Taking the Agile Learning Plunge

When Rapid Design for eLearning found its way into my vocabulary, I loved it and all the derivatives like rapid prototyping, etc.  And soon, I started seeing agile this and agile that.  It seemed that agile was everywhere I looked.  When Michael Allen published his book, LEAVING ADDIE for SAM, I was intrigued and participated in an ATD sponsored webinar.  It made a lot of sense to me and “I bought into the concept”.  Or so I thought …

I joined a project that was already in-progress and had to “hit the ground running to get caught up to speed”.  The element of urgency was the anticipation of a post FDA visit following a consent decree.   If you’ve experienced this “scene” before, you can relate to the notion of expedited time.   As part of remediation efforts, training events needed to be conducted.  I learned during a meeting sometime my first week, I was to be the trainer.  Okay, given my instructional design background and classroom facilitation experience, that made sense.  Sure, in a few weeks when we have the new procedure in place, I’d be happy to put the training materials together, is what I was thinking.  Wait, what, in two weeks?  Are you kidding me?  I’m not the SME and I don’t even have the software loaded on my laptop yet.  Well, some cleaned up version of those words was my response.

My biggest challenge was to get out of my own design way

I’m classically schooled in *ADDIE with 30+ years as an instructional designer and very comfortable with how to design, develop and deliver training.  All I needed was more time; more than two weeks, for a process that was changing daily!   And then I found myself thinking about all the buzz for rapid design and prototyping I had been reading about.  

*ADDIE = Analysis, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate: a project management approach to training projects.

In theory, I totally bought into it. But this is different I argued with myself.  This is compliance with a quality system for a company that is undergoing transformative change as a result of a consent decree!  Furthermore, I teach GMP Basics and conduct Annual GMP Refreshers several times a year. My GMP dilemma challenged the very essence of my “learned” compliance beliefs about following the 1st basic GMP Work Habit – “thou shall follow written procedures” otherwise, it’s a deviation. 

Are we really planning to deviate from the SOP while under a consent decree?

While it was the intention of the business unit leader to deviate from the approved set of work instructions, a planned deviation would not be appropriate in this case.  I mean we were talking about a corrective action for a consent decree item.  Were we really considering a PLANNED DEVIATION to intentionally teach unapproved procedures and then submit the documentation as a completed corrective action for the CAPA to the agency?  I was truly baffled by how I was going to pull this off in two weeks.  I’m not a magician, I can’t pull this rabbit out of my laptop is what I was thinking when I left the VP’s office.

Yet on the other hand, how could I teach a work instruction that was known to be broken; was being re-designed and not yet finalized?  The instructional designer side of me screamed – how can you teach flawed content?  That’s wasted training that results in scrap learning. How is that training going to be effective not to mention having to explain a failed effectiveness check during the post inspection?

And then, it hit me!  I was so focused on WHAT I NEEDED, that I was missing the urgency of the learners’ needs. Julia Lewis Satov refers to this situation as ‘agility by fire’ – “the ability to move quickly but not easily, and still excel”, (p. 50, 2020). It was time to put theory into practice and take the agile learning plunge into the realm of the unknown.  If I could come up with a way to document what we were doing and get it approved, then I could reconcile my GMP dilemma and satisfy my instructional designer. 

 With a little help from my validation colleagues – the training implementation plan

Validation engineers use protocols to capture their “change in process” work.  Whether it’s experimental batches, 3 batches for process validation or **IQ-OQ-PQ protocols for equipment qualifications.  They are validating the procedure or the new process before it can become the standard operating procedure by developing the plan, developing acceptance criteria, managing deviations and capturing the results.  So why couldn’t I borrow the concept and adapt it to my situation?

**Installation Qualification, Operational Qualification, Performance Qualification

The purpose of the initial training session was to test the new sequence of steps and confirm the robustness of the software responses for each field entry and then make correct decisions where needed.  The learners were still in compliance with the quality policy for complaint handling and were still meeting the intention for Medical Device Reporting requirements.  They were essentially testing the future “how-to steps” for the proposed new work instructions.

Agile QT’s processing their learning experience

I did not copy and paste the validation protocol template. I did, however, include a please pardon our appearance while we are under construction” paragraph in the training plan to document the departure from the current set of work instructions.  This protocol-like section also included our intentions for the outcomes of the sessions. We also stipulated that required SOP training of all affected users including the Qualified Trainers, would be mandatory once the finalized set of work instructions were approved.

