Selection in Agile Learning Design

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

The fourth concept of PODSI (Plan, Orientation, Design, Select, & Iterate) is selecting and developing the learning objects that best promotes learning. However, the selection of the learning objects in Agile Learning Design is not really about SCORM or AICC standards, but rather about providing the best learning environment that supports the Agile ethos — "Solutions that promote and speed the development of learning processes over comprehensive documentation."

This means chunking the contents into the most logical units that promote and speeds the learners' ability to learn and then packaging it into various media that provide the best delivery methods. Thus rather than breaking the material down into the smallest possible objects and tagging it for future reuse, it must be designed with the learners first in mind. A few examples:


Lecturing in the classroom is over and if it is not over in your organization then you are wasting company resources. Now that does not mean "lectures" are finished because they can be quite an effective and efficient means to deliver information, ideas, stories, etc. And it does not mean putting them in a Captivate or Articulate elearning program that locks the learners to their desk. Rather it means putting them in an audio file, such as mp3, so that they can be uploaded to an iPod or similar device that allows them to be portable. The research is starting to show this as the best method for delivering them (Science Direct [pdf] or The Independent) and that learners prefer this method (New Scientist).

Reading Material

Rather than putting a lot of text into an elearning program that requires the learners to click the next button 10 to 30 times, put it in a PDF that is more suited for this type of content. This gives the learners several options for viewing it on screen or printing it if they desire, in addition to being able to add sticky notes. PDFs now allow the use of links, videos, and audio that greatly increase their versatility. Yes an elearning program allows you to ask questions as the learners proceed through the "click screens" but you can get just as good or better effects by asking the questions at the beginning of the PDF file (or where needed) so that you "preframe" the learner before they read the material. In one study the learners had a 10 percent better recall when they first tried to retrieve the answer before it was shown to them (see Scientific American - second page).

Question and Answers

A classroom environment allows the learners to ask questions; however, there are good tools that allow you to compensate for this in a dL (distributed Learning [only the L is capitalized]) environment — Twitter (free) or Yammer (if you need a more secure environment). These tools allow learners, instructors, experts, etc. to exchange short questions, answers, observations, etc. Does this mean we are trying to do away with the classroom? Nope...


Classrooms allow the learners to gain skills in task that can not be accomplished in a dL environment. So why not just perform all the learning in the classroom? The two main reasons are learning variability and cost. People learn at different rates, thus they need to be able to train at their own pace in order to master the material. For example, this chart shows the learning variability of a classroom session that was transformed to a dL environment (Sitzmann, Ely, 2009):
Learning variability
In theory, a classroom has to be long enough for the slowest learner to learn if you want them to master the material. In reality, classrooms are normally designed for the average learner, which means a large percentage of learners are wasting their time and another large percentage are not given the time to master the material. Thus the best environment for most learning is not in a lockstep (classroom) environment, but rather in a self-paced dL environment. Secondly, classrooms are normally one of the most expensive media for learning. ISD or ADDIE is often wrongly identified as a classroom creation tool, but as one who was formally trained in it, one of the first things hammered into us was to select a different delivery option if at all possible because of a classroom's lockstep nature and cost. The real reason for the classroom's dominant position are the people and/or organization behind the tool — they fail to stretch themselves to create a self-paced learning environment.

Blended Learning

This does not mean the classroom is dead as there are many things that must be taught in a classroom type setting or safe learning environment. In addition, classrooms actually enhance dL in that a blended learning environment composed of classrooms and dL increase learning by an average of 11% for both procedural and declarative knowledge (Sitzmann, Ely, 2009). There seems to be something almost magical about blending the interactive and social nature of classrooms with the self paced environment of dL. In addition, dL can have a attrition or drop-out rate as high as 20% as it often treats the person as a "lone learner." For example, in an informal learning episode a person will interact with an average of ten people (Tough, 1999). Adding blended learning and Twitter/Yammer provides the social aspect that we need when it comes to learning so that it does not become a lone-learning environment.


