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Leveraging the Capabilities of AGILE Instructional Design Strategies

For many learning organizations, the term “AGILE” has become a hot topic. Often, when referred to in a business sense, AGILE strategies tend to focus on more project management or software development areas (such as with achieving continuous improvement, maintaining scope, increasing flexibility, obtaining team inputs, and with delivering high-quality products) than on instructional design strategies. Although AGILE strategies traditionally have their roots in these areas, they are also increasingly being used and adapted by many other learning and development fields as well.

In the field of instructional design, AGILE strategies have been credited for not only helping instructional designers to create and implement efficient learning solutions more rapidly, but also with ensuring that learners continue to be successful at performing effectively in times of constant change.

As creator Conrad Gottfredson explained, AGILE instructional design “was founded upon the need of today’s organizations to be agile and adaptive.” While its five key areas—align, get set, iterate and implement, leverage, and evaluate—are built upon similar values as other agile methodologies (such as Scrum, Lean, and Kanban), they are different in their focus on:

  • Building more learner-centered experiences
  • Involving stakeholders throughout every major step in the instructional design process
  • Increasing the flexibility of the designs to deliver learning at a moment’s need

What does this mean for instructional designers?

One way to look at how AGILE strategies can be integrated with the instructional designer’s role is to break it down in terms of the instructional designer’s level of strategic, business, cultural, customer, and partnership agility.

Strategic agility, from an instructional design perspective, refers to the ability of the instructional designer to monitor their environments, anticipate with foresight any changes that may impact the success of their designs, explore new opportunities for enhancing their eLearning experiences, and to optimize their designs with greater flexibility (or fluidity) in delivery. Some examples of strategic agility include:

  • Planning to deliver learning more frequently. This includes by intentionally integrating learning objects to increase the speed of iterations and allow for informal learning at a moment’s need.
  • Designing using collaborative tools. An example of this includes using tools such as Review My eLearning or Articulate Review to collect and obtain iterative feedback from stakeholders to continuously improve the quality of the design.
  • Conceptualizing to concepts and models. Simply put, when it comes to designing effective eLearning experiences, it is essential that the right instructional design model(s) be chosen that align with the eLearning strategy. When deciding on a model to follow, it is helpful to ask questions such as:
    • Is this model aligned with your learning objectives, goals, and desired outcomes?
    • Does this model support or hinder the learning experience?
    • How well does this model cater to current and future learning needs and preferences?

Business agility, as Muckerjee (2014) explained, refers to the ability of instructional designers to streamline processes amidst constant changes. According to Muckerjee (2014), for instructional designers in organizations with outdated structures, too many handoff points, and old policies (or methodologies) that have not been optimized against current systems, challenges have existed in terms of delivering high-quality, effective learning experiences.

A few strategies for overcoming these challenges include:

  • Creating, modifying, and re-designing processes and operations in response to changes that impact the environment (such as by proactively updating policies in anticipation of change)
  • Striving to continuously improve the response time between the planning and implementation of changes
  • Building innovation into the process (such the way Google “defaulted to open” and encouraged developers outside of their organization to create apps for their now over 1 billion Android users)

The next type of agility, cultural agility, refers to the instructional designer’s ability to successfully assess, operate, and deliver effective designs within cross-cultural contexts, whether operating remotely across borders or within a foreign country.  As explained in 5 Things You Can Do to Boost Your Cultural Agility, effective strategies for maintaining cultural agility include:

  • Developing a frame of reference
  • Gaining culture-specific knowledge
  • Being curious by learning methods for cross-cultural discovery
  • Understanding the cross-cultural adjustment process
  • Reflecting

Focused on building relationships with customers to obtain valuable input on the innovation of products and services, maintaining high levels of customer agility is another essential competency that has helped instructional designers achieve continued success in times of constant change. As Muckerjee (2014) explained, at higher levels of customer agility, instructional designers will have not only obtained valuable information about their customer preferences, but also integrated these preferences into their deliverables. At its best, customer agility will have resulted in collaborative relationships being formed with stakeholders that both support the ongoing development of new ideas and products, and that introduce innovations ahead of the competition.

The final form of agility, partnership agility, is key to enabling instructional designers to operate successfully in a consulting nature. By focusing on areas such as leveraging relationships with vendors, business parties, and third-party providers to support the provision of products and services, partnership agility not only helps instructional designers to secure resources, it also helps them to minimize their organization’s resistance to change.  Some strategies for helping instructional designers to increase their level of partnership agility include:

  • Communicating recommendations and results with clarity and confidence
  • Aligning strategies with fluctuating budgets, varying preferences, and changing business requirements, while ensuring that designs are efficient and profitable
  • Providing teams with the necessary time, resources, and management support (such as access to financial or performance data to support decisions that need to be made about the instructional design)

Moving forward, as we work to achieve higher levels of agility in the field of instructional design, not only will instructional designers across a variety of contexts have improved their ability to effectively navigate through complex instructional design situations, they also will have contributed to the formation of new models and approaches that will only continue to improve the way we design and deliver eLearning experiences.

Contact our Custom Solutions team to find out how we can use our agile thinking to help you achieve your eLearning goals.




Mukerjee, S. (2014). Agility: a crucial capability for universities in times of disruptive change and innovation. Australian Universities’ Review, 56(1), 56-60.

Clark, T. & Gottfredson, C. (2008). In search of learning agility. Retrieved August 1, 2010 from http://www.elearningguild.com/content.cfm?selection=doc.1054

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