Business is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. As technologies and innovations transform industries, new markets are being created, and customer behavior is drastically changing. Employees must learn quickly and adapt swiftly to frequent changes to keep up with this dizzying pace.
For today’s Learning and Development teams, agile learning is no longer a lofty goal or an initiative that never makes it off the wish list. Instead, the recent massive shift in the way teams and organizations work has propelled the need for agile learning into the here and now.
Agile’s emphasis on constant deliverables, ongoing feedback, and frequent iterations helps learners keep pace with all these unpredictable changes.
Agile learning is a relatively new approach to learning and development that emphasizes flexibility, collaboration, and speed. More specifically, agile means taking a continuous approach to learning—both the content and programs—by implementing continuous feedback loops to regularly iterate on course creation and create highly collaborative working environments.
If the word agile sounds familiar, it’s because it comes from the principles of agile. In 2001, a group of software developers pioneered the concept of agile to help them build applications more efficiently by developing software in smaller chunks, collecting feedback, and implementing it between each cycle. This helped them assess progress and realign with goals while developing, not after spending a year working on an enormous project without ever checking to make sure they were moving in the right direction.
Agile learning’s incremental approach allows you to make adjustments throughout the development process as you learn more about your organization’s learning goals and how to achieve them.
This contrasts with ADDIE, a linear training development method that requires Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation steps to be completed one at a time and in order. With ADDIE, you create a comprehensive plan at the beginning of a project when you know the least about it, which could lead to frustration and poor course design.
Adopting agile learning improves your company’s flexibility by giving people time to experiment. Since there’s no single “right way” to implement agile learning, you can explore how it works best inside your organization and eliminate the guesswork that comes with creating programs. Instead of your L&D teams trying to guess what topics and skills your people need to learn, you can base your courses on your company’s most pressing needs and what your actual learners demand at any given moment.
Related: The Right Way to do a Training Needs Analysis
Agile learning leans heavily on Collaborative Learning to open doors to individuals at all levels of the business to request, create, and iterate learning courses. This is because agile requires constant re-evaluation of learning goals, which works best when everyone provides input on how things are going and how they could improve.
This structure, where managers assess Learning Needs (often declared by learners themselves) and create training materials, takes a bottom-up approach to L&D where everyone in your organization can decide what they want to learn. This type of collaboration across teams and departments helps create a cohesive company culture that breeds innovation and maximizes ingenuity.
With Collaborative Learning, your employees share their knowledge by simultaneously teaching and learning from one another. In addition, by learning in groups, you can tap into your team’s skills and institutional knowledge to enhance your training processes and courses.
When implemented correctly, agile learning can help foster a more creative environment by allowing everyone to offer input into what’s happening, so they feel more connected and invested in their work. It also brings in new perspectives and ideas by giving an equal voice to employees that may have previously been excluded.
By embracing an agile approach, you can create a true Learning Organization where knowledge is shared, mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning, and everyone is encouraged to teach others while also taking every opportunity to learn. (You can get the full picture about Learning Organizations in our ebook).
Agile learning helps your people learn faster by reducing the time they have to wait between training sessions. Learners also gain confidence through faster feedback, which results in a swifter upskilling process.
Agile learning helps your L&D team speed up course creation by focusing on the rapid iteration of ideas, which accelerates the process of creating and refining programs. By using iterative design to make frequent, small changes, your team can launch programs faster, and your employees will have a higher quantity and quality of coursework at their disposal.
Moving from a more traditional learning background to an agile learning culture takes time—agile learning is a mindset shift that requires foundational changes both inside and outside your L&D department. You can use these guidelines to ease into the process and test agile practices to make sure they’re a good fit for your organization.
Share your vision of the culture you want to create. Then, reach out to stakeholders, your C-suite, and department heads to discuss the specific benefits of agile learning for your team and organization. When working on getting buy-in, encourage debate and discussion with everyone in your organization and make sure you’re not leaving out any departments.
Instead of trying to perfect coursework before your team releases it, work toward the fast production of deliverables, then collect feedback and use it to iterate and make changes. To make this process more efficient, build in several ways for learners to provide feedback inside your courses.
This allows your L&D team to add high-priority courses that need to be consumed quickly, like employee onboarding or a specialized skill required for a current pressing project. By breaking up courses into smaller pieces via microlearning, you’ll be able to improve engagement and boost knowledge retention.
Empower everyone in your organization to participate in the learning process by giving them the access and authoring tools to create their own courses. Set change goals and check on your progress regularly: Set at least one benchmark goal and check your progress against it regularly to make sure you’re still moving toward an agile culture. Remember to stay flexible so you can make quick adjustments if necessary.
Recognize and reward employees as they hit milestones in your training and encourage them to help others learn.
Every L&D team has different needs, so you’ll have to choose the methods and tactics that feel right for your company. Since there’s no one way to implement agile, you have the freedom to be flexible when designing your processes. Experiment with different styles and methodologies—combining them if desired—until you find a good fit. Agile can adapt to suit your company’s needs, no matter how they change or evolve in the future.
Mike Clark, a senior L&D specialist at bluebird bio, warns that moving from a waterfall to an iterative L&D approach won’t be a simple light-switch transition. To start the transition, he says, “try to lean into agile tools and find ways to implement them in your day-to-day process. Then, add one or two parts of the agile process over time. And understand that the rules of agile are meant to help you, so if there is anything that doesn’t necessarily work for your organization, know that it’s a flexible process, just like anything else.”
You don’t need to implement a sweeping restructure of your L&D to start your agile learning transformation. Instead, when you’re ready, find a non-critical project in your backlog and start experimenting.
Try to lean into agile tools and find ways to implement them in your day-to-day process. Then, add one or two parts of the agile process over time.