By delivering the pre-learning to the learners, a classroom type environment or similar setting can now be used exclusively for not only the required social interaction but perhaps more importantly for activities that allow the learners to perform (doing). In addition, as our online tools become more powerful, we are able to create activities that allow the "doing" in a dL environment. For example, although this multiplication game is made for schools, it has an interesting engine behind it:
  • html file : This of course is the file your browser opens.
  • Flash file (swf): Shockwave Flash file.
  • xml file: This is the file that the swf app reads. It supplies the "questions" and "answers." If you open it up with a text editor and study it, along with running the game, you will see that you can edit the xml file to create new questions and answers. While I have not tried it, you could probably add images to the questions/answers.
  • Note: You can download the zip file that contains the above three items.
It's the xml file that is the most interesting because rather than having to edit the flash file, a Learning Designer with a little training could edit the xml file to update it or rework it for a different learning environment. A few of these types of applications would make a good addition to an elearning development library that allow activities to be rapidly built. Has anyone seen other similar examples or instructions for creating them?

Building objects such as these are faster and easier than trying to incorporate everything into one giant elearning package. In addition, they can be iterated faster and are easier to fix and update. But most importantly, they consider the learners first by targeting their learning needs. Questions? → → http://twitter.com/iopt


Sitzmann, T. & Ely, K. (2009). Web-Based Instruction: Design and Technical Issues which Influence Training Effectiveness. Retrieved Nov, 2, 2009: http://webboard.adlnet.org/Technologies/Evaluation/Library/Additional%20Resources/Presentations/ASTD%202009%20Presentation%20Slides.pdf

Tough, A. (1999). Reflections on the study of adult learning. Paper presented at the 3rd New Approaches to Lifelong Learning (NALL) Conference, University of Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Toronto, Canada. Retrieved January 8, 2008 from http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/depts/sese/csew/nall/res/08reflections.pdf


Designing for Agile Learning

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

Ban Clippy

The third concept of PODSI (Plan, Orientate, Design, Select, & Iterate) is Learning Design to facilitate interactions between humans and content in order to increase performance. It accomplishes "interactions" through the use of "awareness" that not only allows the content to sense and respond to the learners, such as feedback and guiding them to their next learning need; but also allowing the learners to sense and respond to the content; and as was noted during a Twitter conversation (with @usable learning and @Kathysierra), "the awareness should be more like Amazon's Lists rather than Clippy." Note that the definition is based somewhat on Safer's (2007) definition of interaction design.

The Texture of Wine

Agile Design captures the texture & nuance of learning

Almost anyone can produce content but it takes a good Learning Designer to add awareness. It is also contextual in that it facilitates specific performance problems under a specific set of circumstances — my solution may not work for a similar problem. The end goal is to produce adaptive, agile thinkers, competent to perform within a dynamic working environment (Mark ley, 2006). While Learning Design is mostly art, it does has best practices.

Learning Design does not align itself with any one medium or technology, rather it is only concerned with the correct technology that aids in the learning/performance solution. Thus, it might be compared to distributed Learning (dL) that relies primarily on indirect communication between learners and instructors that allows the learners to learn at different times, at their own pace, as well as in different places. The old way of spelling the acronym was "DL", however this emphasized delivery method and learning equally, thus the correct acronym is now "dL", which emphasizes Learning without focus on delivery (Markley, 2006). That is, it uses face-to-face instruction when it makes sense.

Techniques to Learning Design

While there are specific methodologies for creating learning or instructional design, such as ISD, ADDIE, and van Merriënboer's 4C/ID Model; there are four design lenses or techniques that provide a means for viewing the overall structure of a specific learning design:

1. Performance-Centered Design

Focuses on the tasks that are composed of actions and decisions that the learners need to perform. A Learning Designer uses an Exemplary Performer as a model and then they build the instructional content and add awareness to it.

2. Guru Design

Focuses on the skills and knowledge of experts (SMEs), in which the designer may or may not be the guru. A Learning Designer uses one or more SMEs as knowledge sources and then they build the instructional content and add awareness to it.

