Making Learning Agile

October 30, 2018 in
By Lacey Rapini

Our month-long focus on Learning continues this week, with an interesting review of various methodologies we use for developing learning content and a quick nod to a classic 90’s R&B hit.

It seems like every week there is a new management article on Agile and its merits for use outside of the spectrum of software development. From Forbes to Harvard Business Review, management experts are weighing-in on how to adopt this mind-set to achieve agency goals[1]. Always at the forefront of using new and improved methodologies, FMP partnered with Excella Consulting to train our consultants in Agile. We currently boast 23 Certified Scrum Masters on our team across each of FMP’s core capability areas. Scrum, a component of the larger methodology, emphasizes a creative and adaptive teamwork approach to development.

Back-up – What is Agile anyway?

Agile began in the form of a manifesto – an entirely new approach to software project development[2]. These concepts have been pulled into an overarching approach to project management which is organized into time-boxed iterations of development, called sprints, and results in incremental deliveries of products to clients at regular intervals for review and reaction, known as a “sprint review.” This approach is in stark contrast to more traditional project management approaches where developers share a near final product with clients for review and approval near the conclusion of a project. In support of the manifesto, there are 12 principles of Agile design2. These principles include the concepts of self-organized teams, simplicity, technical excellence, frequent delivery, and frequent touchpoints.

I’m Intrigued – What’s this have to do with instructional design?

Just like any other, learning models are ways for us to go from an idea to an end product – with knowledge and skills transferred along the way. The ADDIE methodology, comprised of Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate is one of the most recognizable. It was created by Florida State University in 1975 to provide the US Army a framework for training creation[3]. At FMP, we have used this methodology greatly throughout our learning and development engagements. Following our Agile training, FMP’s Learning and Development Center of Excellence thought about how to best to incorporate these concepts into the traditional ADDIE approach.

Agile breaks software development into small, useable products, a concept known as “user stories.” These each are a thought-out and approved scenario of an individual who would try to perform a specific task in the new software. A user story answers the blanks in this very simple statement: As a WHO, I want WHAT, so I can WHY. For example: as a new employee, I want integrated user guidesso that I can quickly see step-by-step instructions for filling out and submitting my timesheet.

The concept of “user stories” can translate into a learning development project via creation of a “Primary Learner Persona”[4]. This persona takes place of a traditional “audience analysis” and allows the instructional designers to focus on meeting the needs of one specific individual. This can range from how to visually lay out information on the screen, to incorporating elements that would have been gained by the persona’s specific amount of work experience.

In addition to reconsidering how to focus our audience, we begin to further implement an agile approach, sometimes known as LLAMA (Looks a Lot like Agile Methods Approach)4. In the LLAMA approach, the ADDIE steps are done in more rapid succession, completing several iterations in the same timeframe. In that sense, the team doesn’t wait until the very end of the project to get feedback from the project sponsor, client subject matter experts (SMEs), and potential learners. The instructional design team benefits from feedback before the course is fully built so that changes can easily be made. The figure below illustrates the Agile approach we take.

Project Management Controls

What about good old waterfall? Can we do both?

Before we give you some TLC advice not to “go chasing waterfalls,” remember that there is good to be had with a traditional, linear method. Waterfall is a time-tested approach that has been in place for nearly four decades. Waterfall is a great approach if the team has a full, detailed analysis and design plan upfront, with all content areas well defined. Rather than piecing all of the elements together at the end, there is a clear path from day one[5]. 

How can I successfully implement Agile Principles into my learning projects?

There are a few tips to make a team successful when implementing projects with Agile management. One of the largest is being comfortable with receiving smaller, viable chunks of training to review. With traditional waterfall approaches, clients receive an entire package to review and react to. With agile, smaller chunks of information, such as lessons or modules, are received, reviewed, and approved along the way. Another tip for success is having the dedicated time to review, revise, and approve these throughout the project lifecycle, instead of at traditional milestones. This allows the team time to react and incorporate changes to content and style along the way.

We would be delighted to chat with you more on these concepts and on how to best bring an Agile approach to your learning and development projects.

About the Author: Lacey Rapini, an Engagement Manager in FMP’s Learning and Development Center of Excellence, is a bit of a policy nerd and occasional news junky. When she isn’t managing technical training projects, getting creative with learning innovations, or mentoring her team on learning and development best practices, you can find her visiting the latest art exhibits and shows in DC, wrangling her Girl Scout troop, or curled up with a good book.


[1] Denning, S. (2016, August 17). What Is Agile? Retrieved from

[2] Manifesto for Agile Software Development. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[3] Dugalageri, G. (2018, September 14). Methodology Wars: ADDIE vs. SAM vs. AGILE. Retrieved from

[4] Torrance, M. (2014, November). Agile and LLAMA for ISD Project Management. TD at Work, 31(1411), 2-16

[5] Pappas, C. (2018, March 12). Using The Waterfall Model In Instructional Design: A Guide For eLearning Professionals. Retrieved from