ELearning Development- The Agile Way!

Agile eLearning development and project managementSince the word “eLearning” was first used at a Computer Based Training (CBT) systems seminar back in 1999, a number of structured design methodologies (ADDIE, SAM) have been used to develop eLearning content. As far as methodologies go, you will be hard-pressed to find two eLearning project managers (PMs) who agree upon which methodology is “right” and which is “wrong”. The fact is that many of those “iterative” models, where content is developed using a cycle of repeated processes, have proved immensely resilient over the years in projects that produced high-quality content. However, now, there is a new kid in town. “Agile” (has been around for several years!), and eLearning sponsors and PM’s are taking notice of it!

What Is Agile eLearning development?

To really understand what Agile eLearning development is all about, let’s have a brief primer of what an existing iterative model – ADDIE – does. Developed in 1975, at the Florida State University primarily for IT project development, ADDIE produced eLearning content in distinct and iterative phases: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.

  • Analysis is conducted to come up with course requirements
  • The content is designed and passed to the developers
  • Developers develop the content using appropriate eLearning software
  • The developed course is implemented
  • The course is evaluated by clients and users
  • …and if the changes are needed it goes back into the hands of the Instructional Designer.

Agile is associated with agility in developing content. It is designed to compress development time, usually associated with iterative processes, and takes a radically different approach to developing eLearning content. Simply put, Agile:

  • Brings all the stakeholders together in a huddle…yes, INCLUDING the client/end-user!
  • They agree on small/discrete chunks of what the course should look like in a “scrum” (meeting) session
  • That part of the puzzle is built in a “sprint” (iteration), with any issues/changes addressed quickly
  • The team then moves on to the next segment of the course

Obviously, the above points do not justify what Agile actually is, and what it does. However, when compared to other iterative processes, Agile:

  • Engages a broader cross-section of stakeholders earlier in the development process
  • Helps the project team stay focused on developing eLearning courses and content, and NOT get distracted by the “process” of developing the course or content
  • Delivers tangible/usable deliverables early in the process, at regular intervals, and addresses changes/defects quickly in the development process

No one is suggesting that the advent of Agile has made everything that eLearning PMs and Developers learned and did over the last decade obsolete. Quite the contrary! What Agile aims to do is take eLearning project development to the next natural level in its evolution. That means building (not fully replacing) upon the wealth of knowledge and experience of the existing body of knowledge.

Best 8 Agile Practices for eLearning

  1. Identify all of the impacted stakeholders and decision-makers early on in the project, and invite them to your scrum sessions.
    Most eLearning projects fail because the right individuals and teams weren’t consulted at the outset.
  2. Keep team sizes manageable.
    If you have 5 Graphics Designers, 4 Content Writers and 7 Web Designers at a scrum, there is likelihood that the session will get bogged down in minutia, and end without reaching a conclusion.
  3. Bring representative voices into the scrum.
    Each eLearning project is different, and every team will need to be organized differently. However, it is essential to have a cross-section of representation on the team – even if that means nominating dissenters to scrum sessions.
  4. Meet daily.
    Resist the temptation to cancel daily Team Meetings. These team meetings help to visualize and develop content, and quickly identify and address expectations.
  5. Start iterations early.
    ELearning project sponsors are no different than those sponsoring any other type of project. They want to see REAL progress, FAST! While other iterative methodologies compelled them to wait for many months before a preview of what’s to come, with Agile, you can start delivering iterations early.
  6. Release frequently.
    Most Agile eLearning PMs make the mistake of delivering the initial release of the course early on in the project timeline and then maintain a “long silence” before the next release. For best results, iterate regularly (1 to 4 weeks) and release frequently (at least every 2 to 4 months).
  7. Get trained.
    If you and the team are new to Agile, the best way to benefit from this relatively new methodology is to get professional help. The key role of ScrumMaster must ideally be filled by someone who appreciates the essence of eLearning projects and can use Agile to break down barriers and remove impediments for the team.
  8. Get coached.
    Most organizations adopting Agile for the first time will likely have existing eLearning PM who might feel threatened. Yet, if you wish to succeed in an Agile project, you must transition the role of the traditional PM to the Agile Coach – someone who can navigate the world of Scrums and Iterations better than a (traditional) PM.

Final Thoughts

In case anyone thinks of Agile as a radical replacement of the fundamental way of approaching the design and development of eLearning courses, they are wrong.

Successful implementation of Agile in eLearning projects does not mean all other fundamental eLearning design principles – identifying learning objectives, structuring the course, storyboarding, designing individual modules, building the user interface, creating content – will be compromised. On the contrary, Agile helps to bring all of these fundamental building blocks together and manages the entire development process so the final product is delivered quickly and to the highest standards.

Last but not least, to learn about designing eLearning courses using the agile methodology, check out the Agile ELearning Development: How to create awesome eLearning courses using the Agile methodology book


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