3. Learner-Centered Design

Focuses on the needs and goals of the learners who guide the design; while the Learning Designer aids with the content and awareness. This is somewhat similar to user-centered design that is based on the concept that the people who use a product or service know what their needs, preferences, and goals are, thus they and the Learning Designer collaborate throughout every stage of the Agile Design process to build the content and awareness. It should be noted that the vast majority of so called "Learner-Centered Designs" out there are based on the other three design techniques because they are focused on what others thought the needs and goals of the learners should be, not what the learners thought they should be.

4. System Design

System Design focuses on the system's inputs, outputs, processes, feedback loops, goals, etc. to guide the design.

Specialty Designs (subset)

This includes ISD or ADDIE, which is basically a combination of Performance, Guru, and System Design, but normally little or no Learner-Centered Design (not because the model won't let you, but because the designers fail to). It also includes the micro-instructional designs, such a van Merriënboer's 4C/ID Model that focuses on task specific skills.

"The answer is, there's an infinite number of answers." - Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls

Almost no Learning Design project is accomplished through just one of the four approaches or subsets, but is normally a mixture of them, with one of them being the primary approach to design. For example, a Learner-Centered Design might perform System Design and call on experts or gurus to help with the design; while a Performance Design might include some System Design, in addition to using Merriënboer's 4C/ID for some specialty tasks.

Plug and Play with ISD

So just as you can "plug and play" different tools or methods into ISD, you also plug these tools into an Agile Learning Design so that rather than working with a tool box that only contains a hammer, you work with a full set of tools that compliments the learning platform in order to fast-track and retain learning.

Learning Design Approaches & Orientation

The source of where you get the content (Exemplary Performers, Expert Performers, SMEs, and/or Learners/Performers) as discussed in the last post clues you to the level of complexity of the design environment, which in turn tells you the primary design approach:

  • Exemplary Performers → Simple Environment → Performance-Centered Design
  • Expert Performers → Complicated Environment → Guru Design
  • SMEs & Learners/Performers → Complex Environment → Learner-Centered Design
  • Learners/Performers & managers → Chaotic Environment → System Design

Or which could be pictured as:

Complexity and Design

Click to enlarge

Being able to locate the correct level of complexity of the environment tells you the main design approach to take:

Simple Design Environment - SCR

Sense by using a collaborative process to create shared awareness and understanding of each team member's perspectives in order to create a mental model of the learning problem so that the correct decision-making can be performed.

You know you are in a simple learning design environment when you have Exemplary Performers who role model the required performance while you observe and categorize into tasks, skills, knowledge, and performance steps.

You respond by applying best practices such as creating learning objectives through a series of If/Then statements:

If we want to increase sales of our new service, then the sales representatives need to be able to perform an effective sales presentation. If we want them to perform the presentation, then they need to learn these skills __________, __________, and __________ (skills are categorized by observing the Exemplary Performers role modeling). If they need to perform these skills, then they will require this knowledge __________, __________, and __________ (knowledge is categorized by interviewing the Exemplary Performers role modeling).

This series of If/Then statements can also be visualized by using Performance or Action mapping as Catchy Moore shows in this slide presentation:

Complicated Design Environment - SAR

Sense by using a collaborative process to create shared awareness and understanding of each team member's perspectives in order to create a mental model of the learning problem so that the correct decision-making can be made.

A complicated learning design environment is similar to a simple learning design environment except rather than having Exemplary Performers who you observe, you have SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), who you interview and ask questions in order to analyze their responses.

You then respond by discovering patterns in their responses and transforming the information into good practices. And normally the only way to determine if it is indeed a "good practice" is through a series of iterations. Thus while a simple environment will only require a few iterations, a complicated environment will require several more.

