Embracing The AGILE Method For Great eLearning Results

Agile learning design isn’t really a new phenomenon. Athletes, savvy entrepreneurs and hard-nosed businesspeople have known for decades that being agile in the face of tough competition is the key to success. When it comes to the Agile eLearning development, however, those five letters – A.G.I.L.E. – actually spell more than just success.

They stand for Quality, Teamwork, Cost effectiveness, Employee and Customer inclusiveness and Professionalism, all wrapped around exceptional Customer satisfaction!

What is Agile Learning?

Instructional designers familiar with the conventional ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation) methodology will know that it is a serial way of developing eLearning content. ADDIE has been around since 1975 and has successfully served the eLearning industry since then.

Over the past half-a-decade or so, another method has been making inroads into the world of instructional design; offering a more ‘parallel’ approach to building better courses quicker and with more extensive (compared to ADDIE) and comprehensive stakeholder inputs.

Making Agile Work in Organizations

While embracing Agile might appeal to many organizations as a natural progression from ADDIE (or other similar conventional methodologies), the real dividend of producing great eLearning content comes from utilizing this system correctly.

Here are some best practices for ensuring your company’s Agile efforts are rewarded with great eLearning results.

Pillars of Agile success

1. Identify all stakeholders

The single most common cause of failure for corporate Agile eLearning projects is a lack of inclusiveness. Stakeholder involvement is a prerequisite for embracing a new methodology. For instance, serial methodologies like ADDIE usually involve end-users at the beginning (Analysis) and the end (Implementation). With Agile, everyone participates through every aspect of the course – from its inception through implementation and post-implementation review.

The earlier in the Agile project cycle that you get everyone around the table and involved in the project, the better is the chance of a successful outcome.

2. Pick the right players

Senior management often assigns prestigious roles to ‘favored’ individuals as a sign of trust and appreciation. When it comes to building Agile teams, however, you need more than appreciation if they are to deliver eLearning success.

For instance, picking a controversial, indecisive or weak individual to be the Scrum Master could leave the team compromised. Make your selection based on capability, knowledge and personal traits.

3. It’s not just IT nor is it just about ‘trainers’

The biggest misnomer about Agile, and hence the greatest obstacle to its successful implementation across the organization, is the belief that it’s about IT. It’s NOT!

Agile eLearning design is about bringing a multi-disciplined team of IT specialists, instructional designers, trainers, business process experts and functional users together to deliver a value-added product, service or process for the organization. While functional stakeholders still ‘own’ the deliverables, it is the entire agile team that’s accountable to produce them! The sooner you understand that, the greater your eLearning results will be!

4. Invest in changing corporate culture

Like any new methodology, this one too requires a cultural change across the organization. Investing in Agile training, seminars and appreciation sessions will go a long way in easing the transition. Though such a shift, from old methodologies to newer ones, comes with lots of growing pains, once your team embraces Agile learning development, the rewards will be immeasurable for the entire organization.

5. Meet often (preferably in-person)

Detractors of the method point to the fact that it is too heavy on meetings. In fact, these are its greatest strength! By meeting often, in person when possible, Agile teams are able to communicate quickly, directly and effectively with each other about pressing eLearning issues facing the team. This helps to give top priority to serious matters that could impact timing, quality or performance issues with content or delivery.

6. Don’t wait for ideals

Successfully embracing this way of developing eLearning means that you work in small, incremental releases as opposed to a ‘big bang’. What this means is that the organization must accept that the ‘ideal’ course will only evolve over several iterations. In the meantime, embrace what the team has built, and use it. Over time, the team will gradually include all pertinent user  feedback into successive releases of the course, moving it from ‘workable’ to ‘acceptable’ to ‘ideal’.

7. Formalize ‘pause’ for contemplation

While other methodologies pride themselves on making teams work continually, Agile teams produce best results when there is recognition of the need for a pause to deliberate and reflect. Within the eLearning development plans, teams build in milestones to review each Sprint (interim course deliverable) and every Iteration (a version of the course) so they can fine-tune their approach for the next Sprint or Iteration.

Senior management must recognize this ‘pause’ as a constructive thing, and try to refrain from demanding the team proceed to the next milestone before conducting an introspective review of prior milestones.

8. Give the team ‘latitude’

Most corporate cultures are hierarchical and ‘chain-of-command’ driven. To make Agile truly work for your organization, however, you must give the team a great deal of ‘latitude’. Agile teams perform best when they are self-organized and self-managed – without the baggage of having Boards of Directors and Senior Executive Councils weigh-in on their day-to-day workings.

9. Leverage technology

As your Agile online training development team starts working, you should start thinking of ways to support them in becoming even more agile.

Leverage technology, in the form of tools such as JIRA Software systems, some of which, such as Taiga and Freedcamp, are open-source and freeware that you can use without obligation. From planning your project to tracking issues and open items, to releasing and managing follow-ups; technology will enable your team to become more agile, by allowing them to focus more on the job at hand as opposed to managing and tracking issues, tasks and deliverables.

Embracing the above practices will not only result in better eLearning content, but the Agile learning solutions produced will be of higher quality, cost less and be delivered to the highest levels of user satisfaction.

Agile Building Blocks

Now that you know AGILE spells more than just great eLearning content development, the bigger question is how to prepare your organization to embrace the agile methodology successfully. Here are some prerequisites to the successful introduction of Agile within organizations.

Be open to embrace change

As corporations embark on an ‘Agile experiment’, there will be a lot that’s different from conventional ways of doing things. For instance, the use of self-governed, matrix teams with flat structures might be something that your organization might not be used to, but that’s how teams are organized and work within this system.

If your company resists this type of teamwork, then perhaps your ‘Agile experiment’ may not produce the desired results.

Encourage communication

Successful Agile teams have a saying that goes something like this: No idea is too small.

To become a successful phenomenon in your company, Agile team members must be encouraged to openly communicate with everyone on the team.

There is no rule that bars a QA Specialist from offering a solution to a design issue (typically, an instructional designer’s responsibility); or for a learner to offer suggestions on how best to deal with a user-interface challenge (typically an eLearning developer’s responsibility).

Many Agile online training projects meet with failure because of the ‘Above my pay grade’ or ‘Not within my scope of work’ attitude. If you wish your commitment to end in success, you must encourage free, frank and open communication across the team.

Be supportive

Often, when companies embrace agile, many amongst senior leadership and rank-and-file see it as a ‘novelty’ that will soon face away, reverting back to the ‘ADDIE ways’. That attitude can become self-fulfilling! To be successful and take firm root across the organization, Agile learning design must receive an endorsement from the highest levels of company management.

When managers, leaders, and supervisors down the chain-of-command see a top-level commitment to Agile, they too will do everything within their power to ensure your agile teams’ success.

Even before you start identifying all your stakeholders and building your project team for the development of a particular training course, you must ensure that the building blocks discussed above are addressed within your organization. Upon these building blocks will then stand the pillars of Agile success discussed in the previous section.

So, What is Agile Learning About?

Agile eLearning development is not about producing the grand finale in one fell swoop. Instead, success in Agile courses is measured in developing, testing and rolling out a ‘minimally viable working product’ over each iteration. In that sense, therefore, this methodology aims for continued improvements in small increments throughout the life of the project.

The main cultural challenge that many organizations grapple with when embracing a new methodology such as Agile is how to come to terms with implementing ‘minimalistic course design’?

However, once you understand that you can still start receiving great value for your investment in eLearning course development – even without many of the bells and whistles envisioned in the final product – Agile learning makes great sense!

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