Agile eLearning development: business goals and road map


This is a first post in a series of post on Agile eLearning development. This series is sparked by the book ‘Leaving ADDIE for SAM’ by Michael Allen and Richard Sites. I wrote a book review on it (and it love it). I do believe that agile software development can offer us even more very practical ‘best practices’ that we can apply to eLearning. Michael told me that he is working on a new book on agile project management, that will also address this. In the meanwhile I would like to share with you our best practices. The idea is to go over the process of agile software development at easygenerator and translate that into eLearning development. I will start with the ‘long term planning’: The road map and how to connect learning to your business goals.

Before I can do that I have to introduce the roles in this process and map them to ‘e-Learning development roles’.

Software role eLearning role
The Product Owner (PO), he is the most important person in this process. He is responsible for the ‘What’. What will we develop in the next 12 months. He translate the demands from the market into product demands. In corporate eLearning terms this will be the manager of the Learning department. He will translate the training demands of the company into goals for the learning department. When we are talking eLearning projects this will be the Project manager
Market. Partners, customers, end users, competitors all have developments and demands. This is important input for the road map. Your market are the users of the learning objects (both managers and end users), but also by general developments in the eLearning market with vendors and other companies and theoretical and technical developments.
Innovation. I have put this down as a separate element. Innovation comes from the development team, the organization, users, customers, the market.  If you don’t pay separate attention to it, it will be something that you strive for, but never achieve. Exactly the same here
System architect. A ‘double role’. The system architect checks planned development for technical challenges, but at the same time he will have independent input for the road map. In our case things that have to do with our technical backbone, security, performance. I don’t think that there is a eLearning equivalent for this role. But there should be. Just think of all the technical developments around mobile, standards (like Tincan) and other technical stuff. You need more than a technician to manage this.
Road map. The document that contains the global goals and plans for the next 12 months. This would typically be a year plan for a learning (or HR) department or a ‘customer plan’ for a client.
Development team. The team that builds the software. The team that builds the learning components.

Agile software and elearning development

The road map

We like to look ahead, but no more than 12 months. Therefore the road map documents looks 12 months ahead. We release a new version of easygenerator every 2 or 3 months (we are working on a release every month). This means that it is not a plan for 2013, but it is a plan that always looks 12 months ahead. Before we finish a release we need to renew the road map so it will still look 12 months ahead. The road map is driven by our business goals and will set the development goals on a high level.

Business goals and road map
This means that the first step is to get clarity on the business goals and how they will influence the product development. We use a method called impact mapping. There is a free tool called effectcup that supports this whole process. The Product owner takes the business goals (input CEO) and figures out what this goal means for key persona’s. What activities do they need to be able to do. And which user stories describe these activities. Our business goals are things like:

  • Sell more licenses
  • Sell easygenerator as internal authoring tool to LMS vendors
  • Keep existing partners and customers happy

The road map document is in fact a short document with a bit more explanation about the why of the business goals that you can present to other stakeholders.

eLearning
The trick is to figure out what people need to be able to do in order to achieve these goals. The translation to eLearning is very simple. I love the action mapping approach of Cathy Moore (see a post I wrote about this earlier). It is a one on one translation of impact mapping to eLearning. She also stresses that learning is not what people need to know, but what they need to do. That is the reason she calls it action mapping. You could use a tool like effectcup to assist you in this.

It works for a learning department or a eLearning project. For an eLearning department it is the first step in connecting learning to the business, and it is the foundation of a possible ROI calculation. When you do eLearning projects it is also very helpful. Instead of executing a project this will give you the chance to sit down with your client and talk on a much more strategic level to them.

Another important thing is that you don’t get into solutions at this point. You describe what the learner (worker) needs to be able to do. Not what kind of learning experience you are going to offer. Measuring their (hopefully improved) performance will tell you your ROI.

This post is part of a series on agile eLearning development:

More post will follow over the next few weeks.

Connect learning to the business: Learning objectives and action mapping


I’m preparing my presentation for my concurrent session at DevLearn, Las Vegas. I will present about: Supporting business objectives with better learning objectives. Since only a small part of you will be present there (and even a smaller part will attend), I decided to give you a heads-up.