Complex Design Environment - PSR

Since there are no Exemplary Performers to observe or SMEs to interview, the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, thus the approach is to probe through deep collaboration among the learners, managers, and designers, such as telling stories about what they are experiencing (narratives). It is often helpful to look at the system and processes by starting with the output and working backwards through them in order see what to discuss (collaborate) and if it will help with the solution. Thus the primary design approach is Learner-Centered with the learners fulfilling the roles of SMEs, with perhaps some System Design added in. In addition, you can use a processes similar to the method Joe Deegan describes in his blog post, Project Based Learning in 3 Steps.

This probing effect should start to paint a picture or pattern that allows you to sense an "emergent practice" that can be responded to by designing and then implementing a solution based on the observed pattern. Since this will be a new practice, it will more than likely have to go though several rounds of iterations to arrive at the "emergent" practice.

Chaotic Design Environment - ASR

Since there is no relationship between cause and effect that the team (learners, managers, and designers) can agree upon, you will need to look at the system and processes by starting with the output and working backwards in order see what you can act upon. This might seem similar to a Complex Environment, but with a Chaotic Environment you are basically taking guesses of what to do (perhaps educated ones), while with a Complex Environment you are seeing patterns and getting an "Aha! moment" — this will work.

Once the change has been implemented, sense the environment again and see if the team can now agree upon the correct level of complexity. If not repeat the process with a new "act" until an agreement can be made.

By forcing changes into the chaotic environment you eventually push it into one of the other three domains. At this point a pattern should emerge that will allow the team to correctly identify the environment (more than likely a Complex Environment), thus you can now respond with one of the above three approaches.

The Complexity of Design Approaches

Knowing which design environment you are in helps with the planning by, 1) informing you of the number of design approaches that will be involved, and 2) estimating the number of iterations that will be needed.

1. As the level of complexity increases, the number of design approaches to solve the problem correspondly increases; however, there will normally be one major design approach. This will give you an idea of the scope of the design solution that you will be working in:

Complexity and Design Approaches

2. As the level of complexity increases, the number of iterations to reach a "good-enough" level correspondly increases. This will give you an idea of the number of iterations that will be needed:

Complexity and Interations

Up Next

The design concept creates the basic plan for carrying out the Selection and development of learning objects for a dL platform, which will be covered in the next post. And while selection might seem rather mundane at first, it's more or less the heart of Agile Design.


Markley, J., 2006. The Army Distributed Learning Program. Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC): presentation given at the U.S. Army Courseware Conference March, 14, 2006. Retrieved No, 2, 2009: http://wow.tradoc.army.mil/tadlp/presentations/dlcwconf06.pp3


Orientation in Agile Learning Design

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

The second concept of PODSI (Plan, Orientate, Design, Select, & Iterate) is Orientating to ensure you understand the contextual issues of the environment you will be designing in.

Learning through orientation

In the early 70's, three similar, but different, concepts emerged on the importance of orientation and learning — Boyd's OODA Loop, Double Loop Learning, and After Action Reviews.

Boyd's OODA Loop

Col. John Boyd, USAF, developed the OODA Loop for decision-making in a combat environment, particularly for combat pilots, and is now used in many organizations. He viewed problems as a cycle of Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action, (OODA) and determined that whoever could cycle through the loop the fastest would win in a combat fight.

Boyd realized that people normally performed three of the decision-making tasks — observing, decision, and then performing an action, perhaps without really thinking about it, but one of their biggest weakness was failing to orientate themselves to the environment; thus he spent most of his time talking about it. This is why he highlighted "Orientation" in his diagram.

Double Loop Learning

Chris Argyris coined the term "Double Loop Learning" and "Single Loop Learning. Single loop learning has often been compared to a thermostat in that it makes a "decision" to either turn on or off. Double loop learning is like a thermostat that asks "why" — Is this a good time to switch settings? Are there people in here? Are they in bed? Are they dressed for a colder setting? — thus it orientates itself to the present environment in order to make the wisest decision.

A person who is double loop learning is basically "orientating" herself to all possible solutions within her environment by asking a series of "whys" that is similar to Sakichi Toyoda's (the founder of Toyota) method who used a technique he called the Five Whys — when confronted with a problem you ask "why" five times. By the time the fifth why is answered, you should be at the root cause of the problem.

