Understanding the Agile Learning Design Process

agile learning design

While Agile Learning has become a popular term amongst learning professionals, the step-by-step process of how it looks in practice isn’t always clear.

That’s because there isn’t a singularly defined approach to Agile when it comes to learning design. Instead, several leaders in instructional design have created models and methodologies that encapsulate the fundamental philosophy of the Agile Manifesto and apply it to instructional design. 

In this article, you’ll discover different applications of Agile in instructional design, how the process of creating a course using Agile Learning looks, and which Agile Learning approach is best for you.

Why use Agile Learning?

For years, ADDIE has been the almost universally accepted model used by learning teams for course design. However, it’s a linear process. And although newer versions of ADDIE are more iterative, Agile models are much more suitable for learning teams who are under increasing pressure to keep up with training demand.

Agile Learning provides a solution for teams who need rapid course design, quick iterations, and nimble responsiveness to changing training needs.

Successive Approximation Model (SAM)

The Successive Approximation Model, developed by Allen Interactions, provides an agile version of traditional models like ADDIE. It emphasizes repetition, collaboration, and efficiency to help overcome common pain points for training teams.


This more basic version of the two models is ideal for smaller courses or quick course updates. The process incorporates steps that you’re already familiar with but organizes the cycle of your work more iteratively.

SAM1 provides all members of the team with the opportunity to share ideas, discuss assumptions, and conduct early prototype testing to get more feedback and get to the end product quicker.

SAM2 Model. Source: LearningbyCLICK


However, we all know that this approach is a little simplistic for some of the more significant training projects that come along. But, for those more complicated situations, SAM2 rises to the occasion.

With SAM2, there are eight steps across three phases of the project. The steps retain the iterative flavour of SAM1 while providing more structure around the overall project. When working with SMEs and other stakeholders, SAM2 helps you keep things organized while maintaining effective collaboration methods, rapid design, and continuous refinement of the product. 

Rapid Content Development (RCD)

Also known as rapid e-learning, this model consists of a preparation phase, iterative design, reusable templates, and tools to support quick execution.

There are some generally accepted characteristics of Rapid Content Development, including:

  • Course design projects that last 2-3 weeks
  • The use of rapid authoring tools  
  • Subject Matter Experts lead the charge and write the source content
  • A library of standard templates for creating courses

Rapid e-learning is becoming a hugely popular method with L&D teams who need a “just-in-time” approach to learning design, who rely heavily on SMEs to create content, and who need to standardize course design in the organization.

While it seems like the answer to all your learning design problems, it has been argued that this approach is too simplistic for more complex course design. 

agile project management

AGILE learning design

AGILE is an instructional design model that incorporates many characteristics of the Agile Manifesto and applies them directly to the instructional design process.

Unlike Agile Learning, AGILE is an acronym for a step-by-step process designed by Conrad Gottfredson, a learning strategist, and industry leader. The five steps of the AGILE instructional design model are:

  • Align
  • Get set
  • Iterate and implement
  • Leverage
  • Evaluate
  1. Align

During the “Align” phase, the focus is on scoping and evaluating business needs to ensure the final product meets them. You will estimate the resources necessary to complete the project and establish your philosophy of strategy as a “moving target.”

  1. Get set

Continuing with the decision-making process that should occur before course design begins, the “Get set” phase involves:

  • Analyzing your audience
  • Conducting a rapid task analysis
  • Defining tasks and roles
  1. Iterate and implement

Iteration is at the core of all things Agile. It means increased efficiency for your team and a better product for your end-users. During the “Iterate and implement” phase, course design begins in earnest. 

Critical tasks and structures in this phase include managing cognitive load, scoping iterations and staging implementations. Also, developing a workflow map and developing cascading levels for support for your team. 

  1. Leverage

The “Leverage” phase is all about optimizing all the resources at your disposal, including tools, people, and research. So it’s vital to analyze the needs of your team and optimize your resources to meet them.

  1. Evaluate

In order to gauge the success of your completed course design, it’s vital to put a measurement strategy in place. Include summative and formative assessments and carefully consider the assessment phase of your course design. 

AGILE is one of the more complex approaches to Agile Learning. But it is also one of the most developed and structured. 


LLAMA (Lot Like Agile Management Approach)

Megan Torrance developed this approach in her learning solutions company, TorranceLearning. Like all Agile methodologies, LLAMA focuses on quick iterations to increase speed to market and quality of the end product. 

Agile project management is a core focus of LLAMA. So, it’s not just about your course design process; it’s about managing all the other aspects of your training project, from requirements gathering to collaboration with SMEs.  

Choosing your approach

No matter which one of these approaches you take to Agile Learning, each provides it’s own benefits and drawbacks depending on your team, training demand, and organizational culture.

So, we recommend delving deeper into each one to decide on the best fit for you. And if it doesn’t work out? Don’t be discouraged. Agile Learning has great potential to benefit all training teams. You just need to find the methodologies that work best for you and your team.

Read More About Agile Learning:
What is Agile Learning?
What is Learning Agility and How is it Different to Agile Learning?
9 Top Tips for Getting Started With Agile Learning
How to Use Agile Learning Solutions to Conquer Training Troubles

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Understanding the Agile Learning Design Process