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Agile Learning Design Opinion Work Out Loud

The Principles of Agile Learning Design

So far I’ve given you a bit of an origin story for Agile Learning Design and spoken a little bit about the Design itself. The next thing I thought I’d do was lay out some principles for Agile Learning Design. This post is more manifesto than explanation — some of it definitely needs to be fleshed out and explained.


The Key Principles of Agile Learning design are:

1. Understand the constraints

Start the process off by understanding the constraints you are operating in – what’s the timeline for development, what’s the duration of the course, what’s the expected study time, what are the outcomes and how do we evidence that. Know your audience – their motivations, desires and skills and learn about their intents.

2. Design with purpose

Design with intent and purpose. Know what you want in the course and design it in. Ask and map out the points of Wow and Joy and design for them. We get to define the whole experience, so don’t leave it up to chance.

3. Ask big questions for little details

From the outset ask big questions – like how do you want to change students? What will they remember in 5 years or 10 years after this course? We often remove this perspective from the design and get too bogged down in the details. Yet often the answers to these big questions contain little details, snippets of ideas that help to define what the course and the experience will be.

4. Shape is emergent, the scope is set

The shape of the course will emerge from the process, don’t seek to do it too early. The scope of the course provides the constraints and they will help guide decisions, but the shape of the course is malleable. Remember, it’s just text on the page — mutable and adaptable. Don’t force the course structure too early.

5. Containers and fidelity

Content is content until it is something else. We use “content” as a container to get things out of the SMEs head. Write it all out to start and iterate through it. Begin with dot points, add paragraphs, add guiding comments and increase the fidelity over time. Text is mutable, it’s easy to transform into a HTML page, a video script or an interactive – but you can’t do any of that without knowing what the content is.

6. The key to success is to iterate

Snowball not waterfall. Map, plan and then add detail. The course is fluid until it’s built. Everything is just text on a page so it’s easy to change and manipulate. Move things around, don’t be afraid to change and adapt. As you go through you might edit out content, that’s ok. It’s as important to remove as it is to add.

7. Be water

As the Learning Designer the roles and responsibilities in the process need to adapt to the course, the discipline and the individuals you’re working with. Don’t define your role or pigeon-hole yourself. Be there to support and ask what needs to be done. Match the needs of the course. LDs can write, model, check and develop — so be comfortable with your expertise and with the fact that what you do may need to change. Your role is to shepherd the course through its development. The most adaptable thing is your relationship with the SME.


These principles have been developed from my experience and that of my team and the work we have been doing. They don’t really explain how or what the process and practice is – but they do at least define what we do and what guides our way of thinking. I hope to tackle some of the details in the next couple of posts.

By Tim Klapdor

Passionate about good design, motivated by the power of media and enchanted by the opportunities of technology.

6 replies on “The Principles of Agile Learning Design”

Thank you. This validates and frames so much of what we have been doing, on what often looked like the fringes of research and development in the UK.

… In designing and developing tools for researching and developing agency and reflection in digital / hybrid platforms – in applications in story telling, MOOCs, emergent learning, mastery in mathematics, synaesthesia, etc.

Next is a project to create an open source repository for resources for care-givers (mostly mothers) and their preschool children, starting with marginalised communities.

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