Amusing, but informative video on double and single loop learning (6.21 minutes):


After Action Reviews

Before the early 70's the U.S. Army used Performance Critiques to determine the effectiveness of training (mostly war games), which in a nutshell determined who won and who lost. Deciding that this was not the best way to get their money's worth they came up with the After Action Review (AAR):

The U.S. Army's did a slight twist on orientating oneself in that after a learning event, there is still more to learn by re-orientating oneself to the past and then asking a lot of whys so that new learnings are created — one prepares for the future by learning from the past. Learning is transformed from an event to a process by discovering "lessons learned."

Differences between a Performance Critique and an AAR:

Increase learning

Orientation in the Agile Design Environment

With all this emphasis on orientation you would think that by now we would have it down pat, but the truth is that people do not spend enough time on it, thus solutions continue to miss their intended mark. To aid us in orientating ourselves to the proper level of complexity so that the initial learning architecture can be designed, we will use the Cynefin (pronounced cunevin) framework.

The Cynefin framework was created by Dave Snowden and coworkers at IBM's Institute of Knowledge Management and consists of five domains:

Cynefin Framework
  • Simple - the relationship between cause and effect is obvious to all; the approach is to Sense - Categorize - Respond by applying best practices.
  • Complicated - the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or some other form of investigation and the application of expert knowledge; the approach is to Sense - Analyze - Respond by discovering patterns and then apply good practice.
  • Complex - the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance; the approach is to Probe - Sense - Respond by sensing emergent practice, such as telling stories (narratives), which is similar to an AAR.
  • Chaotic - there is no relationship between cause and effect at systems level; the approach is to Act - Sense - Respond to discover novel practice (take action) in order push the environment into one of the other domains so further action can take place.
  • Disorder - the state of not knowing what type of causality exists, thus people will revert to their own comfort zone when making decisions.

In this short video, Shawn Callahan of Anecdote gives a very good explanation of the Cynefin or Complexity model:

While gaining a full understanding of Cynefin framework requires a fairly extensive workshop, there are a few simple techniques that will help to identify the complexity of an Agile Design environment. However, to do so we need to tightly define three terms: subject matter expert, exemplary performer, and expert performer.

Subject Matter Expert (SME): Knows the subject or task, but does not presently perform in that area. An example is a college professor that teaches business, but is not engaged in a business; or a person that has performed in the subject area in the past in a wide variety of contexts, but is not presently a performer in that area.

Exemplary performer: Is able to perform the tasks for a certain subject area and is worthy of imitation, but does not have a great deal of knowledge about the peripherals surrounding the subject or task.

Expert performer: Is able to perform the tasks for a certain subject area and is worthy of imitation; in addition they have a great deal of knowledge about the peripherals surrounding the subject or task. An example might be a physician assistant (PA) who works in that job during the day and teaches college courses about it at night or a PA who not only performs the duties, but has performed in a number of surrounding areas that gives him a broad context of the subject and tasks. Basically an expert performer is both a SME and Exemplary Performer.

These definitions of the various "experts" that learning/instructional designers call upon are keys for identifying the complexity of the design environment:


In a simple design environment someone on the team has identified one or more Exemplary Performers who will be the role model(s) for the learning being designed. For example, a manager comes to you who wants to train her people to perform in the same manner as an Exemplary Performer she has identified; or during your research you identify a few Exemplary Performers who will make perfect role models.

While this is normally one of the easier learning platforms to design, it does have a couple of pitfalls. The first is thinking that since it is fairly easy to design, it is also easy to learn and perform, thus the failing to build enough practice time into the learning platform. Designers often become so absorbed in their work that they fail to realize how much time they are putting into it, thus they spend a couple of weeks working on the task, then think they can transform it into a two-hour information dump.

The second pitfall is failing to support the informal learning that must occur after the formal learning. There is an average of an 1:4 ratio in which one hour of formal learning produces four hours of informal learning. Thus support for the informal learning is also required to transform a training event into a learning process — the U.S. Army helped with this by giving us the concepts used in an AAR.