Anybody want to play in the sand-box?

By shifting the prioritization away from perfectly designed classes with pristine training materials, I was able to diagnose that the need was to get the learners into a live classroom. But first I needed a small group of super users who wanted to see the database software in action and “play in the sandbox”; the training materials could follow afterwards. 

It didn’t take long for them to find me.  These “learning-agile individuals” wanted the challenge of not only learning something new but seemed to thrive on the idea that they would be managing their part of the training implementation plan.  They were not at all worried about the lack of available training materials for themselves.  They allowed the learning experience to occur spontaneously.  Their ability to learn new knowledge and skills did not get in the way of previously learned skills. They embraced the changes rather than resist them.

A new breed of SMEs as Agile Qualified Trainers?

I shifted my role to facilitator and allowed these learning agile SMEs to navigate the software screens and then work out the explanation of how to complete field transactions.  In the Center for Creative Leadership “Learning Agility” white paper, authors Adam Mitchinson and Robert Morris explain that learning-agile individuals understand that experience alone does not guarantee learning; they take time to reflect, seeking to understand why things happen, in addition to what happened”, p. 2.

“SMEs are true front-line and onsite educators” says Satov.  Every organization has employees who are brimming with intelligent and diverse ideas and are eager to share their talent producing work deliverables. “[…] Our focus must shift to finding and developing individuals who are continually able to give up skills, perspectives, and ideas that are no longer relevant, and learn new ones that are”, (Mitchinson and Morris, 2014, p.1).

We documented these sessions as training because we all learned how to navigate the screens; albeit it was learning on the fly.  We recognized that learning the software was the goal.  Developing the process steps and eventually the work instructions was the secondary goal.  This training documentation became the qualifying evidence for their train-the-trainer knowledge transfer.  And collectively they decided what choices end users were to pick from the drop down tables.  

Is this “learning on the fly” or agile learning in practice? You decide.

1 + 1+ 1 is more than 3

I shifted my role again to become a scribe and worked on sequencing these pages for the next round of end-users. To my surprise and delight, my new breed of Agile QTs volunteered to paste screen shots into participant worksheets so their “students” could take additional notes.  Together, we all collaborated to meet the urgent need of the end-users. Each of us in our niche roles experienced first-hand the value the others brought with them to that room.  And in that time away from our regular job tasks, we became more valuable to the organization.

The learners were paired up with their Agile QT for guided instruction of real entry into the live system.  The following week, the department was able to go live with a project plan that focused on a series of interim roles, changed roles and transitioning responsibilities within established roles.  The project launched on time to meet commitments promised to the agency.

Why are they thanking me?

It was an energizing and empowering learning experience for the super-users. A truly collaborative experience for the SMEs and the biggest surprise of all was that they thanked me.  Me?  I did not deliver the training; I was not the SME, nor did I provide perfect training materials.   If I had pursued my classically trained ADDIE approach, we would have waited for the perfect SOP to deliver those sessions and woefully miss FDA committed timelines. While I’m not ready to throw ADDIE overboard yet, Satov makes a compelling plea, “move aside elite and long-standing establishments of formal education”. 

My lesson learned was this: when the demand is for speed and the content design is not the key focus, I need to give up control to the true onsite educators and focus on facilitating the best learning experience given the daily change challenges and system constraints. Satov would agree, “the role of learning is to capitalize and create the architecture of the hybrid-mind”.  Is this “learning on the fly” or agile learning in practice?  You decide. But agile instructional design is here to stay if QA L&D is going to keep up with the fast-paced, often reactive, and regulated world of the Life Sciences Industries. – VB

  • Allen, M. Leaving ADDIE for SAM: An Agile Model for Developing the Best Learning Experiences. ASTD, 2012.
  • Mitchinson, A & Morris, R. Learning Agility. Center for Creative Leadership white paper, 2014.
  • Satov, JML. “Agile by Fire”, Chief Learning Office, July/ August, 2020, p. 50.
Need to expedite a CAPA remediation project? |Looking for a facilitator/ quality systems project manager to align your SMEs for collaborative deliverables?

Who is the Author, Vivian Bringslimark?