There is a lot of discussion on the relevance of formal eLearning. The trend is in the direction of workplace learning, social learning, mobile learning, just in time learning and performance support. The role of the formal eLearning courses in these developments is often seen as minimal or is not present at all. I do agree with the trend that wants to connect learning to the workplace. I disagree with the conclusion that eLearning courses shouldn’t be a part of that. Formal learning is an important instrument in changing and developing. There is more to learning than just solving your day-to-day problems. Real change requires insight and training and eLearning courses can and should be a part of this. In order to keep eLearning relevant we need to create better courses, we need to connect these courses to the business goals and we need to prove our added value to the business. That’s what this post and my presentation are about.

Action Mapping
When you are talking about connecting learning to business goals, you are talking about Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping. Basically there are four steps in her approach, see her blog for more details:

  1. Identify the business goal
  2. Identify what people need to do (instead of need to know), translate them into actions
  3. Design a (real world) activity for each action that help people practice each behavior
  4. Identify what people really (really?) need to know, add that information

I really like this. It connects learning to the business goals and it helps you to create eLearning that is based on real situations. It puts the learning experience before the knowledge transfer. And this is all good. What I would like to add is the connection with learning objectives. That is important because:

  • Learning objectives will help you design the course
  • Learning objectives inform the learner on  his goals and progress
  • Learning objectives can make your course and your curriculum adaptive
  • Learning objectives are an ideal way to report results
  • Learning objectives will help you measure and evaluate.

What I propose is action mapping combined with the use of learning objectives.

  1. Identify business goals
  2. Create learning objectives based on these business goals (in terms what people need to do)
  3. Translate the learning objectives into activities
  4. Design your eLearning around these objectives and activities
  5. Inform the learner on his goal and progress
  6. Make courses and curriculum adaptive
  7. Report on the learning objectives
  8. Evaluate the learning objectives in relation to the business goals.

Use the objectives to:

You can write books about each of these steps. I will limit myself to some observations and comments for each step.

Identify business goals
If you start with this step, you might run into a major problem of eLearning development. Very often it is not a problem to identify the business goals, but it is a problem to connect to the people who set these goals. The Learning department is very often not connected to the business or not connected to the right level in the business. You need to solve this if you want a real chance of connecting learning to the business.

Create learning objectives based on these business goals (in terms what people need to do)
Once you have your connection to the business and your business goals you can define your learning objectives. They will describe what people need to be able to do in order to achieve the business goals. In the ideal situation you are part of the process of setting these business goals and you can translate them into your (departments) contribution for a longer period. Separate learning objectives will become different learning experiences. Do a baseline assessment to determine the gap between what people need to be able to do and what they actually can do. This will help you determine what kind of learning intervention you have to create.

Translate the learning objectives into activities
A specific learning experience will most of the times have a limited amount of learning objectives. Translating them into activities is often a challenge; again you need to be connected to the business side of your organization. You probably need to have subject matter experts that are embedded in the business process to help you create these situations.

Create eLearning around these activities; keep the knowledge to a minimum
Activities can be small, just a single activity the learner needs to be able to do. But very often it will be more complex; you will have a scenario that people have to go through in order to experience the ‘real life’ situation. It is important that you select an authoring tool that let you connect these scenario’s and activities to the learning objectives, so you can measure the progress and can report on them.

Inform the learner on his goal and progress
It is important that the learning objectives are visible to the learner in the eLearning course. He needs to know what you expect of him. Equally important is to report progress on these objectives during the learning process. It will be a big help and motivating factor for the learner.

Make courses and curriculum adaptive
If you use learning objectives in a smart way you can create a course that will adapt to the learner. You can offer an individual study advice to either improve knowledge on a weak point or to skip areas that already assess at the desired level. See this link for an example how this is done in easygenerator.

Make sure that your course can report on learning objectives to your LMS. In some adaptive learning management systems you can even create an adaptive curriculum. Based on the outcome of a course the learner will be directed to a relevant next course. This is for example possible when you use a course created in easygenerator in a Learning management system like ANewSpring.

Report on the learning objectives
Through SCORM it is possible to report on the outcome per learner per objective. It is important that your LMS is capable of generating a report on the combined outcome of all the learners and all the objectives. This way you are able to show the effect eLearning has on these objectives and on the business goals. If you did a baseline at the beginning of this reporting period, you will even have a stronger case to really prove the return on investment in eLearning.

Evaluate the learning objectives in relation to the business goals
And then it is time to evaluate.  It is crucial that you are able to do this with the people from the business side that are responsible for achieving the business goals.

I hope to meet a lot of you at DevLearn. This presentation will be concurrent session 204, October 31, 1:15 PM. You can also find me at our booth at the expo (number 241).

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