Agile Learning Design for Beginners (Free White Paper)


Jennifer Bertram, Director of Instructional Design here at Bottom-Line Performance, has authored a new white paper on Agile Learning Design. In Agile Learning Design for Beginners, Jennifer gives a comprehensive introduction to one of her areas of expertise as a Director of Instructional Design: Agile. The white paper skips the buzzwords and gives a much needed overview of Agile methodology from the perspective of real instructional designers and managers.



Here’s an overview of the content covered in the white paper:

Why not ADDIE

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” In the past, we’ve assumed that instructional designers should not be seen or heard. We tell our clients or stakeholders, “Don’t look at what we’re doing. Wait until it’s built until you look.” But Agile instructional design is different. It’s about telling our stakeholders, “Come join me behind the curtain and work with me to create something great.” And this is just one of the many benefits of restructuring your processes to be more iterative… more agile. Jennifer will go into some of the benefits of Agile methodology over the traditional ADDIE model.

Managing the Work

Wanting to work incrementally, iteratively, and collaboratively is all well and good, but at some point you have to manage the work and timeline. It can seem daunting to do so using a whole new approach to work. The white paper will give you the manager’s perspective of Agile Learning Design. Jennifer breaks down Kanban methodology and shows you how our Agile workflow looks and feels.

What “kind” of agile do you need?

Did you know that “Agile” is just a broad term for a variety of project management approaches? BLP’s Learning Services team uses Kanban, but the Product Development and Marketing teams both use their own variation of Scrum. The white paper includes an interview with President Sharon Boller where she discusses the pluses and minuses of the Scrum methodology. Use it to decide what approach to agile is right for your team.

Getting Started

Theories and diagrams are all well and good, but this white paper isn’t limited to the abstract. You will use it as a practical, hands-on guide to Agile Learning Design. At the end, you’ll find a series of questions and suggestions to help you get the conversation started at your organization.

Are you ready to “get Agile”? Download the white paper now!

Agile vs ADDIE: Which Is Better for Learning Design?

Agile versus ADDIE

My last post was about Agile Learning Design, an iterative model of instructional design that focuses on collaboration and rapid prototyping. And it has become quite a hot topic this past year. It’s the new alternative to the old—and some have argued outdated—ADDIE model. The most welcome change is the fact that an Agile model has you sharing your mockups, prototypes, and early suggestions with the client—right off the bat! This way you can adjust on the fly. No more building a course only to realize the client hates the design of a button in every single section.

How we talk about Agile versus ADDIE

This difference (of early sharing and collaborating) is such a breath of fresh air that some people have even recommended leaving ADDIE in favor of a new, more agile system.

I can see where they are coming from, because newer and more efficient processes have since been developed. Agile takes into account new technologies and more rapidly evolving ideas. But I’m not sure if “leaving” is the language we should be using. The concept behind the ADDIE model has worked for instructional designers for years. There is something about the simplicity of it—it grounds the team in stages so you know you’re not designing before you’ve defined the problem, or developing before you’ve laid out your design, etc.

Interested in learning more about agile learning design? Watch our webinar: Agile Learning Design: A Practical Perspective.

“To me it’s not really versus”

So I would say that Agile isn’t a complete replacement for the ADDIE model. We’re not urging you to pull an “out with the old and in with the new” approach. In fact, you can make the case that in an Agile model you still do all the steps of ADDIE. Why does it have to be a fight between the two?

That’s precisely the point Jennifer Bertram made during my interview with her. She’s the resident ‘Agile expert’ here at Bottom-Line Performance, and here are some snippets of what she had to say:

So in Agile versus ADDIE, which one wins?

“To me it’s not really versus. I don’t think they’re incompatible or that the science of ADDIE is wrong at all. I just think working with other people requires you to communicate more frequently—and so you need an Agile process. Our clients really love being part of the team in the design meeting, in deciding what the interactions are and so on. We’re getting to solutions our clients are comfortable with earlier because they were there helping create them. That’s how Agile expands on ADDIE.”

At BLP we primarily use the ADDIE process, but integrate it with Agile. Can you explain when each process makes the most sense?

“If all you want is the traditional words on a screen with a next button, then Agile doesn’t make sense. That’s because there’s nothing really to iterate—there’s nothing to prototype, there’s nothing to test. You would still use ADDIE there. The Agile process is about different functionalities and what task we’re having those learners practice.”

We’ve used the Agile process when building Knowledge Guru games, is Agile a good system for developing learning games?

“Agile is really helpful for learning games because there is a lot of functionality to test—there are a lot of moving parts. So you think about when we develop learning games you have the learning goal, the specific challenges you want those learners to complete in the game, how do they win and what’s that system look like—there’s a lot of things that could benefit from the Agile process, the collaboration and iteration.”

ADDIE wasn’t supposed to be so rigidly applied

A lot of the bum rap that ADDIE has gotten recently, the reason that so many are hailing it as “outdated,” comes from that fact that people picture the ADDIE model in a few different ways. Yes, the original version of ADDIE—the one developed in the 1970’s by Florida State University—is rigid, linear, and completely impractical for us. However, even those who thought it up knew that.

Shortly after its development, the model started being revised and adapted for more practical use. The diagram below shows two different diagrams of the “same” ADDIE model. On the left is the very first diagram from Florida State University (1975) and on the right is a version of the model that started becoming popular later on.

