Agile Development for eLearning

For decades, eLearning development has followed the ADDIE model of Analysis, Design, Development, Implement, and Evaluation.  ADDIE has served us well.  It has been and will always be a trusted and valid approach to learning development, but it has shown its shortcomings in recent years with the implementation of models derived from ADDIE or meant to streamline ADDIE.


It is our responsibility as learning leaders to research and embrace processes which will enhance the process for our organization and lead to enhanced end products for the end users.¨ Agile Development is one process every organization should look to for eLearning Development.  The greatest value comes from the team approach to iterative development.


♦Side Bar: Every member of the learning team is a learning leader.  As you grow in your profession, it is vital you continue to research new and interesting avenues in the learning world.


Agile Development has been happening in eLearning for many years; however, it is in recent years the process has been embraced beyond IT software development.  Some of the apprehension around moving to agile development has revolved around a misunderstanding of the process or no understanding at all.  Let’s demystify the process and show how it can successfully enhance, not only your eLearning development, but the working relationship between your teams.

What is Agile Development


“Agile is the ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment.”[1]


At its simplest, Agile Development is a type of iterative software development.¨ The iterative process allows for an agile response to design and development needs throughout the process.  One of the biggest wins for Agile Development is the focus on team, what is the team working on and how do they work together.


♦Side Bar: One of the biggest mistakes people make is believing Agile is for software development only.  Surely, the “…ability to create and respond to change1” is an ability we should all strive for.  Continuing to work in the way you always have is a sure indicator of becoming obsolete.


Let’s take a look at the Agile Manifesto.


The Agile Manifesto

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:


Individuals and interactions over processes and tools


Working software over comprehensive documentation


Customer collaboration over contract negotiation


Responding to change over following a plan


That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.[2]

Advantages for eLearning

So, how does this apply to our daily lives as eLearning leaders, designers & developers?  It gives us the freedom to unleash ourselves from traditional eLearning design and development constraints, brings us closer to our stakeholders, and helps us to bring the best we have to offer to the end user.


An iterative approach allows for:


  • Increased and consistent input from all project stakeholders.
    • Current processes include the initial Analyze/Design/Discover phase during which customers, end users, developers, designers, testers, etc. come together to define the project requirements and then regroup toward the end of the project once the bulk of development is complete.
    • With Agile, the initial design phase all the stakeholders come together to initiate the project and define the project requirements. These User Stories are there to guide the development of the course.  The primary stakeholders also meet daily to present progress on User Stories and to discuss any roadblocks they may encounter.


  • Realization of design or functionality enhancements throughout the cycle.
    • A linear approach makes it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to implement changes beyond the scope of the original project. This includes changes to design, and functionality.
    • With Agile, if a team member identifies an enhancement, the team can review it and make the joint decision to implement the change. The repetitive nature of Agile builds in the sense across the team where almost nothing is impossible.
  • Delivering functional products within shorter timeframe.
    • Each iteration of an agile project is meant to be a usable product. There may be a minimum number of preidentified user stories before release to the end user, but the product of each sprint must be usable.
    • This approach also allows for modular learning approaches (See Cultivating a Growth Mindset through MicroLearning).

Getting Started

There are a few steps needed to get started with Agile Development.  Remember there is a lot to be done with Agile Development, but these are the minimum to start your project off on the right foot.


    1. Select Project Opportunities
      Review your upcoming projects to find one suited to start the agile process with. Look for projects at least 2 months out.  This will allow time to ramp up all the participants.  The project should be large enough to require more than one iteration, but not so many it becomes unwieldly.  Lastly, select a project with some excitement surrounding it.
    2. Identify Key Stakeholders
      This initial stakeholder list should include everyone touched by the change. This includes the learning and development team, department heads and their direct contact for training related needs, a member of the Project Management Office, and anyone else you deem important for the process.  While this list is exhaustive, those participating in the daily development meetings will be a smaller subset.
    3. Facilitate Culture Change
      Once you’ve decided on the project, it’s time to start working on changing the culture around how development occurs. This is a vital step in the process.  All stakeholders must understand how the change to agile benefits them and the end user.  This can include having them conduct some research, directing them to this blog, and providing them an overview of the agile process.  If you have a Change Management team in your organization, they can help with additional ways to facilitate the culture update (See Change Management: Creating a Blended Approach to Learning and Change).
    4. Train Your Team & Key Stakeholders
      This is a must! Your team must understand what agile is and what the process looks like. Your PMO or IT team can help with this.  You can also tap a person on your team to write a instructor led course on Agile Development.  Alternatively, you can bring in an outside vendor to conduct a class.

Launch Your First Agile Project

Congratulations! You are ready to launch your first Agile Development project.  This is a huge step for the organization.  Remember the importance of team in Agile Development.  The meeting frequency will seem tedious, but over time you and your team will grow to appreciate the depth and breadth of teamwork!


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UserEdge Contributing Editor: Anna Hemsworth

Anna Hemsworth a creative, versatile leader and pioneer in online learning with more than 15 years of experience developing innovative eLearning, mLearning, and Virtual Learning platforms. She has a demonstrated ability to build, develop, and lead high performance learning development teams rooted in adult learning theories while fostering exploration of emerging technologies.


[1] What is Agile Software Development? (2020, January 16). Retrieved July 12, 2020, from

[2] Beck, K., Beedle, M., Van Bennekum, A., Cockburn, A., Cunningham, W., Fowler, M., . . . Sutherland, J. (2019, October 06). Agile Manifesto for Software Development. Retrieved July 12, 2020, from