Agile Learning Design in Developing Online Training

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As an online course designer do you find yourself frustrated with the course creation process?

There are a lot of moving parts and whether you have a team or you’re doing it all yourself, it’s difficult to balance all the different components.

You need to consider learning goals, user desires, the training material itself, and many other elements. In the end, all the components need to work seamlessly to bring about a transformation for your learner.

graphic showing how eLearning must come together

A solution to putting it all together faster may lie in agile eLearning.

Agile eLearning is defined as quick, effective, and easy course development. And really, who isn’t interested in this?

As exceptionally collaborative and adaptive by default, Agile simplifies projects.

With small, easy-to-manage pieces, project teams or the lone course creator can identify and resolve issues faster and earlier in the process. This results in providing a deliverable in a short time period that customers will find highly effective and valuable.

What is Agile Learning Design?

Agile learning is one of many instructional design processes course instructors often use to create effective training. Agile is a mentality, and its methodologies are the precepts the agile development team (e.g. the scrum team) agrees to implement. Each team will have its own specific methodology that differs from others.

Examples of Agile Frameworks

The Agile culture is an all-encompassing idea for numerous iterative and incremental product creating approaches. It’s iterative due to the course instructor (or team) revisiting the course. It’s incremental as the team completes tasks while continuing to work on making the end result better.

Examples of Agile learning frameworks include:

  • Extreme Programming (XP)
  • Scrum
  • Crystal
  • dynamic systems development method (DSDM)
  • kanban
  • feature-driven development (FDD)

Agile software development is an all-encompassing term for a set of frameworks and procedures based on agile values and agile principles expressed in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and the 12 Principles that support it.

12 Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto

As an online course creator, when you use an Agile learning approach, it is best to operate via these values and principles. Then use them to determine the right course to take for your unique context and learning culture.

What is the History of the Agile Framework?

The term “Agile software development” was coined at a meeting in 2001.

In the 1990s, software development engineers thought the way they executed their practices could be improved. Through group work and mixing old ideas with the new, software developers created a new methodology known as the Agile methodology.

The 4 core principles of agile methodology include:

  • an intimate collaboration between the development team and their colleagues.
  • execution of business value.
  • tight, self-organizing teams.
  • smart ways to build, verify, and produce the product.

Software development engineers wanted to spread their ideas within their network and beyond, so they established Agile development frameworks like the ones listed above. Once the popularity of these frameworks took off, online course designers like you borrowed the original design and added or took away from it to tweak it for their individual contexts.

The Final Manifesto for Agile Software Development

Later, a group of 17 people in Snowbird, Utah collaborated and determined that, although they all executed different methodologies, the methodologies they used had many commonalities. During their ski trip, they discussed the differences and commonalities all the while agreeing on some things, and disagreeing on others. The overall topic of discussion during this trip in 2017 resulted in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

After the release of the manifesto, the Agile methodology became the mainstream development process. The two results of the Manifesto were that it:

  • Provided a statement of value that became the Agile software development’s core.
  • Coined the phrase “Agile Software Development” itself.

What are Agile Values?

Here’s just a quick listing of the values described in the agile framework:

  1. People and connections take priority over practices and learning materials.
  2. Effective products take priority over complex contexts and content.
  3. Customer service takes priority over contract discussions.
  4. Lastly, response to change is high.

graphic of agile eLearning values

What are Agile Principles?

Here is a listing of the agile principles:

  1. Customer satisfaction via continuous delivery produced the fastest way possible.
  2. Accommodation for changing fundamentals during development.
  3. Frequent delivery of working software.
  4. Continuous integration and project collaboration between colleagues, stakeholders, and developers during the process.
  5. Support, trust, and motivation for the team that encompasses the culture of Agile learning.
  6. Enable one-on-one interactions for Agile design.
  7. Progress primarily measured by working software.
  8. Agile processes to reinforce a continual development pace of change.
  9. Attentiveness to technical detail and enhanced design agility.
  10. Simplicity.
  11. Self-reliant, encouraging team members, promoting great architectures, fundamentals, and construction.
  12. Finally, L & D teams regularly reflect on becoming more effective and producing higher quality Agile designs.

How Does Agile eLearning Work?

So how can you apply agile development to eLearning? There are essentially four main phases, which are loosely outlined here:

Phase 1: Alignment

Most importantly, agile mixes clients and the project together. Even if it’s just you, then you’re still a part of a team. In that case, the team will consist of you and your learners.

With agile eLearning, you don’t just create your course and say ‘here it is, do you like it’?.

Instead, you get feedback from your learners right from the start. You’ll share your course outline and course suggestions with the learners before you create any materials. So right from the start, you have your learners provide their input.

What if you don’t already have a group of learners? One way to get them is to go to Facebook and sign up for a few groups related to your course topic. Manually ask people on those groups if they want your free training in exchange for their advice. These people will become a part of your team.

Inviting them in on the process before you ever create anything helps you produce highly effective course materials. You’ll know upfront of any shortcomings and can fix them before you’ve invested any time in creating your course materials.

graphic showing the agile learning alignment stage

Phase 2: Planning

What are the learning goals of your course? What will your cover vs what won’t it cover? How will you measure if the learning goals have been met?

You plan all this out in the planning phase (along with your team which again will include you and your learners).

In addition, you determine what goes into each module and lesson of the course. Break the bigger course plans down into chunks (these can be your modules or whatever makes the most sense for your organization).

Each team member helps decide what goes into each chunk.

graphic showing the agile learning planning stage

Phase 3: Create & Iterate

Each chunk is worked on individually in this phase. Then it is all tested and reviewed by the team. As each chunk is developed, you give that piece to your learner(s) where you’ll get immediate feedback. You implement this feedback in the next iteration.

