Agile learning design refers to any approach to content development that focuses on speed, flexibility and collaboration. The term evolved from the software development industry, in which electronic content development (e.g., e-learning) has similar characteristics to software development.


One of the fastest growing trends in the training field is the increased need by organizations for rapidly developed learning content. In today’s highly competitive global marketplace, concepts such as “time-to-proficiency” have become high priorities for businesses everywhere. In the training field, this dynamic is referred to as “the need for speed.”

The trend is dramatically impacting the field of Instructional Systems Design (ISD), the process of assessing training or learning needs, and developing instructional materials for the purpose of delivery. Aided by advances in e-learning technologies, the trend has also spawned the pursuit of Agile Learning Design (ADL), an approach used by instructional designers and content developers that prioritizes speed, flexibility and collaboration.

Agile learning design is one of two fundamental approaches to ISD. The other is ADDIE, which is considered the traditional linear approach to content development. ADDIE is a five-step process to courseware design (analyze, design, develop, implement, and evaluate) that normally emphasizes approvals at each individual phase. The overriding intent is to assure accuracy and relevance of content, one reason it is popular in academia and traditional workforce training.

By contrast, a variety of agile design methods have been developed to address perceived limitations of the ADDIE model, most notably its lack of speed. Such agile designs called Rapid Content Development (RCD) feature an interactive and iterative approach to design that typically prioritizes speed over other elements.

Another important driver for agile learning design is the desire by training departments to leverage and repurpose existing learning content. That includes vast catalogues of instructor-led courseware and PowerPoint presentations that must be updated, rationalized and converted into online courses using rapid development tools.

This process often includes participation of subject matter experts within the organization. In addition, the process can be linked with other agile learning initiatives. They include creation of knowledge repositories that can be accessed by employees and other stakeholders on intranet agile learning sites and other web-based vehicles.

There is much confusion about the burgeoning field of agile learning design, in part because of the multiplicity of terms employed to describe its elements. Among them:

  • Instructional Systems Design (ISD). An “umbrella” term, ISD is a systematic process associated with the assessment of training or learning needs, development of training or learning materials, for the purpose of the delivery of information and training to the learner.
  • Rapid Application Development (RAD). This term encompasses a variety of design methods to speed up the development of software, including training-related content, while minimizing advanced planning. Drivers include the move to more open and collaborative development, which have increased the need for faster iterations, as well as the increased use of open source frameworks and products.
  • Rapid Content Development (RCD). This methodology for agile learning design features a preparation stage, iterative design, template-based reusable components and e-learning tools for rapid and cost-effective execution. Also known as rapid e-learning.
  • Successive Approximation Model (SAM). This approach to agile learning design has been introduced as an alternative to ADDIE that also emphasizes collaboration, efficiency and repetition. It was developed by Michael W. Allen, chairman and CEO of Allen Interactions, Inc.

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