Formal learning is a seed that produces a lot of informal learning. If you don't plant the seed, you don't get the fruit. If you don't nourish the plant (informal learning), you end up getting underdeveloped fruit.

Note that the two pitfalls are not limited to a Simple environment, in that they can also occur within any of the other environments. However, in a Simple environment you will probably be more concerned with practicing within the formal learning environment than within an informal learning environment.


In a Complicated design environment someone on the team will identify one or more Expert Performers whose skills (exemplary performance) and knowledge of the surrounding tasks and subject matter can be combined and/or transformed to form a "good enough" practice. The idea here is to take the "best" practices of their exemplary skills and subject matter expertise, along with the input of others, and combine them into a workable performance solution. In addition, you are going to start relying on the learners or affected (those who are going to be most affected by the learning solution) more as the problems are going to be slightly more wicked than within a Simple environment.

Like the simple environment, you will have to watch for the two pitfalls; however, in this Complicated learning environment you will probably have to pay about equal attention to both the formal and informal learnings of the learners/performers, in addition to relying on more iterations to ensure you get the feedback of the affected.


In a Complex learning design environment there are few or no exemplary performance examples to draw upon, thus you rely mainly upon subject matter experts (SMEs) and others to try to draw a picture of an "emergent" practice. However, some, if not most of the SMEs, should come from the environment (those affected) as they are probably the best "experts" of that environment.

While the initial learning platform might start out with more formal learning than informal learning, you need to look for solutions during the design and iterations to support informal learning while lessening the need for formal learning. This is because the complexity of the environment normally only requires a small seed of formal learning but needs extra nourishments of informal learning.


In a Chaotic learning design environment the initial solutions will come mostly through the managers and affected/learners. While the approach is to Act - Sense - Respond, it will more than likely require several iterations, rather than a one time shot. After each iteration, reexamine the environment to see if it has dropped to a lower level, more than likely a Complex environment, then take the appropriate approach.

We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future. - Marshall McLuhan

While you will often look to the past to predict the future, entering a chaotic environment is often uncharted territory, thus you will need an intense amount of collaboration to create unique solutions so that you do not harm your customers and the workers/learners with a poorly implemented solution.


If by chance you discover you are in a Disorder environment where no one is sure of the environment, then more collaboration is called for with perhaps a few more "experts" (mostly the learners). Remaining in this state is unacceptable.

Agile Matrix for Orientation

blank matrix

I took the main points (practices) of this post and inserted them into the Value and Principles Matrix (See first post on Agile Design for Learning) to show how orientation fits into the values and principles of Agile Design:

Agile Orientate Matrix

Note On some systems the xlsx version will try to download as a zip file. In that case, click the above xlsx file with the right mouse button to bring up the context menu and then click "Save Target As..." item. When the dialog window opens, change the extension from .zip to .xlsx — this will save the file correctly.


Planning in Agile Learning Design

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

The first concept of PODSI (Plan, Orientate, Design, Select, & Iterate) is planning to ensure the goal or target is identified and that all stakeholders see the feasibility of the project. One of the most common mistakes with designing learning processes is failing to link the learning platform with a business need — the business unit or customer does not understand how the performance solution links to their business needs and/or the designers fail to link the correct solution to a real business need.

Network all stakeholeds in agile design

Business linkage is a "high value add" that is defined as the difference-making in business because it adds high value (Garnevale, Gainer, & Villet, 1990). Yet, defining how our learning processes and platforms link to other business units is one of the activities that we normally spend the least amount of time on (Trolley, 2006). One way to understand your customers' need is to determine how they will evaluate the effectiveness of the learning solution before you begin the project, not after.

Another impediment to identifying the correct business linkage is the failure to bring the learners into the planning stage. Rittel (1972) noted that often the best experts with the best knowledge for solving wicked problems are those affected by the solution; in this case it is the learners themselves. Yet, the only time we normally bring them in is to be guinea pigs for testing our learning process. Now normally you will not be able do bring the entire population of them in, but do bring in enough learners that will actual represent the population.

