Iterations in Agile Learning Design

This is the seventh in a series of posts on Agile Learning Design:

In traditional waterfall-type projects, learning platforms are developed in lengthy sequential phases. Learning methods and delivery flaws are normally only discovered during the delivery or evaluation phases. Fixing these defects can waste resources and cause delays to the learning platform or process due to the rework required. This is often referred to as the “1 - 100 - 1,000 rule”: if it cost one to fix it in the initial stages of the project, It will cost 100 times more to fix it at the end of the project and up to 1,000 times more to fix it once it is delivered.

Note: ADDIE or ISD is NOT waterfall (see post on topic), unless the users decide to use the tool in this manner.

Using agile methodologies or concepts allow the designers to test the learning platform up-front in order to ensure it is built upon a sound architecture by discovering the risks and alternatives involved during the planning stage, selecting valid learning objects, and then iterating them in a logical fashion.

Iterations are normally performed using two methods:

  • Design Iteration (interpretive) — the iteration is performed to test a learning method, function, feature, etc. of the learning platform to a small set of learners to see if it valid.
  • Release Iteration (statistical) — the iteration is released as a product to the business unit or customer. Although it may not be fully completed or functional, the designers believe that it is "good enough" to be of use to the learners.

A Design Iteration is a micro-technique in that it uses a small set of learners to test part of the learning platform so that you make an interpretation of its effectiveness. This method is normally used for innovative design. A Design Iteration will generally use two types of prototypes:

  • Drawing or print prototypes — uses paper and pencil models. This allows the design to be quickly sketched out so that you can get input from the learners. It normally solicits more input as the learners do not think the design is "locked-in." In addition it is quite versatile as you can add post-it notes to the paper drawing to simulate drop-down menus, dialog boxes, etc.
  • Interactive prototypes — uses a more realistic model of the learning platform. Its advantage is that it gets you closer to where you need to be. In addition, the learners think it is more "locked-in," thus once you have captured their basic needs with the drawing prototypes, they are more hesitate to offer suggestions unless there is a real need for the changes (helps to prevent running in circles with design changes).

A Release Iteration is a macro-technique in that it uses a large set of learners in order to satisfy two requirements: 1) it gets the learning platform out as fast as possible, even though it may not be fully ready; and 2) it allows large scale testing of the platform before it is "polished."

A large and difficult or innovative project might use several Design Iterations and then make a Release Iteration. In turn, this process is repeated until the learning platform is completed.

After Action Review (AAR)

After running the iterations, use After Action Reviews, especially after you performa a Release Iteration, in order to transform deficiencies into actionable items. In addition, ensure you include the learners and their manager(s) in the AAR to ensure everyone is on the same track:

"Many years ago I was asked by a business unit leader to design a project management class with a significant emphasis on budgeting and forecasting. I complied with his request and designed several exercises intended to address this stated need. When the class ran, participants convinced the instructor that because they didn't have to do budgeting and forecasting, there was no need to spend much time on those subjects. Therefore the instructor skipped them. Participants (learners) were happy because they didn't have to learn content they didn't want to learn, and the instructor was happy because his end-of-class evaluations were extremely high. Unfortunately my client was angry. As he explained to me after the class ran, his employees were correct in saying that they didn't do budgeting and forecasting, which is why most of their projects were over budget and delivered late." — Larry Israelite in Lies About Learning.

AARs not only help you get to the root of problems by having the participants discuss the project in a non-threatening environment, but is also designed to help keep the learners, managers, and you on track so that everyone is striving for the same vision.

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