Sunday, January 01, 2012

Agile Learner Design

The ALD Process
This paper on how I envisioned Agile Learner Design (ALD) seems more relevant today than it did seven years ago. I believe this approach would apply equally well;
  • for individual learners creating their own learning plans
  • for small groups of learners working together as peers
  • for communities of practice constructing a body of knowledge, and
  • for large institutions creating complete programs
What I believe is most important is embracing agility, with strong influences from lean approaches. This applies more now than when I originally developed the idea of ALD. Knowledge domains are changing and growing very rapidly and lessening rituals and focusing on what is important (for the now) is paramount to learning within the knowledge based economy.

I re-read this paper and felt I needed to explain the associated flowchart in more detail, and discuss how to apply agile practices. From top to bottom, this is how I understand each of the main steps. I will also be creating a series of posts that describe each of these main steps in detail. In the end I believe what I have learned about applying agile techniques to instructional design will alter the flowchart (and this will be the topic of another subsequent post). Each of the main steps are for the following purposes;

ENVISION - this is the step of envisioning the curriculum, the lessons, the courses, the body of knowledge or a whole program. Envisioning is the big picture, and does require rigor in developing an understanding of the content, context and outcomes for the learning. It is important to build a comprehensive understanding of the knowledge domain, its current innovations and how it fits with related and connected knowledge domains. The struggle with this first step is there is no waiting until it is finished before people start learning. You start learning as soon as the general direction is known. Envisioning iterates with the other steps and what is learned from subsequent steps adds to the envision step.

PLAN - this is when the "real" work begins. Someone has to learn something. Building an understanding starts when the first word within the knowledge domain is spoken. Yes, this seems like a simplification... but when someone is wanting to learn with agility it needs to be recognized when the learning begins. And the learning begins with the commitment (personal, peer or otherwise) and when the introductory understanding of the domains body of knowledge has begun to be pursued. This is also the step where it becomes understood that the instructional designer is the learner. There are as many learning styles as there are human beings and this is where the engagement with the learning community needs to begin. How do you plan for the building of knowledge without knowing or having an understanding of the body of knowledge... easy, engage others who do have the understanding. And if you can't find them, pretend [from an agile perspective; become a proxy (more on this in a subsequent post)]. With this planning the context and the content is identified within a constructivist approach to learning. Ways for the learner to ground and deepen learning by identifying inter-discipline connections with multi-modal techniques will assist greatly as learners connect nodes of knowledge. This could also be considered the mapping stage where learning modules are mapped-out into knowledge "clusters". When planning and identifying modules for learning inquiry based approaches are recommended.

BUILD - the instructional designer begins working on the modules considered low-hanging fruit. And sets them out for connectivist feedback, the instructional designer at this stage could be also considered the facilitator of an online-course being run for the first time. The build begins as soon as learners and domain experts can engage with the learning content. Agility and lean-ness implies learner and domain expertise engagement. And without this engagement the instructional designer is working in a vacuum and not opening the learning to the learner community who (in the end) are the consumers of the materials. Feedback and understandability testing on modules needs to occur as soon as possible. Approaches to gathering actionable feedback on recently released modules is paramount. Understandability testing in a combination of usability and assessment, or in other words "is depth of learning occurring?" Once the first round of modules has received feedback and expert review this new information is fed back into the planning step to identify the new set of low-hanging modules. The build continues...

STABILIZE - the released modules will go through a rework phase once feedback and review has been received. This re-work needs to engage the learning community for the lessons learned during re-work are valuable to both the instructional designer and learner. This is where assessment instruments measuring the depth of learning needs to be applied and where quality assurance activities are executed. If the modules are to be integrated with a Learning Management System / Course Management System (LMS/CMS) it will occur during this step of the AID process. As more modules get released constant review of how well the modules are covering the learning outcomes is a regular task. A close look toward if any modules require further re-work due poor understandability, changes to the knowledge domain or they don't fit within the overall learning map. During stabilization time is spent reviewing what was envisioned and adjustments may be made to the vision and map of the learning.

DEPLOY - deployment is about access, consistency, stability and cost. What do I mean by these;
  • Cost is usually greater than 70% of the total cost over the lifetime of the learning resource. Within a software development life-cycle the rule of thumb is deployment and software maintenance is greater than 80% of the overall cost of a software system. This includes all aspects of keeping the software system going; computer costs, electricity costs, software licensing costs, fixes and updates, administration, 7x24 availability, etc. From a learning resource perspective I have no hard data on this 70%, I'll hedge its close. And I believe this is worthy of further research.
  • Keeping an on-line or computer based learning resource stable takes work. Once a person engages a learning system they expect it to be available 7x24 and to be reliable. Within this stability it should work well on many systems and browsers and honor security and information privacy. 
  • The system should also remain consistent. There comes a learning curve when using any learning system. Even with changes through time to improve learning and deepen content the user experience should remain the same. This should be applied across all modules, including assessment approaches and reporting.
  • Access should be made available 7x24 and from many geographical location (regardless of bandwidth availability). The system should morph according to device and bandwidth. This access should accommodate the learners desired schedules and allow the option to return to where they last logged out of the system.
Stay tuned...
I've already got more than seven other posts in the works along this theme of Agile Learner Design; part of their publishing will to be include links to them at the end of this post. You want hints to their themes;
  1. Some examples of ALD implemented
  2. How ALD compares to traditional ID (being critical and thinking about Illich)
  3. Each ALD step described in detail
  4. Updates to the flowchart from the last five years of projects and learning
  5. The proxy as domain expert