Educational vs. Educative

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks,

Is there any difference between the adjectives educational and educative? I’m beginning to see the latter in contexts where I’d expect the former.

My first response to the question was that educative is simply a less familiar word for educational. Both the OED and Merriam-Webster indicate that this is so:

educational adjective: 1. Of or relating to the provision of education; educational.
2. Serving or intended to educate or enlighten; educational.

educational adjective: 1. having to do with education; educational. 2. tending to educate; instructive.

However, when I explored uses of educative on the Web, I began to sense that the word might have acquired a meaning other than educational. Here are some examples:

A Values-Engaged, Educative Approach for Evaluating Education Programs

An Educative Approach to Behavior Problems: A Practical Decision Model for Interventions With Severely Handicapped Learners 

A humanistic-educative approach to evaluation in nursing education

A textbook publisher explains its use of educative this way:

Curriculum materials for Grades K–12 that are intended to promote teacher learning in addition to student learning have come to be called educative curriculum materials.

Although my Oxford Thesaurus gives instructive and educational as synonyms of informative, the writer of an academic paper with the title “Can and Should Educational Research be Educative?” offers to prove that “research cannot be educative, only informative.”

In some contexts, educative is paired with holistic or pragmatic, as in this chapter title:

Ethics and ethical theory in educative leadership: A pragmatic and holistic approach.

The effect of pairing educative with pragmatic or holistic is to suggest that educative is “practical and wide-ranging”—as opposed to educational, which implies “theoretical, impractical, and narrow.”

As far as I can make out, the use of educative is closely tied to what educators now refer to as “action research.”

Back in my days as a classroom teacher, when large numbers of my students failed a test, I would analyze their papers and revise my lessons in an effort to get better results next time. That, apparently, was a form of “action research.” What I learned by examining my unsuccessful practice for the purpose of improving my methods was educative, as opposed to merely educational or informative.

I conclude that the new meaning of educative is “of educational value to the person or persons doing a systematic study of their work methods with the intention of getting better results.”

Both Google and Word view the word educative with suspicion, sometimes underlining it in red or green.

When your intended meaning is instructive or “relating to education,” go with educational. Leave educative to speakers of Educationese.

Here are some synonyms of educational as in “an educational experience”:

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2 Responses to “Educational vs. Educative”

  • MJ Fowler

    Your last line about leaving educative to the Educationese speakers reminds me of a book about 40 years old called A Civil Tongue by Edwin Newman. IIRC he was a reporter or commentator for CBS News. it’s a wonderful read if it’s still around and he definitely took on the education business in terms of language.

    Happy new year; keep up the good work!

  • venqax

    “Leave educative to speakers of Educationese.” Yeah, I think that pretty well sums it up. Unfortunate and sadly ironic, IMO, that these folks are in charge of educationing the children.

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