, return on investment (ROI).

7. Neuroscience

While not a buzz word specific to education, the inclusion of neuroscience into classroom practice was a huge trend just a couple of years ago. While many forward-thinking educators still consider neuroscience, the “new car smell” has dissipated.

8. Digital Natives

If one more person tells us how amazing it is that their two year old can build his/her own iPad we may just isolate ourselves and become island natives. Most students are fearless when it comes to technology, and that’s great. But let’s move on, shall we?

9. Real-world/project-based/inquiry-based

As part of closing the gap between school knowledge and workplace knowledge, experts recommend incorporating curriculum that asks students to work on a project that simulates a real-world problem. For example, “Meris needs to purchase and consume her Philly cheesesteak before she has a 1:00 interview, which will occur in less than five minutes. What kind of technology-based device can we build to ensure that Meris eats her sandwich in time?”

10. Disruptive technology

Based on the groundbreaking theory by Clayton Christensen, called Disruptive Innovation, disruptive technology, in relation to education, means any technology currently on the market that can revolutionize the way students learn. A good example of this technology is the iPad, or any other easily accessible mobile tablet.

(Next page: Words 11-20)


Is it wrong that reading this term still makes us think of a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon? Bring Your Own Device, or Bring Your Own Technology—a term meaning that students bring their own smartphones, tablets, or laptops to class—has become so ubiquitous in schools, we’ve considered not reminding readers what the acronym stands for in our stories.

12. Technology for technology’s sake

Reminding educators that implementation of technology should be done effectively, and not just for the ‘new toy’ feeling, is admirable. But just like when our favorite song is repeated on the radio every five minutes, we’re getting nauseous at the sound.

13. Sage on the stage; guide on the side

“Guide on the side you are. Sage on the stage…you are not.” – Master Yoda. The meaning is wonderfully accurate, but the phrase makes us laugh all the same.

14. Student-centered

Do educators really not consider this? Saying “student-centered” at this point is like saying “breathable oxygen”: it’s rare it wouldn’t be, right?

15. Digital literacy

One of the most important concepts created in the last few years that we love to love. From understanding how to safely navigate social media, to understanding how to choose legitimate resources on the internet, every student should be digitally literate. In fact, we think this buzz concept should be in even wider circulation than it is currently.

16. Flipping

Created by Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, Flipped Learning is a popular form of blended learning in which students learn new content online by watching video lectures, usually at home, and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class with teachers offering more personalized guidance and interaction with students, instead of lecturing. We think it’s great that teachers are trying something new, but if we get one more email asking us if we’ve heard about flipped learning, we’re going to flip something ourselves.

17. Common Core-aligned

Note to vendors: We know with 99.9 percent probability that your content is now Common Core-aligned. In fact, it would be a greater shock to hear that you’re not. Whether or not what you say is accurate is another matter.

18. Big data/data-driven

A couple of years ago, schools across the country invested in software that can generate data on everything in education from monitoring school lunches to tracking bus mileage, and from teacher performance to student achievement. The problem now is what to do with all this data, otherwise known as Big Data. However, data-driven, while a concise phrase, is also becoming too commonplace; at this point we could say our choice to serve turkey burgers instead of big macs for dinner is data-driven, and we wouldn’t be wrong.

19. “You have to educate to innovate.”

One of the more current buzz phrases, speakers at conferences and during webinars are beginning to use this phrase to highlight the need for students to become core subject-proficient in order to have creative thoughts that can translate into action. It all began with the White House’s campaign.

20: MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)

K-12 educators beware: This term is coming to a conversation near you! We sit right next to our higher-education editors and we don’t think they’ve said a word other than MOOC in the last year (it’s been a dull conversation). Not only do MOOCs have the potential to revolutionize higher-ed, but high school as well.

Bonus: Tech-savvy

Veteran eSchool News readers, we are aware we use this descriptor way too often! But then again, old habits, and fun words to write, always die slow deaths.

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Meris Stansbury

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