Agile ELearning Course Development: It’s more than just rapid development

As an eLearning course developer, are you sending loads of email but feel you’re still not communicating with your team? Do you find each iteration of your course design sets you back, instead of nearer to meeting completion deadlines? Is your softboard filled with colorful sticky-notes, but you don’t know who’s doing what on the team? Is your final course always out of sync with what course sponsors requested?

If using traditional course development methodologies isn’t working for you anymore, it might be time to consider Agile. 

Challenges of Traditional Methodologies

Traditional course development methodologies, like Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation (ADDIE), seek to produce eLearning content through iterative phases. Specialized teams (of Analysts, Designers, Developers, Testers, etc.) lead each “phase” of the process, with the client then having their say on the finally developed product.

And there lies the challenge!

An analytical flaw may not come to light until the design phase is well underway. And implementation challenges could potentially highlight serious development issues that went unresolved because of design flaws. Because of the phased-approach of traditional eLearning methodologies, once development is complete, and the course comes to the client for review/approval, instructional designers already invest a considerable amount of work into it.  Rejection of the final product means potentially wasted time, effort, and money!

What is Agile eLearning Development?

Because of the inherent drawbacks that eLearning course developers faced using traditional approaches, they felt the need to turn to a radically different approach. And they fond the solution by embracing the Agile development methodology.

As its name implies, Agile development is associated with the speed in the course development process. However, that speed is the by-product of a nimble process that streamlines how developers build each iteration of the course.  Highlights of Agile development include:

  • Relying on cross-functional teams, instead of isolated teams of specialists, working together throughout the project
  • All stakeholders, including the course sponsor/client, are at the table throughout – from initiation to completion – rather than only at designated milestone reviews
  • Focused meetings, called Scrums, review and agree upon smaller (compared to traditional milestones) deliverables within the entire course
  • The team builds those deliverables in their entirety by working through intensive iterations, called sprints. Because of the compressed scope of each iteration, the Agile team can address changes or issues quicker than traditional development teams
  • Once development, testing, approval, and implementation of an iteration is complete, the team moves on to the next iteration (Sprint) of the course

At the end of an iteration, the client receives a segment of a course that is fully functional in every respect. Unlike ADDIE, where the Analysis isn’t a “usable” product to the end-user, using an iterative approach, Agile teams are able to deliver complex eLearning content in graduating phases. Each Sprint produces an “output” that builds upon the deliverables provided by a previous iteration.

Six Ways to Make Agile Work for You

If you’ve come this far in our post, one thing should stand out very clearly: The Agile eLearning methodology goes beyond speed and expedience in learning content development.  It does this by pivoting away from traditional linear development approaches (like ADDIE and SAM) to a leaner development framework.

So, how can you quickly embrace Agile for your next eLearning project? Well, start with these six steps:

  • Get educated about Agile: Whether you are new to Agile, or know very little about it, it may help to learn about Agile eLearning development in some greater detail. And this “learning” extends not just to you and your immediate development team, but also for key stakeholders of the project. Having this added knowledge will help everyone make informed decisions for the successful implementation of Agile in your next project.
  • Identify the right Scrum stakeholders: A small group of purposefully selected individuals, do better for an Agile project, than a broad gathering of people with not much to contribute. To make Agile a success, IDs must have the right people at the table. Agile is an “active” development methodology, which ideally means only those that will “do the work” during a Sprint, or who can play other constructive roles, must be on the Scrum team.
  • Assign Agile team roles with care: The Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Scrum Team work together to deliver eLearning successfully. However, success depends on having the right individuals filling each of those roles. When it comes to well-structured Agile teams, seniority, or rank within the organization matters less than an individuals’ skills and experience.
  • Have regular Scrum sessions: Strict adoption of regular Scrum sessions will soon make these meetings second nature to everyone on the team. However, it’s important to strike a balance between meeting to accomplish an objective, and meeting just for the sake of meeting.
  • Empower the team: Scrum sessions work because they make critical decisions, about each iteration, quickly and efficiently – without needless bureaucracy. So, given that a typical Sprint lasts between 1 to 4 weeks, you must empower your Scrum team to take decisions in consultation with the other team members, as opposed to striking up a committee or “working” group that’ll take months to deliberate the issues.
  • Get technology to help you: There are a few popular agile tools available to make planning Sprints, organizing Work-Breakdown Structures (WBS), managing Product Backlogs, and preparing informative reports, like Burndown Charts, efficient. You may initially think of performing these tasks manually (or using Excel spreadsheets or non-integrated MS Project plans) – but having the right integrated set of tools assures success in the long-term!

Next step: Learning about Agile

Any investment in Agile eLearning development now, before you commence your next eLearning project, will deliver immediate ROI in terms of rapid results, and on-time and on-budget project completion. However, the real benefits of successfully understanding and embracing Agile come from consistent development of high-quality courses. And because well-implemented Agile assures less re-work, better communication, and teams delivering to the best of their abilities, it results in less stressed-out teams and better-coordinated teamwork.

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