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

Batteries Not Included: Not All Trainers are Instructional Designers or Classroom Facilitators

When I left the manufacturing shop floor and moved into training, full-time trainers presented in the classroom using a host of techniques, tools and relied on their platform skills to present content.  Subject matter experts (or the most senior person) conducted technical training on the shop floor in front of a piece of equipment, at a laboratory station, or a workbench. 

For years, this distinction was clearly practiced where I worked.  Trainers were in the classroom and SMEs delivered OJT.  Occasionally a “fulltime” trainer would consult with an SME on content or request his/her presence in the room during delivery as a back-up or for the Q & A portion of a “presentation”.  It seemed that the boundaries at the time, were so well understood, that one could determine the type of training simply by where it was delivered.

Training boundaries are limitless today

Today, that’s all changed.  No longer confined to location or delivery methods, full-time trainers can be found on the shop floor fully gowned delivering GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) content for example. And SMEs are now in the classroom more each day with some of the very tools used by full-time trainers!   What defines a full-time trainer from an SME is less important, what is necessary however is what defines effective instruction.

Your title might have the word trainer in it.  One of your responsibilities might be a qualified trainer. And you know how to use PowerPoint (PPT). Does this make you an Instructional Designer as well?  Some say yes and others cry foul as they cling to their certificates and advanced degrees. So, forgive me when I say, not every Trainer or Training Manager has the skill set or ID competency embedded in his/her toolbox.   It’s analogous to the toy box on the shelf at Toys R Us – “NOTE: Batteries Not Included”.  Except in our case, the note may be missing from the resume, but definitely embedded into the job description if you are QA L&D or HR Training and Development.

Instructional Design is a recognized profession 

Instructional Design (ID) as a field of study has been offered by many prominent universities for quite some time and is now more known as Instructional Technology.  Underlying the design of a course or a learning event, is a methodology for “good” instructional design and really good instructional designers will confess that there is a bit of an art form to it as well.  Unfortunately, with shrinking budgets and downsized L&D staff, there are less resources available to develop traditional course materials of the past.  Not to mention, shrinking timelines for the deliverables.  So, it makes sense to tap SMEs for more training opportunities since many are already involved in training at their site.  But, pasting their expert content into a PPT slide deck is not instructional design. 

What is effective design? 

Basic Elements of Course Design

To me, effective design is when learners not only meet the learning objectives during training but also transfer that learning experience back on the job and achieve performance objectives / outcomes.  That’s a tall order for an SME, even for fulltime trainers who have not had course design training. 

The methodology a course designer follows be that ADDIE, Agile, SAM (Successive Approximation Model), Gagne’s 9 Conditions of Learning, etc., provides a process with steps for the design rationale and then development of content including implementation and evaluation of effectiveness.  It ensures that key elements are not unintentionally left out or forgotten about until after the fact like evaluation/ effectiveness or needs assessment.  In an attempt to expedite training, these methodology driven elements are easily skipped without fully understanding the impact of leaving them out can have on the overall training effectiveness.  There is a science to instructional design. 

PowerPoint Slides are only a visual tool

Using PowerPoint slides by themselves does not make the training successful.  It’s one of the main tools a trainer uses to meet the objectives of the learning event, albeit the main one. The “art form” occurs when a designer creates visually appealing slides / eLearning scenes as well as aligned activities and engaging exercises designed to provide exploration, practice, and proficiency for the performance task back on the job.  But there is a difference between a course that is created to help the Trainer achieve his/her agenda and one that successfully engages learners to participate, learn and then transfer their insights back home to the job where changed behavior improves the department’s metrics.

The more trainer/instructor driven the course is, the less participation is required from the learner. For example, the instructor makes all the decisions about the course objectives and content, develops the course, delivers the course, and conducts the assessment.

From passive to active to immersive

As you move along the Learner Participation Continuum, the learner is required to participate more, and the trainer does less “talking”. The learner acquires knowledge and skills through activities that s/he experiences with the assistance of a “facilitator”.  The facilitator is focused on helping the learners meet their needs and interests. It is through these firsthand experiences and facilitated dialogue with other learners that thoughtful analysis and interpretation can become the focus of the instruction. The end result is that learners take full responsibility for decisions, actions and consequences.

Moving from Presenter Controlled Training to Learner Focused Facilitation

Moving to a more Learner Focused approach shifts the effort of the design from “deliver this content” to facilitate learning transfer for performance back on the job; which is after all the end goal for a training event. The new design includes opportunities for group participation, utilization of participants’ expertise, and real-life problem solving; key principles of adult learning.

