How to Develop an Iterative Learning Design Process

If you’ve been feeling the push to ditch more traditional models like ADDIE for a while now, it’s no surprise. Many traditional instructional design processes are no longer serving their purpose – at least not in the way they are usually used. 

As L&D teams find it increasingly challenging to keep up with the speed at which change is now occurring in their organizations, it feels like the matter of finding a better (and faster) way to do things is now or never.

Iteration is a key element to driving faster training development within your organization. But does it look like in a practical sense?

What is an iterative learning design process?

If you’ve looked into Agile processes and project management at all, you’ll  be familiar with the concept of multiple iterations of a product appearing throughout the project.

The idea is to fail early and fail fast so that you can quickly identify risks and elements that are not working for your end users (in this case, your learners). It emphasizes repetition, collaboration, and efficiency to help overcome common pain points for training teams.


Learn more about iterative and Agile learning design methodologies in this free ebook:
The Beginner’s Guide to Agile Learning


What factors are needed for iterative learning design?

1. Collaboration

Providing all members of the team with the opportunity to share ideas, discuss assumptions, and conduct early prototype testing allows for more feedback so you can get to the end product quicker. The quicker you get to the end product, the more time you will have in your project schedule to finesse the finer points of your course design.

2. Prototyping

Prototyping does not mean you have to have a fully completed course in front of you to start iterating on. Prototyping can be as simple as a detailed storyboard to show how your learning objectives, content selection, navigation, and user interface will look and feel.

You will often find yourself iterating on a prototype many times before content development and design even begins. This leads back to the idea of failing and failing fast. As soon as you have some workable version of the course in front of you, it’s time to start poking holes in what will work and what will not.

3. Testing

Testing is an essential component of an iterative learning design process. Without testing, any changes you make are a shot in the dark. While much of it will rely on your expertise and experience, it’s important to take your cue from end users as much as possible.

But it can be difficult to recruit learners into the course testing phase. Some L&D professionals choose to offer rewards such as a gift card to employees who take the time to test new courses and provide feedback.

Others have to get a little more creative and may need to reach out to their professional network to get the job done.

However you do it, testing should not be left out of the mix. 


For more tips on fast and iterative learning design, check out this on-demand webinar recording with Agile Learning expert, Megan Torrance.
Harnessing Change: Agile Methods for L&D


4. Repetition

Some training project teams will have experienced the unicorn training project: course design is completed, tested, and deployed in one smooth process with only little tweaks or changes to implement along the way. 

But if you’re not one of those lucky few, you know that many things can change along the timeline of a training development project. That’s why iteration is so important. Required changes or shifts in opinion can be identified and remedied very early on in the process and easily fixed as you steadily make your way towards the final course design by iterating every step of the way.

But how do you know when to stop your iterative learning design process. One useful benchmark for this is: when the time and cost of making a change outweighs the benefit of making it, your iterations are complete. 

Final Thoughts

Developing an iterative learning design process doesn’t necessarily mean you need to adopt a wildly different learning design model. While Agile Learning is hugely beneficial, it’s not always suitable as a rigid process for every organization. It can be just as beneficial to tweak existing processes to incorporate iteration rather than starting from scratch.

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