How Agile Really Works in Learning and Development

Curiosity can be a good thing, especially as it relates to Agile.

Some have heard of it and think it’s only for software engineering teams. For others, it’s just the latest corporate buzzword.

Of course, it’s neither. Agile Learning has the potential to transform the way L&D teams develop and deliver content to learners. The faster training is delivered to learners—without sacrificing the quality of that learning—the better the experience and the stronger the outcomes.

Indeed, the effects of Agile Learning can be measured. As L&D teams begin to adopt and incorporate Agile into their processes, its influence on learning can be quantified, in hours spent on development to satisfaction scores given by learners to other metrics the team can put in place.

Let’s have a look at how Agile really works, perhaps address some confusion, so that teams can more easily fuse its core methodologies into daily workflows.

1. Employees do not need to re-learn their jobs

A common misconception about Agile is that employees will need to re-learn their jobs, or re-learn how to do their jobs. This is not true.

Agile methodologies simply apply to the process by which work is organized, tracked, and reported. Elements of Agile, including Daily Standups and Kanban boards, aim to give a constant, active assessment of where everyone on the team is regarding their assigned tasks at hand.

Everyone is held more accountable, leading to transparency.

Further, incorporating Agile methodologies into L&D also does not require that the team spend hours and hours of training on Agile. Yes, it would be helpful for everyone to learn the benefits, and to see examples of this in action—we certainly advocate for this. Observing how software development teams use Agile, or taking a short course on Agile, should do the trick.

2. The goal is to produce learning faster

This may make instructional designers and other learning professionals cringe, but the reality is that organizations need new and updated courses faster than they ever have before. Skills become obsolete, and the underlying learning content teaching those skills becomes obsolete as well.

Of course, tools to rapidly prototype courses help, but employees need to have a framework that encourages—and gently pushes them—to work faster. This is where Agile comes in.

Fears that courses built too rapidly will be of lower quality can be addressed at the onset—and can help everyone embrace Agile.

L&D can use the opportunity to inform everyone involved with a learning project—developers and learners alike—about the Agile fundamentals on which the course was built.

This is a chance to sway naysayers that Agile is just a fad, or that it did not make a true impact on the course development. A small Did you know? section at the end of the course, or a mention in the About at the beginning should highlight how the course was built.

Indeed, many professionals—including those outside of L&D—might take a keen interest in learning about the process.

3. Team members are more aware of one another’s achievements

Again, the whole purpose of Daily Standups and Kanban Boards are not to embarrass or shame, but rather to provide transparency.

The Daily Standup is not something completely different from what employees typically do on the job right now. As a necessary component of Agile, each team member must—and sometimes literally—stand up and explain to the rest of the team what he or she worked on the previous day.

Daily Standups do not have to be carried out in person in an office. Certainly, in the current environment, Daily Standups are being conducted online via video and voice platforms. (Of course, if you are working from home, you perhaps do not need even need to physically stand up!)

Some may not feel comfortable doing this. They may feel that it pits one team member against another. However, this is not the case. Explain that it is simply a way to create stronger communication and openness amongst team members.

In fact, team members can get inspired when they suddenly are made more aware of what another team member is working on. Certainly, creativity is a good thing in the L&D course development process.

4. Contributions are always visible

Regardless of role, many employees today are no strangers to project management software.

However, dealing with Kanban-style project management boards might be something new for employees. As a single view of all ongoing tasks, organized in lists and with team members assigned to each task, it can often seem overwhelming for people.

Some may also question the necessity of displaying all of the tasks, especially for parts of the project which do not involve that employee.

It is, of course, imperative to explain to team members that this is not the purpose of Kanban Boards. The columned, complete view is intended to help keep the project stay on track. Demonstrate how everyone can learn from others and that the total view contributes to a successful outcome using Agile.

Framing each team member’s contribution to a project is also important, not simply for visibility but also for morale and encouragement. Seeing an employee’s task in relation to others can help people visibly connect the dots in intuitive ways.

It might also be helpful to demonstrate the snags that might occur if an employee did not complete a task. Understanding the role or position of that employee’s work within the greater framework can truly galvanize the team.

When employees realize that their contributions have a deeper impact than previously thought, they will be sold on Agile.

5. Agile is not absolute

As a final note, it is important to point out that Agile is not absolute. Certain projects may actually work better using a more traditional waterfall approach, such as ADDIE.

Others might actually benefit from a hybrid approach: carrying out the Analysis and Development stages of ADDIE, but then incorporating Agile in the Design and later stages.

For example, there might be a more complex industry compliance training that involves experts from several divisions of the company located in different regions. Training such as this—which certainly might need to be prototyped and delivered to learners quickly—might need a longer Analysis phase that would not work so well with Agile methodologies. However, the later stages, including building the assessments, can be developed faster and can benefit from Agile.

Incorporating learning technologies that enable templates, rapid prototyping, and storyboarding, such as Cognota, can also help teams curious about how to incorporate Agile. This can speed the time needed to get everyone up and running on Agile.

Want to learn more about what Agile can do for your learning organization? Check out this on-demand webinar recording: How Agile Learning Can Power Your Digital Transformation Strategy

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