How do instructional designers know it’s high time to turn to agile?

The ADDIE model has ruled the e-learning course development field for over 40 years. It’s been the key framework for instructional designers for a while, and yet it’s now giving way to the omnipresent agile approach.

So, what’s the fuss about agile learning design? Initially, agile emerged in software development as a response to the rigid waterfall methodology. The situation when you have to complete a stage come hell or high water so you can move forward – leaves little flexibility and no room for evolving requirements and fast changes. Once it’s written in stone, you can’t get back and just start from scratch because you’re out of time and budget.

Since no plan is ever perfect and you always need to adapt to changes, agile started recruiting adepts throughout the IT field – and was soon enough adopted by the training industry as well. Unlike ADDIE, the agile methodology operates with smaller iterations that enable course authors to get fast feedback and ship what programmers call a minimal viable product (MVP). After you have a working prototype on the table, and every stakeholder agrees you are moving in the right direction, it’s time for improvements, enhanced features, ideas and concepts.

That said, what are the key drivers for instructional designers to start using agile?

Changing requirements

Projects may last for a long time. As time goes by, the reality may change and require appropriate action so your audience stays up to date. Do you think you can define crystal-clear requirements from the very start and follow them consistently throughout the development process? Most likely, you can’t. Moreover, time always acts against sequential planning whereas agile accepts a backlog and improvements in the iterations to follow.

Too late to intervene

Once a final deliverable is out there, stakeholders have no chance to change their mind about the concept or its particular features. Unravelling this knot is a costly procedure that could be avoided by shipping smaller chunks of work for approval. By the end of the day, what’s more important – an engaging course that gets deserved attention, or an unpopular course that’s a spitting image of the primary conception?

Reasonable doubt. Are we headed in the right direction?

You can keep interim results to yourself or share them with a select group of learners or fellow course designers. You might be surprised how refreshing it is to hear pertinent feedback and constructive criticism before sealing your e-learning package. It might be a revelation or a confirmation that you are doing the right job. Both ways, you’re off to a productive continuation and well-weighed market-tested delivery.

Reviving legacy works

How about reusing your previous research, notes and courses? With the amount of time and effort you invested, they definitely deserve a second life. The agile techniques can help you repurpose previous courses within a shorter timeframe and in line with the modern requirements. Define your goals and map out the iterations that would help incorporate older material into the new framework. Now, you’re on the right track to enriched training content! After all, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The situations that urge course authors to turn to agile learning are abundant, however you need to be aware of the limitations of the approach in e-learning projects. There aren’t too many to mention, yet they certainly exist. For example, training materials may require subject matter experts or consultants that find it difficult to commit to a project on a regular basis. Budget-wise, course authoring is something you are supposed to do on a fixed budget. Unless it’s a personal initiative or a self-funded project, agile may be hard to apply as it suggests certain flexibility of resources, changes and development schedule.

Agile learning is not news to the IT industry or even e-learning. It’s a methodology with a long track record of successful implementations. Needless to say, the training industry is essentially different from software development, so you can’t just jump on the bandwagon and accept agile as is. However, it’s hard to neglect the potential of a technique that can smartly juxtapose and blend in opinions and requirements from multiple stakeholders – academia, students, fellow course authors, etc.

The modern e-learning landscape is a battlefield for quality content and solutions. Under these circumstances, you can’t afford to be late. Quick delivery and user feedback are crucial factors of your success as instructional designers – and it’s something ADDIE and the sequential planning approach can’t handle properly.

All in all, chasing the right time-to-market and development tools, never set quality aside, and make learners’ perception and key takeaways the main drivers of your success.

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