Why the Agile methodology can flourish in modern Learning Development
January 14, 2021
Learning development has undergone a lot of shifts and evolutions over the past few years. From areas such as Micro-Learning Development, Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs) and Gamification, there are so many wonderful new tools and applications to help improve training, but has the internal process of the training development team evolved at the same pace?
For larger training development projects, traditional project management tends to bog down the process and leave large amounts of lag time before changes can be made. Shifting to a new tool such as Gamification may not see the light of day for years. But what if there was a way to make changes quicker, easier and more efficiently?
The Agile methodology has been around for a while and was defined originally in “The Agile Manifesto”, which listed 12 key principles to help deliver efficient and effective software development for clients.
This methodology can be extremely potent when applied to other areas such as Training Development. The word Agile is defined as “marked by an ability to think quickly; mentally acute or aware.” This applies to the entire methodology, which values being able to quickly think and adapt to changes in projects during any stage from initial design all the way to testing and deployment.
Agile allows a project manager to structure parts of the project into “sprints” which often have a time limit attached to them usually between 1-4 weeks. During each sprint, different parts of the project could be worked on simultaneously, but all stages of normal project development may occur.
We at Positive Results™ use the ADDIE Model for Agile learning development, which is designed as:
In other project management methodologies, these stages would often go in order without being able to go back until the entire phase of the project has been completed.
Agile allows the flexibility to develop much smaller portions of projects and allow them to go through the entire development cycle so there’s much quicker feedback about whether the development of the end result is happening correctly.
After the sprint has concluded, there is typically an evaluation of the new functionality created and a determination will be made as to whether to continue work on those items for the next sprint or add/subtract items based on needs at the time from the entire body of work, often called the Backlog.
The main competing methodology to Agile is Waterfall, which was the industry standard for a long time. Waterfall methodology is structured so that there is a clear beginning, middle and end of a project and operates under the assumption that the project will go in that order and approximately in the desired timeframe. The testing and evaluation of the project doesn’t happen until the entire process has been completed.
Agile, by comparison, is able to evaluate throughout all stages of the process, often called Iterations. During each sprint all phases of a normal project occur, but on a much smaller scale. There is a testing phase that allows creators to determine if their creations are working as intended and quickly pivot if changes are required by the internal team and/or client. Waterfall tends to focus on items in a linear order and so it may take much longer to determine part or all of the process being developed is not working as intended.
While Waterfall development typically has client involvement at the beginning and end of the process, Agile allows clients to be much more involved over the course of the project lifecycle due to smaller portions of the project being worked on to create a functional product at the end of the sprint cycle.
Because Agile allows and encourages so much client involvement in the process, it gives clients a greater degree of ownership over the project and the end product, and it gives the training development team much more feedback by which to better design the training.
Waterfall may not get to the evaluation phase for weeks or months, leading to potential changes that may be very important to the client being backlogged until a future phase. This can lead to the initial training missing the mark.
Because Agile allows you to iteratively develop training and evaluate as you go, there is greater feedback on a regular basis, allowing you to fine tune your products to meet client specifications. This leads to high quality training that’s more likely to accomplish the desired effect.
By allowing selected portions of the final product to be created to at least a minimum viable product (MVP) status, Agile Learning Development allows you to get your training to learners quicker, while then giving you time to evaluate their feedback while designing more portions of the training simultaneously.
Waterfall, by comparison, requires all steps to be followed linearly, which means there isn’t yet a product available to implement until all stages have been completed. This can lead to development issues if client deadlines change.
Agile gives you the ability to pivot quickly towards or away from items of importance in your training development. Perhaps you’re a manufacturing company that is creating safety training and during development your company rolls out new items to their assembly lines.
The Agile methodology allows you to shift and prioritize getting those new items added into the training so that workers don’t have to wait months or years before being properly trained on how to safely interact with those items. This ultimately saves development time and gets the most important things to the end user sooner.
Additionally, Agile provides you with the ability to get feedback on a regular basis so you’re much less likely to spend a lot of your budget developing something that the client doesn’t ultimately like. Because you’re able to shift gears on the fly, you can pivot away from the undesired areas and save both you and your client money in the long-run, leading to a better return on investment.
With constant Client/Subject Matter Expert (SME) feedback and the ability to improve iteratively in short periods of time, each portion of your training is likely to keep getting better each time it’s touched.
If your company has a strong focus on improvement and quality over speed, Agile may be powerful for you because it allows you to iterate quickly and regularly until you’re happy with the learning you’ve created.
Even if speed isn’t your highest priority, Agile still allows you to take that idea you had to start implementing a feature, like Gamification into your courses to increase user engagement, and make it a reality much sooner than traditional learning development modalities.
Within Agile, you (and your client) determine when good is good enough, so you can get an MVP out the door to learners without needing to sit through long development time on the rest of the project. This also gives you the flexibility to be able to test portions of the learning and elicit feedback while developing other portions of that same learning, which you can then incorporate that feedback into as well.
The Agile Learning Development Methodology can be very powerful and adaptive to many situations, but before deciding on it as your method of choice, it’s important to know that it does have some downsides.
While having the client being able to provide constant feedback can greatly enhance the quality of training and steer it towards the desired results, if the client is constantly changing their mind about what’s important it can slow down development time and lead to a cycle of change management.
It’s important to develop a strategy with clients on early on to ensure that changes to project scope, although faster to account for in Agile development, still take time and can impact ROI. Asking the client questions such as “do you really need that Sales Training revamped from 6 steps to 9 steps right now, or can it wait until the next iteration?” can help maintain the momentum and avoid the change management trap.
While Agile seems easy enough to learn, it can be difficult to master because you’re constantly needing to adapt to changing demands while still planning ahead far enough to be optimally managing the time and resources of your internal team and often SMEs.
When thinking about implementing an Agile Learning Development methodology for your team, it’s very important to have a strong leadership team in place that can help manage any speed bumps along the path as people shift focus.
What Agile provides very well is the ability to show functionality in small portions of the project quickly and on a regular basis. What it’s not able to show nearly as well is what the end result will look like due to the ever-changing priority list of analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation.
If your client or company requires certainty about what the final design will look like, Agile may be a challenge to utilize as designed. If the Agile methodology is important to you, it’s equally important to set expectations up-front with your client and team about what the big picture should look like and how much change is acceptable before it starts to affect the initially agreed-upon final outcome of the project.
Because today’s training development landscape is changing faster than ever, it’s important to have a plan in place to adapt with the times.
Agile Learning development allows you to quickly build and adapt to the changing training environment whether you’re incorporating new ideas into your business or continuing to streamline your existing training process. Having increased client involvement during the entire process allows more feedback to be gathered to tailor the end product to the learners.
This and other features position Agile as a strong training development methodology in in today’s society where change is constant and expectations are higher than ever.
At Positive Results™ we utilize a unique Agile Learning Development methodology to help our clients develop training quickly and efficiently to save time, money and ultimately get your team the training it needs when and how they need it.
If you have additional questions or need support, contact us at:
Positive Results™ Custom Business Solutions