Agile Learning Design for Beginners: Get Started in 3 Steps

agile learning design

The speed of business was already accelerating in a pre-COVID world. But now that we are all feeling the full economic and operational effects of the pandemic, it looks like the way businesses operate will never be truly the same again.

While Agile had already been capturing the attention of learning leaders previously, now it could provide some answers as to how training teams can maintain operational efficiency without compromising on the quality of the learning experiences they produce, particularly in a remote  collaboration scenario.

If the stats about Agile and the benefits it provides are anything to go by, adopting Agile Learning can help training teams to produce increasingly valuable learning experiences in a fraction of the time. In CollabNet VersionOne’s 2019 “State of Agile” report, the findings showed that 97% of companies have already adopted Agile in one form or another.

In terms of results, most companies who have adopted Agile practices have experienced real, bottom-line benefits:

What is Agile Learning Design?

Agile Learning Design refers to a collection of methods, frameworks, and processes that outline how to apply the Agile philosophy to the development and design of learning experiences or traditional instructional design methods.

Agile Learning Design can involve:

  • Applying Agile project management frameworks to learning design or training projects
  • Applying Agile Learning frameworks specifically designed for instructional design processes

Step 1: Choosing Your Agile Approach

“Agile” does not refer to one process or framework. It’s a philosophy that began back in 2001 (although it can easily be argued that it has its roots well before then). Several ideas and approaches were consolidated into the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, a philosophy which prioritizes:

  • Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools
  • Working software over Comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over Following a plan

Within this philosophy sits a core set of widely used frameworks including:

  • Scrum
  • Lean
  • Kanban

When applied directly to learning design, several Agile Learning design methodologies have been developed including:

  • SAM
  • A.G.I.L.E
  • Rapid Content Development (RCD)
  • LLAMA (Lot Like Agile Management Approach)

Many training teams take on Agile project management methodologies and focus on re-working their processes accordingly. Others find those specifically designed for application to instructional design most effective.

The right approach will completely depend on your organization, team, and learning design needs. But some quick tips for choosing one include:

  • Consider the usual complexity of your training projects
  • Think about the size of your team and how much you will collaborate cross-departmentally
  • Don’t be afraid to try multiple approaches before settling on one that works
  • It’s ok to play around with different methodologies and only incorporate what you find useful

Above all, acknowledge and accept that Agile Learning design is as much about cultural change as it is about process changes. 63% of failed Agile implementations occur due to a clash between Agile philosophy and existing corporate culture. If you don’t prepare for the change, Agile Learning design may face swift and outright rejection from your team and business partners. Which leads us to…

Step 2: Preparing Your Team

Like all projects and business endeavours, you cannot hope to find success without the commitment and contribution of your team. But when it comes to Agile Learning design, a “softly softly” approach may be preferable to ensure that commitment.

You’ll find tons of tips and articles on change management and organizational culture shifts. But the most important piece of advice you’ll hear is: don’t spring it on them.

Involve your team from the start. Discuss the pros and cons of Agile Learning and include them in the selection of the right framework.

Above all, really listen to their concerns and suggestions. When the time comes for Step 3, you’ll be really glad you chose to take your team’s feedback on board.

If you don’t, you’ll end up with one (or a combination) of the following:

  • A team who feels their jobs are under threat
  • Resentment from tenured employees who like things “the way they are”
  • Outright sabotage of your plans for change
  • Division amongst the team between those who are enthusiastic about change and those who are afraid of it

Step 3: Choosing Your First Agile Learning Project

While you might be convinced of the benefits of Agile Learning, others may take more persuasion. And a great way to do that is to show the success and potential of Agile to your team by choosing a test project to get started.

Plus, by using a test project, you’ll have the opportunity to work out any kinks or stumbling blocks in your new Agile processes.

For your first Agile Learning project:

Select the project team carefully

You only want those who are enthusiastic on board for this first one. That way, you know that things are being done correctly and there is full commitment to making this work, rather than falling at the first hurdle.

You’ll also be getting honest feedback about the viability of your chosen approach and whether it can really save your team time and produce more valuable learning experiences.

Pick an easy win, but not too easy

Agile Learning will take time to implement. For this first project, there’s no sense in choosing a project that is:

  • Highly complex
  • Already underway
  • Involves a large team
  • Involves cross-departmental participation

Once you have your Agile Learning processes nailed down internally as a team, you can start to apply them to all projects. For your test project, it’s better to choose:

  • A short course with low-medium complexity (microlearning courses are ideal!)
  • A small internal team so there are not too many cooks in the kitchen
  • A new project so you can start as you mean to go on with Agile processes

Whatever you decide to do regarding Agile Learning implementation, these three steps are fundamental to ensuring its success. 

Want some more detail on implementing Agile Learning? Check out this free ebook:

The Beginner’s Guide to Agile Learning

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