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Using an Agile approach in Learning Design

28 April, 2022
How flexibility, collaboration and speed help to deliver high quality learning experiences at scale.

You’ve likely heard the term ‘agile’ in relation to learning design. The agile approach has been borrowed and adapted from the world of software development, where it revolutionised the industry by enabling quality at speed, through genuine collaboration and continuous improvement.

Let’s look at how those same benefits can be applied in higher education, to improve the student and academic experience and solve challenges for universities and VET providers.

Agile learning design focuses on speed, flexibility and collaboration.

Agile learning designers work in short, highly focused stages called sprints. Before and in between each sprint, collaboration with educators (including academics and subject matter experts) is built into the design process. Rather than handing over a ‘finished product’ for review at the end, agile learning design captures feedback in bite-sized chunks that informs the rest of the design and build.

At OES, we have been using agile design since our inception more than 10 years ago. In that time, we’ve continually refined our collaboration process with partners to get maximum value from the time, knowledge and teaching insights offered by educators. Our agile approach was recognised in the 2021 Learn X Live Awards, where we won two awards for Best eLearning Design in the Agile category.

Working agile empowers us to achieve genuine co-design and efficiently create high quality learning experiences at the scale required.

Why choose agile?

Agile learning design can achieve impressive scale and speed while also staying true to quality benchmarks. Here are some common pain points institutions face when creating or expanding their online or blended learning experience – and how an agile approach can solve them.

Speed: Institutions want to achieve rapid growth in their course portfolio. They have aggressive timelines but don’t want to compromise quality.

Solution: Create a repeatable, scalable design process with learning tools and templates that can support multiple programs and can also be adapted to course-specific needs. The speed of delivery should increase as the course rollout continues. For example, OES started one partnership with the design and production of four programs. This enabled us to establish a shared pedagogical approach, including supporting documentation for all stakeholders. Following this initial scope of work, OES was then able to rapidly deliver 19 new online courses in just six months.

Quality: How can we protect academic quality and student experience?

Solution: The iterative co-design approach between a learning design team and educators is essential to agile learning design. Multiple points of review and feedback ensure the design aligns to the learning outcomes and assessments that the educator has set. And while educators have the deep content knowledge, learning designers have the design and technology skills to action their ideas. This achieves the best possible student experience, with content that is designed explicitly for best practice online and blended learning, while capturing the teaching expertise and curricula in the most genuine way.

Time: Educators are already under pressure; they don’t have time to design online learning.

Solution: We find educators appreciate the opportunity to collaborate, as long as their time is used efficiently. Working in sprints enables learning designers to work intensively to progress the content to a certain point, then stop and share with educators. Instead of a constant ‘back and forth’ flow of enquiries, the input required from educators is clear and defined. From the outset, OES gives educators a development plan, so they can plan the time required to offer feedback at each stage. Most development periods will require a deeper time investment from educators at the start, as we map out the course blueprint. But once the sprint schedules start, educators typically find they are able to fit reviews in around their busy teaching and research schedules.

Skills: Educators may feel a lack of confidence in how their face-to-face teaching skills will translate to an online or blended environment.

Solution: The agile approach truly brings educators on the learning design journey. The co-design process creates a strong partnership between learning designers and educators, as both parties share their knowledge and strive to give students the best possible learning experience. As a result, educators can very quickly develop their online and blended capabilities, achieving the following benefits:

  • Educators feel an authentic sense of ownership of the content, helping achieve high quality course delivery.
  • They have a strong understanding of how to create a sense of belonging and connectedness for online and blended students.
  • They can inform future improvements to the course content and delivery.
  • They are able to share their skills with colleagues, building capability across the institution.

The value of preparation

To get the best out of the agile approach, we recommend making a serious investment in collaborative thinking before the design sprints begin. At OES, that includes workshops and mapping out the course elements together with educators. We do this to ensure the sprints will deliver the maximum speed and efficiency benefits for our partners. We also find the review stages are easier for educators, as the big questions have been identified and ironed out in advance.

Get in touch with OES if you would like to explore how agile learning design and production can be applied at your institution.