Why Agile is the Next Evolutionary Step in Learning Content Development

December 16, 2014 Monica Kraft

Some of the greatest innovations have resulted from engineers and scientists taking examples of the natural world and applying them in new contexts. Think about the way robotics has been influenced by insects' movements. Technology is inspired by evolution.

One of the defining features of our eight-legged friends is their almost preternatural ability to instantaneously respond to their environment. It's this agility that inspired Stan Lee to give Spiderman that additional and exceptional sense that tingles when activated by danger.

How does this relate to learning and development? If you're part of an L&D organization and agile content development isn't at the center of your learning framework, your spider sense should be tingling. Before we address the advancing dangers for L&D organizations, let's first take a closer look at agile content development.

Agility: A key differentiator and perennial challenge
Josh Bersin began rallying around the concept of agility in learning organizations, especially in corporate environments, in 2012. The first incarnation of the Bersin by Deloitte High-Impact Learning Organization research reports took a careful look at companies in relation to agile methods in L&D programs.

Last year's Bersin by Deloitte report, "Creating an Agile Learning Culture: The Role of On-Demand Learning," emphasized the vast impact informal learning is - or should be - having on L&D organizations. In reality, informal learning occurs whether or not you actively measure it. For instance, mentoring, networking, self-directed learning and collaboration between colleagues are all types of informal learning. High-impact learning organizations are those that recognize these events, take steps to encourage it through material support and implement learning infrastructure that tracks performance to see how it aligns with corporate objectives.

But there are significant stumbling blocks. According to the report, 31 percent of high-impact learning organizations identify speed in delivering offerings as not only a challenge but also a priority. Another 32 percent cite acquiring additional resources as a major obstacle. An equal number highlight strengthening agility to take advantage of informal learning strategies as an organizational barrier.

In other words, learning organizations seek agile content development, but haven't quite gotten over the last hurdle.

What does it mean to be agile?
Learning content has traditionally leveraged the framework known as ADDIE, or analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation. Instructional designers and content developers began using this model in 1975, and took advantage of its highly structured - albeit linear - framework to deliver course materials that performed well in individualized or instructor-led training.

However, ADDIE tends to lead organizations to develop massive, fossilized learning content libraries. This may have worked - to varying degrees - when learning and development was seen as single events divided between paper-based classroom training or e-learning programs. But this model doesn't align with today's corporate learning environment, where informal learning represents the vast majority of ongoing development and training.

This is where agile content development comes in. It is rapid, iterative, incremental content creation. Following this model, you can develop content nuggets that can constantly be updated to meet the learning communities' needs. At the same time, content is contextual, flexible and consumable.

Now, why do L&D organizations need agile content development?

The dangers are rapidly approaching from all sides
The learning landscape is evolving, pushing businesses to adapt quickly. Yet, most L&D organizations aren't prepared or simply ignore the realities. You can see it in their inability to deploy tools that allow for:

  • Rapid authoring and publishing
  • Reuse
  • Capturing subject matter expertise
  • Cohesive design and experience across multiple platforms
  • Continuous and on-demand learning
  • Informal learning
  • Mobile learning
  • Social sharing
  • Tracking and analytics

These bullet points represent the defining features of a mature L&D organization that leverage agile content development to sustain enterprise learning objectives.

Realities of most learning organizations
Businesses have made progress in addressing agile content development, but aren't quite there yet. According to Brandon Hall's report, "Performance Support: Your First Mobile Initiative," 85 percent of organizations use some form of performance support to develop on-the-job training. However, the vast majority - 88 percent - rely on paper-based resources to support ongoing learning.

This isn't sustainable. Today's employees are mobile and decentralized, but still seek ongoing development in support of their professional goals and to benefit their company.

How to facilitate agile learning content development
Single-source authoring through a learning content management system gives L&D organizations the tools they need for agile content development:

  1. Consumable learning nuggets
    In a recent CLO article, we learn that more than 54 million employees work remotely to some extent. They likely depend on mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets to complete their tasks. The article emphasizes quick learning modules, running between 10 and 20 minutes, but even this can be excessive in today's fast-paced organizations.
  2. Content must be searchable
    Today's learners were born and bred in the digital age and access knowledge through search engines like Google. We use keywords to find the most precise information for our needs at a given moment. Meta-tags assigned to content chunks allow learners to find what they need, when they need it.
  3. Relevant and timely
    Competency mapping helps organizations align content with specific roles. Prompt learners to follow specific paths when they reach specific triggering events. Embed on-demand resources by linking content to additional sources.
  4. Reusable
    According to Bersin by Deloitte's "Creating an Agile Learning Culture: The Role of On-Demand Learning," 32 percent of L&D organizations state frequent updates to learning content keep employees from finding the most current and accurate information. Twenty-three percent indicate inconsistent formatting and sourcing across platforms prevents learners from fully taking advantage and understanding content. Single source allows you to create learning nuggets a single time, while applying them to multiple different courses and applications.

Agile content development enables L&D organizations in their search to simplify and amplify the strengths of continuous learning, especially through informal and mobile platforms. It allows you to measure informal learning as never before using analytics that track and understand the impact of your learning strategies with tremendous detail.


The Latest in Enterprise Learning and Talent Management, Bersin by Deloitte Research Bulletin, Mark Vickers, 15 Feb 2013


About the Author

Monica Kraft

Monica Kraft is the Director of Product Marketing for Xyleme, Inc. Xyleme is a unique market solution focused on content management that drives great learning experiences anywhere and on any device. In this role, Monica is responsible for all aspects of marketing for Xyleme and is on a mission to help organizations transform their content into an incredible business asset.

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