I need a new word.
You may have noticed that I’ve changed the url of my website recently. The switch was driven by a need to change hosting arrangements as much as anything else but it’s caused me to think deeply about how best to describe my ‘project’.
The problem is one of baggage.
I’m from the world of ‘agile’. I’m interested in how the power of ‘the agile mindset’ might help improve the effectiveness of education in preparing young people to succeed in the modern world. But the word ‘agile’ carries with it several problems – as hinted by my exuberant use of apostrophes.
Firstly, it’s a word that conceals a mine-field of jargon – much of which is likely to be alien to the audience we’re trying to reach. There’s a danger of triggering a ‘them and us’ divide between business-based agile practitioners and education professionals.
Secondly, it’s rather vague. The term became popular after ‘The Manifesto for Agile Software Development’ was published in 2001 (the authors toyed with the word ‘light’ as an alternative) but it has transformed from something describing a very simple principle into an umbrella covering a fog of wide ranging concepts (see the infamous Deloitte Agile Landscape Map).
There is even far too much debate about how the word should be used – is it a verb, an adjective, a noun or simply a profane expletive?
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, if you type ‘agile doesn’t work’ into a search engine you’re likely to need an extremely long screen for the results.
‘Agile’ has a reputation problem.
The cause is complicated – but in a nutshell, agile transformations are extremely challenging to achieve successfully, resulting in many cases where ‘agile’ can be considered to have failed.
This doesn’t mean we should give up and go back to the old world (instead, we should try harder or perhaps smarter) but this fact does taint the reputation of ‘agile’ and all of the frameworks, tools and ideas that are associated with ‘it’. This reputational damage is so severe that some people get quite angry at the merest mention of the word!
Since the term and concept of ‘agile’ lacks clarity and is rather emotive, I feel there has to be a better term.
Perhaps the obvious choice, which I’ve been using recently, is ‘progressive’. It is at least more meaningful on its own in that it suggests by definition that we are concerned with change, improvement, or reform rather than simply to move quickly or easily. But the word ‘progressive’ is also problematic.
It too is vague and it too has a reputation problem… especially when applied to education. This is perhaps a bigger problem than the reputation issue that exists with the word ‘agile’.
Since ‘the age of enlightenment’ in the 17th and 18th centuries there have been attempts around the world to construct forms of education that are progressive in nature – to move from teacher-led to child-centred learning and away from traditional one-dimensional, academic, exam driven schools to something that embraces the variety of human nature.
However, there are many who believe, quite categorically, that the ideas behind progressive education are fundamentally wrong. A simple search will reveal case studies that claim progressive education has failed generations of young people who, as a result of progressive ‘experiments’, find themselves unable to read, write or carry out simple mathematical calculations.
Despite this, there are still many who believe a progressive approach is the right one. Personally, I think there is a middle (dare I say ‘agile’) way that combines the best of traditional and progressive approaches, but whatever you believe, the term is damaged.
So what next?
I’ve toyed with other ideas, but they all hit problems:
- Hybrid Education – already used in the EdTech world to refer to a combination of online and in-person learning
- Integrated Education – used in Northern Ireland in particular, to refer to schools where children from both protestant and catholic family backgrounds are educated together.
- New Education – too vague and too hippy.
- Education Reform – political connotations
…I could go on. The truth is, there’s no easy way to clearly encapsulate what I have in my mind without hitting a wall of packing cases.
So, I’ve finally decided. I’m off to my local domain name store to buy myself:
…but then I really don’t like domains with hyphens!