On the one end of the continuum is the lecture which is one-way communication and requires very little participation.  At the other end, we have experiential learning and now immersive learning environments with the introduction of 3D graphics, virtual simulations, and augmented reality.

Most Trainers and SMEs tend to suffer from the “curse of too much knowledge” and find it difficult to separate the need-to-know from the nice-to-know content.  As a result, it shows up in the slide deck with overburdened slides filled with a lot of “stuff”.  Training for them takes on a lecture-style format. The thought of facilitating an activity gives most SME a case of jitters and anxiety.

So, in the “SME as Facilitator” workshop, nominated SMEs as Facilitators are encouraged to step away from the podium and use their eyes, hands, and voice to engage with their audience. Easier said than done, yes. That’s why the course is designed to allow them to take small steps within the safety of a workshop environment.

But rather than trying to pull off a fully immersive session, SMEs as Facilitators are introduced to techniques that “liven up” the lecture. They are shown how to move back and forth from passive listening (sit, hear, see) to active involvement (write, construct, discuss, move, speak). This requires the ability to:

  • follow a well-organized design plan
  • capture and hold the attention of learners
  • use relevant examples and deviations if possible
  • show authentic enthusiasm
  • involve audience both directly and indirectly
  • respond to questions with patience and respect.

While lecture has its merits, today’s learners want engaging content; that is timely, relevant and meaningful.  And while virtual reality and simulations are engaging and very immersive, courses and learning events using these techniques rely on well-funded budgets.  Most Training Departments are not that fortunate.   In the middle of the range are “lively lectures” and alternate methods such as:

  • Demonstrations
  • Case Study
  • Guided Teaching
  • Group Inquiry
  • Read and Discuss
  • Information Search.

Take the 1st shift right.

It’s really about starting with the learners’ expectations and the current organizational culture and then moving one step to the right. If they are used to lectures from SMEs, then work on delivering effective lectures before experimenting with alternate training methods. The overnight shift may be too big of a change for the attendees to adjust to despite their desire for no more boring lectures. Small incremental steps are the key.

Shift to the right when ready for the upgrade

Moving from Lecture to Delivering an EFFECTIVE Lecture

Thoroughness in the preparation reflects care and thoughtfulness. Learners appreciate the personal desire to deliver a livelier lecture. Stepping away from the podium forces the Trainer/SME to take action and allow the learners to “get up close” with the SME as Facilitator. This in turn is reflected in the learner’s desire to respond to questions and dialogue during a facilitated discussion. The rule of thumb for lecturing is approximately 8-10 minutes max. For virtual sessions, the rule of thumb is approximately 5 minutes. 

Take the 2nd Shift: Cut Content to Add Interactivity

How is this done? Upfront in the design of the course materials. The course designers have spent time and budget to prepare a leader’s guide that captures their vision for delivering the course.  SMEs as Facilitators (Classroom SMEs) need to study the leader’s guide and pay attention to the icons and notes provided there. These cues indicate the differentiation from lecture, to an activity whether that be self, small group, or large group. While it may be tempting to skip exercises to make up for lost time, it is better for learner participation to skip lecture and modify an activity if possible.

“STOP TALKING and get learners engaged in some form of activity, practice or reflection exercise”, Vivian Bringslimark, HPIS Consulting, Inc. 

One of the benefits of shifting to this learner focused design is the opportunity for learners to process the content, to make it meaningful for themselves and then associate memory links to it for later recall when the moment of need is upon them.  This can’t happen while the trainer is lecturing.  It happens during activities and reflection exercises designed to generate their own ideas during small group interactions and link it back to the course content/objectives.  Learners are prompted to openly discuss issues and problems within a “learning lab” style environment. Trainers become empathetic listeners as they create a climate of trust and safety. They become a Facilitator.

Of course, this shift also requires that site leadership and local management not only support the facilitated learning lab concept but follow through on issues and concerns that surface. Failure to do so undermines not only the facilitator’s credibility but the entire training program.