The ADDIE Model: Old and New

You can see how the diagram on the right starts to become a lot more like Agile. The evaluation is more constant and the structure is much less rigid. It is still lacking a system of iterations and rapid prototyping, and it still doesn’t bring the client into the early phases, but it’s much better. It’s so easy to hold the diagram on the left up as a straw man argument for ADDIE.

Semantics aside, we still need to embrace Agile

Regardless, the future of instructional design is still Agile. Rapid prototyping, consulting with the client early on, and constant collaboration leads to faster, more innovative solutions. Not to mention it saves you time and frustration. No more developing a pretty, polished game only to realize the client wants changes or had a budget cut. All in all, I think we should avoid talking about ditching ADDIE completely, but we need to start moving on to Agile learning design.

What Is Agile Learning Design?

What is Agile Learning Design?

If you’re in the learning design business, then you’ve probably come across the term “Agile” recently. You also might have heard terms that sound like a different language, like Kanban or Scrum. All this new terminology can get confusing, so that’s why we’re going to try and make sense of it. For almost 40 years the ADDIE model has reigned as king—the unquestionable framework for learning and development professionals. Now that has finally begun to change.

Agile is a fresh approach to learning design that takes the ADDIE model to a new level. So let’s dive in and learn about Agile Learning Design.

It All Started With a Problem

Agile started as a software development process. It was a reaction to the cumbersome “waterfall” methodology that had been brought over from older manufacturing practices. Early software development companies had no model for their new trade, so they simply borrowed what had been established for years in other industries where products are made.

Interested in learning more about agile learning design? Watch our webinar: Agile Learning Design: A Practical Perspective.

The problem is that this method is extremely impractical for software development. This is because in order to move to the next stage of development, the stage before it must be 100% complete, perfect, and documented… and that’s just not how software development works. (I’m sure you can already start to see how this applies to learning design).

The Waterfall Method

“Yeah, this just doesn’t work for us.”

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development

By the mid-90s, software developers had had enough, and they came up with their own ways of doing things. They created the Scrum and Adaptive Software Development processes along with many others. And in 2001, 17 software developers came together to talk about what they were doing—thus, the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was born.

It defined the Agile development process as an iterative method based on collaboration. Agile would focus on adaptation, evolving development, rapid prototyping, and constant feedback and evaluation.

So What Does This Mean for Me?

I’m sure by now you are eager to find out what this has to do with us, the learning designers. Well I’ll tell you: We are like software developers, our learning solutions are our metaphorical software—and an inflexible approach to ADDIE is our Waterfall.

I will be careful not to make many more comparisons between ADDIE and Waterfall, because while Waterfall was a flawed method from the start, ADDIE has been a successful model for learning designers for years. My point here (the whole reason we are taking time to explain Agile) is that the rigidity of ADDIE is now holding back learning design. It could be costing you time and money, on top of hindering your ability to come to the best learning solution through iterations and refinement.

But let’s make this more real. Here at Bottom-Line Performance we’ve begun to use an Agile learning design process, and we have quite a bit to say about it. As part of this post I interviewed Jennifer Bertram, the Director of Instructional Design at Bottom-Line Performance, and here’s what she said:

What has the switch to an Agile process done for you and BLP’s service teams?

“[Agile] has allowed our teams to collaborate a lot more between Instructional Designers and Multimedia, and I think we’re creating more innovative solutions and focusing less on dry content and info screens. Our clients have also really enjoyed getting to see things that work much earlier in the process. They also like the flexibility and having more opportunities to provide input.”

What has this upgrade from ADDIE helped you do that you couldn’t do before?

“Well I think that we’re still doing all of the steps of ADDIE… but what it has done is it has given us a better way to move through the phases of ADDIE and keep coming back to them again, mainly the first three—Analysis, Design, and Development—because as you’re creating this design proof you’re certainly in design mode, but you’re also already developing a little bit. Then when you’re thinking about development, when we’re getting to Alpha, we’re already going back and redesigning things.

This way we’re just planning for it so it doesn’t cause so much frustration and anxiety, on both sides really, for the client— if we say “oh, well you didn’t tell us that back then,” but now we’re having a lot more conversations with them about the design—and then for the development side as well.”

What’s something new about Agile that you like?

“More client interactions and more iterations. So now we’re not going away and creating something and saying “what do you think?”—we’re saying together what our ideas are. So we’re getting solutions that our clients are happy with, and we have a more solid foundation early in the process.”

Don’t worry, there’s more! We continue this interview here: Agile vs ADDIE: Which Is Better for Learning Design?

So What Is Agile; What’s the Process?

By now we’ve defined Agile learning design as an extremely iterative process. Through the use of collaborative teams—client collaboration included—and constant iterations/feedback, you end up with a faster and more flexible process. But this is still a fairly vague description of Agile, only accounting for the big picture. How does an Agile process actually work? Where does it even differ from ADDIE? Take a look at this flowchart and see for yourself:

An example of the Agile process applied to learning design

Well there you have it, Agile learning design in a nutshell. Something that started with a bunch of software designers coming together to shoot down Waterfall Methodology became the secret to more efficient (and innovative) learning design. Stay tuned for next week’s post on Agile vs ADDIE where we’ll further break down the differences between the two processes and show you when it makes sense to be more Agile.