Agile Lifecycle eLearning

By on Jun 13, 2013

Ever sinced I changed careers more than ten years ago, I’ve been passionate (some might say obsessed) about developing efficient processes for creating eLearning and other rich content. Whenever I see an example of great eLearning, I immediately start wondering, “How did they make that? Are they able to respond to feedback and make adjustments easily? Have they considered localisation and translation issues? How easy would it be to change the content for a different context?”

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on where my obsession comes from and why others don’t get quite so excited when I show them a new way to streamline a process. The answer, not surprisingly, is in my previous roles. In another life, I was a service engineer. My job was to install, maintain and repair medical equipment, ranging from simple syringe drivers right up to complex medical imaging systems. I’ve worked on hundreds of different models from dozens of manufacturers. Some models were easy to maintain, but many were not, and it actually had little to do with the complexity of the equipment.

There were far too few manufacturers, it seemed to me, who considered the lowly service engineer when designing their product. The good ones, from my perspective, made sure that their equipment was easy to dismantle and assemble, and that replaceable parts were easy to access and change. They also provided convenient ways to monitor and test critical parameters. Their service manuals were always well written and comprehensive.

Of course, the manufacturers didn’t really care about the maintenance guy, but they did care a lot about the lifecycle of their products. It was a sign of their commitment to quality and a way of distinguishing themselves from their competitors. Had I been clever enough to design medical equipment, I’d have wanted to work for the companies who designed with the lifecycle in mind.

In my current career, thanks to the emergence of rapid eLearning tools and resources, combined with a caring and sharing community of eLearning professionals, I find myself clever enough to design and build eLearning content. Naturally, I want to work for a company that cares about the lifecycle of their products. So I co-founded one, along with my partners Ellen and David, who are not just clever, but are leaders in their fields of adult education and corporate communications. This is a good place for me to launch the idea of Agile Lifecycle eLearning.

So what’s this Agile Lifecycle eLearning and how is it related to my favourite medical equipment? The answer is in designing with the lifecycle in mind. I’m not talking about instructional design as such, but rather about process design. That is, designing intentionally to reduce the effort, and therefore the cost, of adjusting the product.

eLearning is expensive. It’s not unusual to hear of one hour of learning output taking more than a thousand hours of development. It seems to me that for such a price you’d want some surety of that asset delivering its promised value. That’s exactly what Agile Lifecycle eLearning is about. It is a design, monitoring and evaluation mechanism that enables cost-effective continual improvement of content in the field. Monitoring and evaluation is, of course, essential. However, unless the content can be tweaked efficiently, the feedback loop fails. The temperature control on a central heating system works because the thermostat responds quickly and effortlessly to the information it receives from the temperature sensor. Imagine trying to design a thermostat for a wood burning open fireplace.

Agile Lifecycle eLearning isn’t magical. Over the coming months I’ll be posting and discussing some of the specifics. For those who can’t wait that long and need an actual example to make the connection, here’s a tiny sample: unless there is a compelling reason to do so, I never create text as an image. Doing so would increase the effort required to change the content.

There, I told you ALe isn’t magical. More than ninety percent of eLearning developers probably follow that good practice already, without even thinking. And that’s the point. The secret is in the thinking. As you design, keep thinking, “how can I make this easier to change”, and you’ll be well on your way to creating Agile Lifecycle eLearning.