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4 Benefits of Using Agile Principles for Learning Design

  • 4 Min Read

Instructional designers are applying Agile principles and methods to create learning that’s flexible, accessible and relevant to individual and organizational needs.


Skills are changing. Fast. A PwC survey of 32,500 workers revealed that 39% believe their jobs will be obsolete within five years. Research from LinkedIn suggests that the skills people will need to simply stay proficient at their jobs will change by 50% by 2027. 

This could put learning designers in challenging situations. They need to be able to create and iterate content quickly, but at the same time, there’s no room to compromise on quality. Learning needs to be flexible, accessible and relevant to the needs of both the individual and the organization. 

Instructional designers are meeting this need by incorporating Agile principles into their processes. 

In this article, we break down what Agile design is and four benefits of using it when creating learning content. 

What Is Agile Learning Design? 

In the context of design, the term “agile” was adopted in 2001 by a group of software developers to describe their approach to programming. They outlined 12 principles that would allow them to work in ways that are flexible, iterative and collaborative in order to build quality software quickly. 

Borrowing from these principles, instructional designers use Agile learning design to move back and forth between design and iteration throughout the development process. And because Agile is a set of principles rather than a method, you can apply it to whatever instructional design model you’re using. For example, at D2L we use ADDIE—which stands for analysis, design, development, implementation, evaluation—with Agile principles. Lynsey Duncan, a senior instructional designer at D2L, explains: 

“We apply the same stages as ADDIE, but instead of a waterfall project plan, we use cycles of feedback to refine the design. The main benefit of Agile ADDIE, versus traditional ADDIE, is that it enables course authors to get feedback early on and have the capacity to implement that feedback right away. This also creates freedom to ideate multiple solutions and take some risks on outside-the-box solutions, then choose the ones that will best support the desired learning experience.” 

What Are the Benefits of Agile Learning Design? 

1. It Saves Time and Money 

Going from a kickoff meeting to a final product leaves a lot of room for simple misunderstandings or unconscious assumptions to lead you way off track. Suddenly, when you think you’re nearly finished, you find yourself back at square one and months behind.  

Agile principles prevent mistakes like these by requiring designers to check in frequently with subject-matter experts and learners. Putting smaller chunks in front of users early and often lets you make corrections and gives room for changes that inevitably pop up during any project.

2. It’s Learner-Centered 

The ongoing feedback and revision cycles let you test different approaches with learners so you can see what’s working best for them. It gives you opportunities to find gaps in the designs and incorporate skills and knowledge as needed.  

As a bonus, creating early prototypes of smaller parts of the course or program—like individual modules—allows you the freedom to experiment. You can take a few risks on unorthodox approaches and choose the ones that best support the desired learning experiences. This approach provides a lot of potential for outstanding, creative and, most importantly, effective learning designs. 

3. It’s Faster 

Thanks to the iterative process, Agile learning design helps you get courses out to users faster than other approaches. It’s hard to launch a perfect program the first time anyway, so eliminating that goal with the knowledge you’ll be making changes along the way allows you to keep things moving. 

Brandon Smith, instructional design manager, recently told us why his organization wants to implement Agile instructional design: 

“We’re working on failing faster, which means we’re just trying to get a product out to our learners and subject-matter experts. They can review it as quickly as possible so that we fail early and often, and we have time to go back and review it before the whole product is out.”  

4. It Makes Workloads More Predictable 

Some approaches create crunch times where everyone rushes to meet deadlines, followed by lulls while the content is being reviewed. The iterative process of revision cycles, on the other hand, means the work is broken into manageable chunks. While users and experts are reviewing one piece, the design team is working on something else.  

That’s another reason Smith is moving toward an Agile approach. It helps his organization adjust and respond quickly when needs come up before returning to a more normal, levelled-out workflow. 

4 Steps Toward Adopting an Agile Approach 

Even if your organization isn’t ready to fully revamp its instructional design methodology, there are steps you can take to begin incorporating Agile practices: 

  1. Implement planned revision cycles. This is a great way to bring the principles of Agile learning design into projects on a smaller, more manageable scale. 
  1. Create early, functional prototypes to gather user input. Whether you get validation in the direction you’re headed or discover you need to adjust course, these initial observations can be crucial to continuing and refining the project in meaningful, productive ways. 
  1. Make getting feedback an ongoing process. If feedback is a one-time event, it can slow your teams down—especially if the project has a long timeline or a large scope. 
  1. Revise your learning content with a cadence that makes sense for all stakeholders—especially learners. As Lynsey says, “Skills and learning needs are going to evolve. Allow the needs of your learners to drive changes as they arise.” 

Every journey starts with a single step. Start small, leaving your organization open to adapt as you and your learners become comfortable with the platform and as new technology and tools become available. 

Use Agile principles to create adaptable, flexible learning experiences. Watch our on-demand webinar. 

Written by:

Karen Karnis

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Table of Contents

  1. What Is Agile Learning Design? 
  2. What Are the Benefits of Agile Learning Design? 
  3. 4 Steps Toward Adopting an Agile Approach