Wow, won’t this take longer to design, you ask?  Yes, in the sense that the design is now from the learner’s point of view. This means that the designer will need to research examples, collect data, and might have to develop a story from an incident, a deviation or significant CAPA, etc. The reward is that the Trainer/ Classroom SME stops talking and gives employees more engaging learning sessions. So learners become more accountable for participating and guess what – the SME’s session is no longer a boring podium speech

References:

Silberman, M. (1990). Active Training: A Handbook of Techniques, Designs, Case Examples, and Tips.  Lexington Books, New York.

Who is the Author, Vivian Bringslimark?

HPISC Library has articles, impact stories and white papers.

SME Impact Story: The Real Meaning of TTT

White Paper: Step Away From the Podium

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

Using Neuroscience to Maximize Learning: Why we should start paying attention to the Research

In October 2015, I had the privilege to have a discussion with Anne-Maree Hawkesworth, Technical Training Manager of AstraZeneca, Australia before the 2015 GMPTEA Biennial Conference kicked off. Anne-Maree was in Orlando, Florida to present her concurrent session entitled Insights from ‘Inside Out’ – Employing lessons in neuroscience to facilitate successful learning” during the conference. As an avid fan and follower of the neuroscience literature being published, I was hungry to learn more and she generously gave up a few hours of her time to meet me with over a latte and a nibble of delicious chocolate from Australia.   What follows is a snippet of the exchanged dialogue.

Q: Why has neuroscience become so popular all of a sudden?

Actually it’s been around for a while. It’s not new, even though it sometimes seems that way. For example, look at Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve that is so frequently referenced. It was first introduced 1885. And there are other classic research studies available if you conduct a good search.

Q: Why do trainers need to pay attention to neuroscience and the recent literature?

Quite frankly, they need to start learning how to design their training using these principles. They have to stop lecturing from the slides and speaker notes.

Q: Okay, then what do they need to know?

Concepts like chunking, memory techniques, and the effects of multitasking. Multitasking is very bad for learning. You end up learning nothing. It becomes a waste and yet we are multi tasking now more than ever. For example, management is expecting us to do more. For example, take an e learning course and answer their emails while taking the course!

V- this means the design has to change.  AMH- exactly!

Q: We need help. What should trainers tell Management about neuroscience?

That less is actually more. Stop requiring us to dump more content in slides. We end up remembering less. If you won’t believe us, there’s scientific evidence to back up what we are saying! And don’t dictate how we use the classroom. For example, I have my learners standing for most of the sessions involving activities that I facilitate. In one of my sessions, I had removed the chairs from the room and used ZERO slides.   Imagine that! Oh and I love flip charts!

Bonus Tip: AMH shared a little secret with me. She revealed that Production folks like to do flip chart work. They just don’t want to be the spokesperson. So if you can get them past that, they’ll love being busy writing on the chart.

Q: I noticed that you didn’t include motivation in your slide deck. Was that intentional? How are they related?

I only had 60 minutes, but yes motivation is so very important. We have to keep them motivated to learn. We have to continually grab their attention.   It should be one of the 12 principles.

Q: Earlier you mentioned Chunking. What trends are you seeing in micro learning? Are you implementing any of it?

I am looking at small chunks of learning at the time you require the learning as opposed to “Just in Case” learning that tends to occur months in advance.  Micro-learning is great for follow-up to formal class room or eLearning to boost memory. I like micro-learning in the form of case studies and in particular branching scenarios. Cathy Moore has some great material on her blog and webinars on branching scenarios.

I also like to chunk information within my training and use lots of white space to help separate pieces of information, this helps in facilitating learning.

Q: I work with a lot of Qualified SME Trainers from Production.   How do you get past the brain lingo when you explain neuroscience?

You explain that there are parts of the brain that do different things at different times. There is no need to turn the session into brain science 101. I show them a slide or two and them move on.

Q: Earlier you mentioned “principles”. Can you elaborate on that?

I’d love to but we are near the end of our time together. I can recommend trainers look up John Medina’s 12 Brain Rules.  Briefly they are,

  1. Survival
  2. Stress
  3. Attention
  4. Sensory Integration
  5. Vision
  6. Exploration
  7. Exercise
  8. Sleep
  9. Wiring
  10. Memory
  11. Music
  12. Gender

Alas, I could have dialogued with her for the entire conference albeit, she was jet jagged and the latte was wearing off.   Thank you Anne-Maree for sharing your thoughts and effective classroom delivery techniques with us.   Together, we will shift the classroom design mindset.   -VB