A Case for Agile eLearning

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The design and development of eLearning is similar to the design and development of a software product. There are several stages that go into building the eLearning program and work happens in stages till the final program or course is handed over to the client. Traditionally, the project management models used for eLearning design are ADDIE and SAM. A strong focus on ensuring that Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning is also adhered to during the development of the program. In the last few years, ‘Agile eLearning‘ is gaining prominence.

In this blog post, we will read a brief description of the ADDIE model, some insights about Bloom’s Taxonomy, and a bit of information about SAM. We will then examine how the Agile Model can bring in a positive transformation in eLearning development and how you can save time and cost by adopting the agile model citing case studies.

eLearning Development Models

Over the years, eLearning has evolved in terms of the way it’s designed, deployed, and consumed. From packaged courses sold on CDs to courses deployed on the LMS, to mobile learning apps and the latest trend of learning experience platforms; we have come a long way. Despite all these changes, the Instructional Design models based on which the programs are designed to have remained quite consistent. The ADDIE Model continues to go strong.
A – Analyze
D – Design
D – Develop
I – Implement
E – Evaluate

The ADDIE Model is like the Waterfall Method or Model of Production and gets work done sequentially.

AD Model

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives is considered by many to be the core theory that powers learning. Focusing on the cognitive domain; design based on Bloom’s Taxonomy stresses on – Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating.Bloom's Taxonomy

The Successive Approximation Model or SAM devised by Allen Interactions is another popular Learning Design model that has found a lot of favor among organizations. SAM offers an instructional design approach consisting of repeated small steps, or iterations, which are intended to address some of the most common issues in eLearning Design.

Problems with Adopting the ADDIE Model

Though the ADDIE model has served organizations well for many decades, it is not without some shortcomings.
1 – Prolonged Development
As the whole premise is built on completing tasks step-by-step in sequential order, the failure of even one stakeholder in the whole process can severely impact the outcome of the project.
2 – The Communication Loop
With numerous stakeholders involved, it is important to keep everyone informed about the status of the project. Often, communication lapses result in confusion and delays.
3 – Of Delays and Foregoing Testing
This is typically a worst-case scenario. You have committed to deliver a program or module by a specific date and your client is awaiting delivery. With too many iterations and changes in the module, you are forced to do just cursory testing of the module; or God forbid, no testing at all. When you send such a module to your client; you are taking too many risks.

To summarize, the ADDIE / Waterfall Model of Project Management needs a high level of trust and pinpoint perfection in planning to ensure that the work gets done as planned. This model also does not offer leeway for a lot of changes in the project.

A Case for Agile eLearning

‘Agility’ is defined as the ability to move fast and with ease. When adopting the Agile Model of eLearning Design; we offer room for both speed and ease of use; without compromising on the quality. Here’s how it works:
Step-1
All key stakeholders Involved in the project meet to discuss the aims and objectives of the eLearning project and how it would benefit the learners who would take up the program. Participants are encouraged to collaborate in meetings and come up with ideas to identify problems that they may encounter in developing the project. These meetings are known as ‘scrums’.

Step-2
The entire course is broken down into smaller chunks with each chunk being designed individually by a team member. By the virtue of its design, these chunks unite and form a full-length course. Development of these chunks happens simultaneously. These chunks are designed in what’s known as a ‘development sprint’. Multiple sprints are needed to complete one course.

Step-3
The chunks are reviewed by all the stakeholders in question and once it’s approved; the team progresses to develop the next chunk of the course. This process repeats until the entire project is completed and handed over to the client.

ADDIE vs AGILE a Comparison

Comparision

A Case Study from Brigham Young University

Brigham Young University is a private, non-profit research university based out of Provo, Utah in the USA. In this case study, we are using the thesis submission of MS student Alyssa Jean Erickson from BYU, which looks at ‘Agile Development in Instructional Design’. BYU Independent Study (BYUIS) is an online education program at Brigham Young University that provides online courses at the high school and university levels. In April 2016, BYUIS implemented the Agile development process to the design and development of online courses. Alyssa studies this period of transition to the Agile Model and builds a compelling case study to prove how switching to Agile helped the L&D team design courses better and faster at BYU.

After this study was completed, the BYUIS team moved into a separate office building, which accommodated the different teams working on its projects. With an open floor plan; the design and development teams and the customer-facing staff were all based out of the same premises. This ensured faster communication and one could address issues by just walking up to the relevant staff member and speaking directly.

Example of Agile Project Design at Origin

Origin received a request from a leading American networking hardware products provider. They wanted an eLearning program to be developed and deployed for all their employees, which would help them understand the ‘Quality Audit’ process. Quality audits are an important component of the success of any organization. Be it an internal audit conducted by senior staff members, or an external audit conducted by qualified auditing personnel; it is essential that employees have the right answers to the questions posed by the auditors.

In this case, the client wanted the program to be designed and delivered as quickly as possible. In essence, Origin had less than two months to conceptualize, design, test, and hand over the completed eLearning program to the client. Origin received their existing ILT content, which had to be assessed, improved upon, and converted into an engaging eLearning program. Origin’s primary challenges were to assess the content, refine it, and convert it into a storyboard for the eLearning program, get the storyboard approved, and initiate and complete development of the program at the earliest.

eLearning Agile

Using the agile model, Origin’s team completed the entire project well within the proposed deadline and helped the client meet their training requirements. You can read the case study to learn how Origin succeeded.

From the points and the case studies listed above; it is quite clear that organizations are looking to adopt processes and business models that make them design eLearning faster and complete projects well within the committed deadline. Like all project models, organizations rooted in tradition may be resistant to change; eventually, organizations seek to find a balanced approach that integrates the best practices from ADDIE, SAM, Agile, and Waterfall project management methods to devise their own customized solution that helps them achieve peak performance.

Conclusion

Despite numerous technological advances, the ADDIE model has essentially remained the same over the last 40 years. The L&D industry in its current avatar is at an interesting phase. The availability of different technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Adaptive Learning, Machine, and Deep Learning has brought to the forefront learning solutions that could not even be imagined a decade ago. It is all about fulfilling learner and organizational needs. As an eLearning vendor, irrespective of whichever project management model you follow, if you can exceed the expectations of your customer; then you are on the right path. Which project management model have you implemented in your organization? Share your insights with us.

References:
https://www.learnupon.com/blog/what-is-agile-elearning/
https://blog.stccg.com/addie-vs-agile
https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7780&context=etd

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