What is Agile Instructional Design Methodology?

agile instructional design team on a video call

As learning designers look to respond more quickly to the training needs of the business, many are turning their attention to the potential of working under an Agile instructional design methodology.

As a philosophy, Agile enables teams to work faster and more collaboratively so that they can quickly deliver and iterate on market-ready products. While it started in software development, Agile has quickly made its way into project management tactics across almost every function of the organization.

Now, it’s emerging in the learning and development field too. Agile methodologies have been created to enable instructional designers to keep up with the demand for training, collaborate better with each other and with SMEs and stakeholders. The end result is faster delivery of more learner-centric courses.

What is Agile instructional design?

All Agile methods, whether they’re developed for project management, software development, marketing teams or L&D, are based on the Agile manifesto. It was created back in 2001 by a team of engineers who felt there was a better way to do things than the traditional waterfall methodology.

The Agile manifesto is not a step-by-step guide, but a philosophy under which all subsequent Agile methodologies have been created. The manifesto contains four core values, including:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

When it comes to instructional design, experienced learning and development professionals will quickly see how these same values can be applied to common bottlenecks in the learning design process.

In Agile instructional design, traditional frameworks like ADDIE are either thrown out or heavily adapted for processes which allow training teams to incorporate these values into their work. The goals are:

  • To develop new learning experiences faster
  • To find better ways to collaborate with each other and with SMEs and business partners
  • To prioritize the needs and preferences of the learner
  • To better respond to shifting priorities and unexpected change

New to Agile Learning? Check out this free eBook to get a better grasp of the basic concepts:
The Beginner’s Guide to Agile Learning

Which is the best Agile instructional design methodology?

Agile methodologies like Scrum or Lean were created specifically for software development. But instructional designers will agree that there is nuance to the learning design process that cannot be squeezed into a one-size-fits-all project management approach.

So, once the potential of Agile had caught the imagination of L&D, a few core Agile instructional design methodologies were developed by industry experts. Many of them have combined traditional instructional design principles and frameworks with existing Agile methodologies. They argue that instructional design requires specific adaptations to generic Agile frameworks in order for it to be practically applicable.

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.

SAM takes the ADDIE process and attempts to reframe the same instructional design processes in a cyclical, iterative manner in the spirit of Agile.

This more basic version of the two models (SAM1) 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.

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.


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

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. 

With the LLAMA approach, learning professionals will recognize the best pieces of some old familiar favourites, including ADDIE and Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping approach. But Torrance has pulled the whole process back to focus  on the training project as a whole, the information training project teams need in order to successfully create valuable learning experiences, and how the team should work together to accomplish their goals.

Megan Torrance recently shared some of her expertise in this on-demand webinar recording. Check out her industry-renowned advice on Agile Learning here:
Harnessing Change: Agile Methods for L&D

Rapid Content Development (RCD)

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  
  • SMEs 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. RCD is also known as rapid e-learning development or rapid learning. It’s more of a concept with common characteristics than a set framework.

Need more help choosing the right Agile instructional design methodology? Check out this complete guide to Agile Learning frameworks:
Demystifying Agile Learning: Find the Right Framework for Your Training Team

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What is Agile Instructional Design Methodology?