With agile eLearning strategies, you’re not waiting to see what learners think until after the entire course is completed. You’re creating, requesting feedback, and then iterating immediately. That way each chunk of the course receives feedback that is iterated on before the actual release. Each chunk is iterated on individually.

graphic showing the agile learning create & iterate stage

Phase 4: Evaluate

Finally, during this phase, you’ll make sure you assess whether each chunk is effective. You should have an ongoing assessment and evaluation built into your chunks and the course as a whole.

graphic showing the agile learning evaluate stage

As you can see, agile eLearning can get you on the fast track to a successful and highly valuable course. The main advantage of the agile strategy is the incorporation of your learner’s needs right from the start.

How Does Agile Learning Design Stack Up?

Instructional design involves the design and construction of learning materials. There are a number of subsets within the instructional design umbrella. Three other options include ADDIE, rapid eLearning, and SAM.

graphic showing instructional design strategies

ADDIE is an instructional design strategy often utilized by course instructors. There are 5 phases within the ADDIE process and for many, the difficulty lies in having to complete each phase before moving onto the next one. This is a contrast from agile learning where it’s not as rigid so some elements can be completed nearly simultaneously.

Rapid eLearning development is the rapid construction of eLearning materials via rapid design authoring tools. You use templates and pre-designed components to complete a course in 2 to 3 weeks with rapid eLearning. It’s also very loosely designed, even more so than agile learning.

The Successive Approximation Model (SAM) is another rapid model that uses agile steps to develop eLearning. It’s similar to agile eLearning in that it’s flexible and you iterate as you go, but there are minor twists.

Using any of the listed models will likely save you time and frustration over just winging your course. If you’re creating multiple courses then the time savings only become more magnified.

FAQs on Agile Learning Design

How do you use agile in instructional design?

Agile in instructional design is a methodology that helps instructional designers create content more efficiently by breaking down the design process into smaller, manageable tasks.

The agile approach to instructional design is particularly well suited for projects with large amounts of content or complex workflows. Agile learning design can help instructional designers to be more flexible and responsive to change, get feedback early and often, and focus on delivering the most important content first.

Is ADDIE waterfall or agile?

ADDIE is an instructional design model that stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. ADDIE is typically considered a waterfall approach because it is linear in nature. That means each phase must be completed before moving on to the next.

However, some instructional designers consider ADDIE to be more of an agile approach because it is flexible and can be adapted to the needs of the learners. While ADDIE is not a true agile methodology, it does share some characteristics with agile approaches such as scrum and Kanban.

What are the steps in agile design?

When it comes to agile design, there are four steps that you need to follow in order to ensure your project is successful.

  • The first step is to come up with a plan. This plan will serve as a guide for the rest of the project and help keep everyone on track.
  • Once the plan is in place, the next step is to start coding. This is where the real work begins and where you’ll start to see the project come to life.
  • After the code is written, it’s time to test. This step is important because it allows you to catch any errors or bugs that may have slipped through during the coding process.

Finally, once the project is complete, it’s time to launch it and put it out there for everyone to see.

Why is agile design important?

Design needs to be able to adapt and change quickly, in response to the ever-changing landscape. Gone are the days when you could create a design and expect it to stay relevant for years.

With new technologies emerging all the time, and user habits changing just as rapidly, designs need to be able to keep up.

By its very nature, agile design is built for change. It’s iterative, so it can easily be updated as new information arises. And it’s also focused on user feedback. Every iteration is based on what users are actually saying they need and want.

What are the 4 core principles of agile methodology?

The 4 core principles of agile methodology are:

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

These principles are intended to promote more adaptive and iterative processes, which can be better suited to rapidly changing or complex situations. Agile methodology has been widely adopted in the software development industry, and its popularity is continuing to grow in other sectors as well.

What is agile learning education?

The agile learning approach is characterized by its focus on the learner, its use of iterative and incremental methods, and its emphasis on collaboration.

Agile learning education places the learner at the center of the learning process and emphasizes the importance of collaboration and collective intelligence. Iterative and incremental methods are used in order to allow the learner to build upon their previous knowledge and experience.

The agile learning approach has been found to be particularly effective in situations where there is a need to quickly adapt to changing conditions.

What are the constructs of agile teaching and learning?

One construct of agile learning is that students learn best by doing. This means teachers should provide opportunities for students to apply what they are learning in order to solidify their understanding.

Another construct is that knowledge is best acquired incrementally. This means teachers should introduce new concepts gradually, building on what students have already learned.

Finally, agile teaching and learning rely on feedback loops. This means that teachers should regularly check in with students to gauge their understanding and provide guidance as needed.


No matter if you’re frustrated with the ADDIE system, uncertain of the best Agile framework to help you meet your online course initiatives, or you’re without a clear-cut idea of how to pursue one, it’s okay. Subject matter experts and project managers for online courses everywhere often struggle with these very questions and concerns.

But the Agile methodology may be the way to go.  After comparing the Agile values and Agile principals with other instructional design models, subject matter experts and online course designers like you often believe Agile methodology may best help them achieve their goals and meet their overall objectives and organizational needs.

Lisa Parmley
Lisa Parmley

Lisa Parmley is the founder of After gaining a Master's degree, she worked in research for about seven years. She started a training company in 2001, offering a course helping people pass a professional exam. That course has earned multiple 7 figures. She created SEO and authority site building training around 2007 which went on to earn well into the 6-figure mark.

She has 22+ years of experience in the trenches creating and selling online courses. Get help starting and growing your online course business here.

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