agile

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.

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.


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