Playing Chicken: Knowing When to Adapt Your Teaching Strategy


Much of my professional research and career interests have focused on planning and designing education and training experiences. While research consistently supports the importance of effective instructional planning, there is also much to be said about mastering the role of adaptability in teaching. In other words, knowing when to change and adapt “the plan” is the art of teaching.

Those educators engaged in the study and practice of transformative learning can certainly relate to the need for adaptive teaching and learning methods. In many ways as we develop the skill of adaptability in learners, we also must become more adaptive as educators.

In this post, I unpack the idea of adaptability in teaching and highlight several ways learning technologies can serve as supports for this process.

Picture of chicks


Playing Chicken

I can remember as a kid playing the game of chicken on my bike with by neighborhood friends. The biggest challenging in the game of chicken is not only knowing when to move, but which direction to go. The same goes for teaching. We’ve all been in situations where our original plan was not working like we intended.

It may have been a reflection of quality of the plan, but most often the reality we face in the classroom is much different than what we anticipated. This might be due to the physical room environment, but often it is the characteristics or background experiences of learners.

Knowing when and how to adapt in teaching is often something that is acquired over many, many years of practice.

How can we accelerate this skill for educators so they can use adaptability effectively as a teaching tool?

What is teaching adaptability?

Adaptability is making an effective change when something does not quite go as originally planned. Collie & Martin (2016) explored the role of adaptability in primary and secondary school teachers.

Of particular note for adult educators is managing the thinking, behavior, and emotions that are often involved with changing an instructional strategy or approach.

Change Isn’t Easy… But There’s Hope

Once you’ve determined a teaching change is needed, how you approach the next steps are critical. Communicating why you’re making the change and addressing the thinking, behavior, and emotional aspects set the foundation for adaptive teaching.

For example, let’s say you have decided to adapt an assignment to better meet the needs of learners. First, communicating why the change will help their learning connects the reason for the change to a fundamental purpose of the course – helping the students learn. Next, clearly addressing what behaviors the student will need to change so they will be successful provides a clear orientation point and roadmap to follow. Finally, placing any emotional responses in the context of learning and their success will help to manage the change process.

In addition to the general change management skills, learning technologies can often play a role by providing a mechanism to personalize instruction and create alternative learning paths.

For example, carefully curated videos provide an often engaging means for supporting learners through an adaptive teaching experience. Learners can often have some of the most effective ideas about how to adapt their own learning. Technology can provide a means for educators to connect with this insight.

Using technology such as social media platforms or learning management systems can place the learner in more control of their learning experience. This means educators adapt from the role of teacher to that of coach and challenger. Learning technologies allow educators to take on multiple roles for different learners and adapt these personal learning environments appropriately.


Adaptability is an essential function of transformative teaching and learning experiences. Learning technologies provide a layer of flexibility for creating environments around learners where they can customize and adapt their own learning experiences.

Leave a Reply