Let’s Get Real: The Key Ingredients to AGILE Learning Design

agile learning

At the Learning Solutions Conference last week, AGILE design and development was all the rage. I will admit, while I don’t use a pure ADDIE approach, I tend to gravitate towards this traditional approach to developing courses.

However, I have been curious about the AGILE methodology, SAM and other standards that many are adopting.

So I was listening closely to learn how others have incorporated it into their e-learning framework.

First of all, let’s define what AGILE is…


In the software development world, AGILE means non-sequential development.  This is achieved through iterations, or small pieces of work, at the end of which teams must present a potentially viable product increment. That is why you hear iterative almost as frequently as AGILE. In the traditional ADDIE model, development teams only have one chance to get each aspect of a project right (think assembly line). In an agile paradigm, every aspect of development — requirements, design, etc. — is continually revisited throughout the lifecycle truly allowing the project to get better and improve over time.


image from blog.twg.ca


While I am going to take a little time to see how this would fit best in my e-learning practice, I have discovered that there are some things that I am already doing. Are you?

Based on this information, I have found that there are essentially three things that we are already doing in every project that helps to make it more fluid and effective for the learner:

1. Work in Iterations

I hear the word iterative and my eyes want to pop out. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN, RIGHT? Finally it clicked for me as I listened to the 10th presentation about agile development. (LOL). The reason that I struggled with this so much is that I was already doing it as a common practice, I just wasn’t thinking about it the same way that it is defined in the AGILE process.

Basically it is this: Work with your team and your client to come up with drafts of the course or portions of the course, talk about them, adjust and modify them and then move on.

Viola! I do that everyday. The only difference in what I am doing and a true iterative process is that you can continue to do that even after it goes live to the learner… hence this next one…

2. Create an MVP – That is create a Minimum Viable Product and launch it, then go back and continue to build and tweak it based on feedback until it is finished and there is no additional benefit in going back and tweaking it. (or the benefits aren’t worth the cost). A minimum viable product is a course that is instructionally sound but perhaps not built out with all of the essential features to make it a complete experience. So someone can learn and get the concepts without the finishing touches. This could even be a classroom version of the training or a mock-up on paper that illustrates the instructional aspects of the course (ppt prototype anyone?).  By getting it out there early, you are able to test the effectiveness before the course is launched and it is VERY expensive to change it.

3. TEST and ADJUST  — Do you conduct an alpha, beta and gold version of your courses? If so, you are already practicing this principle. You are presenting a draft that isn’t perfect (and not intended to be perfect), receiving feedback hopefully from the client and some learners, adjusting the course based on that feedback and then releasing another, dare I say it — Iteration — in the beta phase. You repeat this process in the beta phase to ensure that everything has been caught, corrected and perfect. If not, you make the adjustments and then release gold or launch your course.