From Waterfall to Agile: Custom learning production

In her previous blog Brightwave’s Director of Operations Fiona Nunn talked about the benefits of personalised learning and the trends and technologies making custom personalised resources a viable part of today’s learning ecology.

In part two she draws on her experience working with clients across a range of industries and sectors to show how personalisation improves the impact of difficult learning content, and how to produce custom learning at truly global scales.
One of the strengths of personalisation is how it can refresh and reorient types of traditional elearning that have a bad reputation among both learners and L&D professionals. Compliance training is an essential requirement for many professional spheres but is bedevilled by lack of engagement completion rates and no discernible impact on performance. But there are several smart ways to make compliance courses more engaging by customising them to individual needs or preferences.

Using diagnostics to establish existing roles and knowledge levels and signposting to only the most relevant content is a sure way to cut some of the pain from the compliance process. It’s possible to take broad, monolithic compliance requirements and dig down into them to discover what skills and knowledge are legally or practically mandatory, and which can be approached with a more nuanced view of immediate requirements and progressive stages of knowledge management:

  • Required – complete these resources to unlock the test
  • Essential – understand these issues before going to the test
  • Additional – look at these further resources if you want to know more for your professional development

In this kind of scenario, expert learners will complete the Required topics and pass the test, overconfident learners will complete the Required topics, fail the test and be returned to the Essential topics, and learners new to the topic or the company are encouraged to do the Required and Essential resources, with additional modules are there as a resource for learners to refer to at time of need.

With this approach you can provide evidence of wide scale compliance, without sheep-dipping learners and with a solution to the problem of established professionals assuming they have a higher level of knowledge than they’re able to demonstrate in practice.

Another hugely important learning need which traditionally suffers from poor completion rates and low learner engagement is in the area of systems training through simulations. Although it might seem the very definition of a one-size-fits-all form of learning – after all, the new tool or system is going to be the same for everyone who uses it – simulations training scenarios are actually customisable in several ways while the core steps remain the same:

  • Using different stepped sequences through the system depending on the learner’s role or need
  • Different brands or locations for learners in different locations in the same business
  • Different ways to use the system: face to face with customers/telephone/online support.
  • Scenarios customised with bespoke video, audio or imagery

Through these simple measures it’s possible to add elements of personalisation and overcome the engagement problem which these types of learning often suffer from. But are these procedures possible to implement swiftly, and at scale?

The standard process for building elearning courses is waterfall – it’s a model which is used widely throughout learning and across many product development industries.

Waterfall works well with linear course production where you know exactly where you want to be at the end. But it isn’t flexible enough to work through various iterations of feedback and approval, and isn’t helpful for producing multiple modules simultaneously, which is essential when working under a tight deadline or for complex custom scenarios. For these types of project an Agile approach is often more appropriate.

We took such an Agile approach for a recent project, working in collaborative iterations, we brought all the key stakeholders from around the world into a room together two days with our learning designer and storyboard builder. There was no initial design document, or any scripts as such. But we had a vision for the bare bones of the course, and most of the content, and they worked through creating the course from start to finish over the two days.

This was then refined and integrated off site by our development team, and the group came together a week later in a virtual meeting to review progress and another collective decision-making round.

There are some key differences between the waterfall and agile methods. Being Agile requires strong relationships with the client which allow people to speak and share ideas freely, as well as coordinating diaries in advance and ceding individual power over certain decisions to the wisdom of the group.

The work takes place over a series of fixed-duration sprints – which may take place in sequence or simultaneously.

A clear set of essential priorities is also required, so you can agree which non-essential functionality to cut – or schedule for another sprint – if you run out of time. The client pays by the sprint, not for a fixed delivery of a finished product, and trust is really important here between client and provider to agree what’s realistically achievable within each sprint.

With the right client, the right team, and the right kind of project, Agile can produce impressive results, rapidly and at low cost. It requires a fine balance between the costs and benefits of personalisation. Concentrate on what will make a real difference, and don’t try to be clever with customisation for its own sake – it may just be using the right terminology, or expressing the right benefit which really speaks to the learners’ concrete needs, which can mean the difference between successful engagement or expensive training which leaves no lasting impact.

Above all, get to know your client and welcome them into your working processes as if they were a part of your own team.

When it comes to customisation, collaboration pays.

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