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Customer Education Design and Agile a Perfect Fit

Written by Julia Borgini

Published on July 13, 2017

Many of today's technology companies use an Agile methodology to develop their software, like Scrum, Adaptive software development (ASD), Crystal Clear methods, and Extreme Programming (XP.) Many more use Agile in their non-software development business processes like marketing and product management. The iterative and collaborative nature of Agile allows people to focus on more than just the end product. Learning designers who are tired of the inflexible approach of ADDIE and more waterfall-related development methodologies might want to take a look at Agile and see how it can work for them.

How does Agile work in the business world?

In a word (or two), Agile in the business world is about dynamic adaptability. It's all about speed, constant feedback and evaluation, adaptation, and evolving development. Software development doesn't happen in a straight line from ideation to coding, testing, and release, and neither does business (or learning design.)

The focus on iteration, feedback, and evaluation means Agile business people are more engaged in their work and produce more creative and innovative solutions for their clients. Clients also enjoy being involved earlier on in the development process, seeing things that work much earlier in the process than they're used to. There is a sense of participation and investment on all sides: participants in the process, colleagues, clients, and customers.

Can Agile work for learning development?

Sure it can! Some learning teams find it more collaborative to use Agile in their organizations. There is more collaboration between learning and graphic designers, helping them create more innovative solutions for their content. Other departments may appreciate being involved in the learning development process earlier, so they can see what's coming up and more efficiently adapt their strategic plans.

Stop wasting time in design and development

Getting back to learning designers, the iterations in Agile help them work through new course material, learning formats, ideas, topics, etc. more quickly so they can zero in on what really works. Only then do they move on to full testing and design proofs. Previously they may have invested a lot of time and resources into a course and gotten further into the development before determining something didn't work or the client was unsatisfied with it. Think of it as development by giant steps; giant steps forward meant you progressed rapidly, but conversely you had to take large steps backward if you had to rework or redo any of the learning design.

Save time with iterations

It may seem counter-intuitive to think that you'd save time by working through successive iterations in an Agile learning development shop, but it's true. Iterative processes like Agile, on the other hand, reduce the amount of wasted time and learning designers can work towards near-final products more quickly. According to Bottom Line Performance,, designers will spend more time cycling through their work earlier, which leads to fewer (or no) backtracking steps later on. In other words, more time is spent on the iterations, refining the content, before designers move on to proofs and alpha testing with internal teams.

Another iterative choice: SAM

Another variation in Agile is the Successive Approximation Model, or SAM. It also emphasizes collaboration, efficiency, repetition, and feedback. In his book Leaving ADDIE for SAM by Michael W. Allen, he states that SAM meets the four criteria for ideal learning development processes. It is iterative; has support for collaboration; is efficient and effective; and is manageable.

SAM is a performance-based process that helps learning designers create performance-focused content. Unlike other Agile methodologies, SAM calls out specifically two discrete iterative phases: one for design and another for development.

  • In Design, learning designers move through design, prototyping, and review.

  • In Development, learning designers move through development, implementation, and evaluation.

In both phases learning team members work together to design and produce the learning content, refining it as they go, adding or discarding ideas and formats after each review.

Learning design and interative process a perfect fit

As more organizations see the value in iterative development processes like Agile, Scrum, and SAM, it's only natural that learning designers would want to get in on the action. In fact, learning development seems like a perfect fit for iterative processes, so it may be time for more organizations to take a look at making the switch.

What do you think? Would your organization benefit from the switch to an iterative learning development process? Have you already made the switch? Share your experiences in the comments. We're curious to see how it's working for you (or why you're scared to do it.)


The ServiceRocket Guide to Better Agile Course Development

Developing courses is hard. It takes a lot of work, and it is time consuming. Depending on the type and length of course you need to develop, it could take weeks to create and ship to your customers. In a fast moving software world, this is too long. We wrote a guide to help you speed things up and build better courses using scrum.

After you read this guide, you will have the tools to build better courses, faster, and more aligned to customer needs. 

Don't waste any more time. Download The ServiceRocket Guide to Better Agile Course Development.

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Originally published Jul 13, 2017 1:00:00 PM, updated Jul 13, 2017