Understanding agile instructional design for training

Are you considering using Agile principles in your instructional design efforts? Check out this guide to the innovative practice of Agile instructional design.

As a learning and development professional, it’s your job to create content that both elevates your employees’ skills and increases their satisfaction in their roles. In the past, you’ve probably applied traditional management structures to your training team – a manager delegates tasks to team members, each of whom works on a different aspect of the training materials.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the most sustainable approach to creating training materials, especially if you want to increase the learning and development opportunities at your company. Luckily, it also isn’t the only way to approach training!

This guide will discuss an innovative approach to developing content called Agile Instructional Design by covering the following points:

  • What is Agile development?
  • What does it mean to apply Agile principles to instructional design?
  • What are the benefits of Agile instructional design?

Whether you’re creating courses from K-12 institutions, higher education and universities, or corporate learners, Agile instructional design can elevate your development process and increase your staff member engagement. Continue reading to learn more.

Agile instructional design involves taking a more flexible approach to training content development.

What is Agile development?

Before diving into Agile instructional design, it’s necessary to first define Agile development.

Created in 2001 by a group of independent software practitioners, Agile development originated as a methodology for software design. More of a mindset than a strict set of rules or a process to follow, Agile is governed by 12 principles that are designed to empower development teams and create content in a flexible manner.

This explains the 12 principles of Agile development in full. For a quick recap, here is a summary of the main ideas:

  • Development teams should welcome changing requirements and adjustments to the overall goal, even if they’re shared late in the development process.
  • Teams should be given the support and resources that they need to create content. They should be trusted to self-organise and get the job done independently.
  • A focus should be placed on sustainable development, meaning developers work at a consistent pace at all times without being forced into major time crunches.
  • The development team should regularly reflect on their processes to discover opportunities to be more effective.
  • Key stakeholders and developers should work closely together—on a daily basis—throughout the project.
  • Effective software is the main measure of success. 


Agile development eliminates the bottleneck that sometimes comes from more traditional management structures. Development teams are collaborative, self-organising, and cross-functional, rather than reliant on one manager whom all information must pass through to delegate tasks.

If you’re familiar with the idea of lean construction – a construction philosophy that maximises value while minimising loss – then Agile development isn’t a far jump. With a focus on creating the ideal environment for developers and continuously improving processes, developers can create higher-quality content in a shorter amount of time.

What does it mean to apply Agile principles to instructional design?

Agile was created for software development. So, how can it impact instructional design?

Essentially, Agile instructional design involves taking a more flexible approach to training content development. Stakeholders and developers work collaboratively throughout the process, and adjustments to the course can be made before, during, and after the development process is completed.

What are the benefits of Agile instructional design?

If you’re unsure of whether Agile instructional design would improve your team’s training material development process, consider the following benefits:

  • Encourages ongoing collaboration. When key stakeholders, instructional designers, and educational media specialists all collaborate, it results in stronger content. The many stakeholders have unique insight into how content can be improved, and these opinions can be incorporated throughout the process rather than at the end, after the content is completed.
  • Produces deliverables quickly. Rather than design decisions getting caught in a bureaucratic bottleneck, your instructional design team has the autonomy to respond to changing decisions as they arise. This ability to pivot quickly means designers can turn around content quicker than ever, even if your training curriculum changes last-minute.
  • Creates affordable materials. Because Agile prioritises a sustainable creation process—in which time and other resources are used as needed and not wasted—the overall process of creating training materials can be significantly more affordable. You’ll also be able to update and iterate on existing content going forward, rather than re-doing the course each time an update is needed.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicted in 2018 that 42% of the in-demand skills across industries would change in the four-year period from 2018 to 2022, and this change has indeed occurred as predicted. It’s up to you to keep up with the changing demand and create content accordingly.

Adopting the Agile Instructional Design method, or working with a content development partner that employs it, will keep your training offerings up-to-date with the changing workforce and in-demand skills.


About the author

Salma Torres is an instructional editor and content curator at Skyepack



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