It’s quite clear that learning design needs to change if it is to be effective in driving performance change today. As a sometimes external and sometimes internal learning and performance specialist, I’ve been pondering how to best integrate elements from other disciplines such as Agile and Design Thinking to enhance the impact of learning design and delivery on performance and engagement.

For too long as both leaders and internal Business Partners, we’ve had a narrow focus, leaping from need to need, and ticking boxes for team members to attend one-off workshops or a series of workshops with action learning activities, without looking at the bigger picture. But if we’re not adapting and changing to better suit changes in diversity, learning habits and the integration of work and learning, are we still relevant?

Performance management and ways of working seem to be changing and yet an agile approach to learning design lags far behind, which immediately raises a red flag.

There’s a better way to design learning for the workplace and it’s with the inclusion of Agile techniques. It means changing the traditional HR mindset. James Perez puts it well when he says, “Agile is the enabler, not the answer.”

How can you enable your people with Agile learning design? The key lies in speed, continuous improvement and collaboration.

Let’s talk about people.

In traditional face to face learning design, we gather data about the problem, go away and design a learning solution and take it to the people who need it. We give them a solution. Agile learning design works differently. HR/L&D doesn’t deliver a solution; it works with the end learner, to create a solution.

It’s about working collaboratively with the stakeholders – the people who know the problem because they live with it. It’s a team of people working to find a solution which works well enough to put into place fast. When you work with your client, learners and stakeholders as part of the learning design team, you all get a clearer perspective on the problem, a better assessment of what might work, and real buy-in all round. They have part ownership of the learning design solution.


What you can do to build collaboration.

Involve the end learners and stakeholders in the design process and make it visual so everyone can see it. Instead of just talking to them about the problem they want solved, include them in co-designing the solution in a workshop setting. With their input, your learning solution will be more accurate and delivered in a format which better suit the end learner needs.

Let’s talk about speed.

One of the issues with learning design is the lack of immediacy. We’re slow to create a solution because we can spend too long analysing and assessing the problem. By the time we’ve done that and designed a program or outsourced it to another provider, the problem has changed, or we haven’t linked it to the performance outcomes needed, making our learning solution ineffective.

And let’s not talk about perfectionism. Learning designers can be perfectionists; which is great because it shows how much they care about creating the ideal solution. But we need to understand that testing an imperfect solution allows for iteration and improvement and is better than no solution. We can’t afford to make people wait for perfection because it just doesn’t happen.

Think about the meaning of the word ‘agile.’ An agile person can move or think quickly and easily. Agile learning design needs to do the same – be ready quickly and adapt easily as it needs to.

What you can do to be effective quickly.

One of the techniques Agile learning design uses is iteration. An iteration is a single development cycle which happens over a set time period.

The process helps produce a usable product in a short time. You create quick and useful learning solutions out to the people who need it. It’s not about perfection; it’s about continuous improvement.

Other techniques to consider when adopting an Agile approach to learning design are:

Running co-design workshops as sprints. Bring the stakeholders together in a fast-paced workshop to create the basis of your final product. Not only do you gather more comprehensive information from a wider range of viewpoints, but the learning design is also visual to all participants.

Ask participants to supply content and ideas collaboratively. They understand the impact of the problem and can point to specific areas of concern. They may even be able to give you the evidence if you ask for it, and they’ll also give you possible solutions. They’ve probably thought to themselves, “Why don’t we do it this way as X company does?” They may also have done some research of their own and have references they can add to your curated resources. Invite them to share their thoughts collaboratively in the design workshop and watch the quality of the output improve.

Experience mapping. This is a visual way of following a client’s journey to reach a goal. It clearly lays out all the touchpoints in the process and is useful for mapping problem areas. It also considers the emotional reaction to each touchpoint, so you develop a better understanding of how and why a problem has developed. It gives you the big picture, so the learning design covers all angles. You can design better learning solutions which solve the actual problem rather than the problem you think it might be.

Carry out retrospectives. This is a key part of the Agile process. Regular retrospectives allow you to review progress in terms of both content and the sprint process to produce a better-quality product and a better learning design process overall. It’s part of the continuous improvement of your learning design.

Of course, there’s more I could talk about, but I think you may want to go and test the principles for yourself

And if you’d like to learn more about the techniques and how they fit with learning design or an internal business partnering model, I’d love to hear from you. Give me a call or drop me an email and we’ll set aside some time to chat.