Agile learning and agile education

I am trying to find links and resources about applying Agile development methodologies to education and learning. Three years ago (almost to the day) I wrote agile learning – an alternative learning model, and am now really keen to get back into this line of thought in my spare time. If you have any links or resources, please let me know! Or if you’re interested in why it’s an exciting area… read on.

Many – if not most – of the concepts of Agile/Lean software development transfer incredibly well to education and learning. The most obvious example being valuing “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” (nothing new – most people would agree), but also less obvious principles. For my work as a software engineer we’ve been using a Kanban board for the last year or so (a tool for visualising your work and identifying things that block throughput). Kanban principles actually originate at Toyota but have been applied to software engineering over the past few years (as well as other areas), and seem to have excellent application to personal learning and education too – such as helping to manage the amount of context-switching a school or uni student is asked to do.

But I’m finding it quite hard to find out what’s already out there on the topic of Lean/Agile learning and education – most searches result in companies that teach lean principles for software development, not applying those principles to education and learning generally. I was excited to find Susan’s Agile Education presentation recently, but after contacting Susan it seems she has had the same difficulty in finding resources.

So if you know of any blogs, articles or other resources (or are just keen to discuss and interact on the topic), don’t hesitate to let me know! I’m going to start planning a practical series on agile learning (as it will help me focus ideas for tools enabling agile learning in mainstream settings).

Edit: Nice, I just found Jim Benson’s personal Kanban series which has lots of info about applying Kanban to personal life.

Edit 2010-10-01: A google alert just led me to David Jenning’s Agile learning definition. It’s general ‘agile’ principles for learning and education but not deriving from agile methodology in software engineering as far as I can see.

Edit 2011-01-18: Thanks Hannu for the pointer to the University of Geneva’s EduTechWiki’s Agile Learning page.

11 comments to Agile learning and agile education

  • Patrick

    You might be interested in Sumeet Moghe’s blog. He’s the Director of Learning and Development at ThoughtWorks, Inc.

  • Hi Patrick!

    Did you have any particular articles in mind? While I resonate strongly with Sumeet’s articles on a pull-based learning approach (eg gradually hand over control of learning) I haven’t seen anything there about agile learning (only courses/learning about agile development itself).

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • I also got an alert which lead me to the Focus foundation of British Columbia, an organisation focusing on agile learning for helping high-risk youth learn outside the normal school system. Actually, their About Whytecliff document says they even have a trademark on “Agile Learning” and “Agile Parenting”.

  • Patrick

    Well, I didn’t have any particular post in mind… Agile values are liberally sprinkled throughout. This post is a nice reflection on a couple of XP practices applied to learning: But you’re right. In my head I was combining Training in Agile with Agile Training!

  • Hannu

    TECFA folks at the University of Geneva maintainthe EduTechWiki that has a page about Agile Learning.

  • Hi Michael, Lots of conversations to be had here, but just to pick up on your observation about my (loose!) definition “general ‘agile’ principles for learning and education but not deriving from agile methodology in software engineering”.

    Yes, that’s definitely true in the sense of not deriving exclusively from agile methodology. One of the interviews I did about agile learning, with Dick Moore, draws a number of explicit comparisons between agile learning and agile development methods. So that’s definitely feeding into the discussions we’ve been having in the UK.

    Would very much like to extend that discussion to merge with what you’re doing as well…

    • Hi David! Yes – I’m looking forward to chatting and finding out more about the agile learning discussions you’ve been having in the UK and the direction that you and others are heading. I hope to read through the various interviews that you’ve done beforehand too!

  • Simon

    Hi Michael, with the major changes we are seeing in the UK tertiary education sector I am going through a period of serious reflection on teaching practices. Frequently the model employed is the lecture/tutorial paradigm (but with the huge classes we have these days the tutorials are actually second lectures), but with developments in podcasting, ItunesU, massively online lecturing, this model surely has a limited life span. Having been a programmer in another life I have also turned to the notion of agile learning, because much of the ‘stuff’ we teach is actually very transitory in nature, and a few years after leaving university probably outdated. Using the stuff to teach ‘thinking’ appears to me to be a more productive way forward for institutions, and something like an agile development process suits this kind of ‘learn what you need as you need it’. Just wondering where you are up to?

    • Hey there Simon! Yes, the lifespan of the current models does seem very limited nowadays, with lots of “next big things in education” out there ready to jump in and replace them.

      I’m currently focusing on a tool to help model, nurture and grow goal-based learning both within and without educational institutions (ie. I might have a goal for a course I’m taking at University, but my Aunty who is a professional in a related area is also mentoring this goal along with my tutor and some peers from the uni). The idea being, like you say, to be able to help people learn your topic while really helping them learn to learn themselves, in a way that is sustainable in and beyond large learning environments (that doesn’t describe the agile-nature of the way it would be used – like pull-based “next tasks” for goals etc., but this answer is already longer than it should be).

      And that work is itself currently focused on getting a sustainable, fun, test-driven code-base for a prototype that I can demo on any device (ie. html5/js based – if you’re interested i the details you can see the current code of open-goal-tracker). I’m hoping to get the codebase to a point where I can demo why I think it’s a step forward (together with all the excellent content-based resources available), and get people interested (both educational coders, and investors).

      But given the normal excuses of full-time work and family etc., progress is slow :) Realistically, I’ll be happy if I have a tool (whether it’s open-goal-tracker or not) which will enable me to re-enter education in a few years time and help people learn.

      What about yourself? Where do you see Liverpool uni headed in this respect, or your role there… I’d be interested to hear how you see various alternatives functioning in a university, and how the transitions to those alternatives could occur etc. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Simon

    Hi Michael,

    with all the changes occurring in HE in the UK at the moment, not really sure where anything is going. Probably we’ll have lots of change without anything really changing at all. My own interest is about developing a more student centred approach for my own satisfaction.

    Besides agile development (and mainly techniques here), I am interested in two theories for educational development. One is an old theory – Constructive Alignment – that lends it self to a kind of test driven development approach. Start by developing the assessment about what you want learning you want to occur, and then develop the teaching activities/goals around that.

    The other approach is the idea of threshold concepts, where you use the students to identify those theoretical sticking points, that once learnt shed a light on everything else. Then you work around those until the students are satisfied they are understood. This kind of relates to an iterative feature driven approach in agile development, but lots of risk attached due to the more messy, chaotic journey students may take.

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