The learners are the real stakeholders, thus even if you or the managers don't agree as to what they are saying, you need to listen, guide, and act on their needs and perspectives so that they take ownership of the learning and performance solution. This is one way they gain metalearning and metacognitive skills.

In addition, Rummler and Brache's experience was that 80% of performance problems reside in the environment, such as processes and systems, so ensure the problem is really a learning/training problem, not some other performance problem; while most of these problems do require some sort of learning solution, ensure you get to the root cause.

Note that Rummler and Brache's 80% rule could differ greatly from yours; if the performers/learners have a great deal of autonomy, then you would expect a larger percentage of performance problems will be in the skills and knowledge area (learning solutions), rather than the environment (other performance solutions) as there is less of a chance that an autonomous performer is restricted by a process or system. Another reason is if the performers/learners work in a highly evolving or complex environment that require unique solutions from them, rather than relying on a process that leads them to a preplanned solution.

Since designers, managers, learners, and perhaps some subject matter experts and/or exemplary performers will be in on the planning, a high degree of collaboration needs to take place to accurately identify the problem and solution. Collaboration does not mean agreeing with everything others say as this leads to group-think or the Abilene Paradox. You want the team members to disagree and share information. To encourage lower status members to share, which may often be the learners, the members' expertise needs to be acknowledged to the group at the onset of the planning stage — people who sense they have a high status in the group will more likely want to share their knowledge.

Note that by arguing, we mean focusing on the problems, not crass behavior; telling narratives, not finger-pointing; and finding solutions that benefit the organization, not trying to force one's agenda. No matter how complex or argumentative an issue is, it can normally be broken down to three basic artifacts:

  • Questions
  • Ideas
  • Arguments (pros and cons)

Paul Culmsee tells a great story about using these artifacts to guide the discussion and collaboration in a blog post.

One of the tools for capturing the ideas during planning is a concept or mind map. While Paul's story uses Compendium (free), just about any mind mapping tool will work; however, Compendium was built especially for this type of collaboration in order to show different viewpoints, positions, and pros and cons organized by using logical connections:

Compendium screen shot

For other tools that will aid the collaboration process, see McKinsey & Company's Using technology to improve workforce collaboration. In addition, the article includes a neat Flash based collaboration types and tools app that shows day-to-day activities with various technologies that promote work and learning flows.

Since this is an "agile" environment, we have to ensure that all the individuals are able to interact in a manner so that everyone understands the goal or target that needs to be met — exactly what change of performance will occur after the learners return to their jobs and how that change benefits not only the business unit, but the entire organization as well.

While I've given a few practices to support planning in Agile Design in this post, they can be supplemented by other practices, such as the Analysis phase in ISD, as long as they support the values and principles of Agile Design. This can best be checked by determining if they fit in the Value and Principles Matrix:

blank matrix

For example, I took the main points (practices) of this post and inserted them into the Value and Principles Matrix:

Agile Planning Matrix

Download Excel Value and Principles Matrix file: Agile_Planning_Matrix.xls
Download Excel Value and Principles Matrix file: Agile_Planning_Matrix.xlsx

A final point is that planning is not a one-shot affair, but is iterative, thus it can be returned to on a as needed basis. For example, the next concept, Orientate (which will be covered in the next post), will often have to be performed before the initial planning can be initiated and/or once the learning solution is ran thru its iterations. Thus planning is not rigid, but follows the Agile values' of evolutionary and adaptive to ensure customer and learners' needs are met.


Garnevale, A., Gainer, L., & Villet, J., (1990), Training in America: The Organization and Strategic Role of Training. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rittel, H. (1972). On the planning crisis: systems analysis of the "first and second generation.Bedriftsokonomen. No. 8, pp.390-396.

Trolley, E. (2006). Lies About Learning. Larry Israelite, ed. Baltimore, Maryland: ASTD.