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Agile Learning Design to Maximize Effectiveness of Content Creation in Medical Writing

10 Nov 2022

The success of medical communication material is measured by the amount of consumption, retention, and application by the learner. The overarching belief that a good medical writer mainly requires only 2 skills - good scientific understanding and good written English - is only partially true. A key skill to produce impactful medical communication is to understand the requirements of the learner, customize the content to learning needs, and produce it in a timely manner/need-to-know basis - and herein the Agile methodology of working comes into play.

The typical steps involved in content development are shown in the figure below. Note that each major step consists of multiple sub-steps and are owned and led by multiple internal or external stakeholders.

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Figure 1. Content development road map

The Need for Agile Learning Design in Content Development

Traditionally, a waterfall approach known as ADDIE was used for content development. ADDIE is a 5-step process that stands for Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate. In the ADDIE model, each step feeds into the next step and the final products are delivered based on earlier inputs into the system. Thus, it is a linear approach that requires approval from stakeholders at each stage. Feedback is consolidated and iterations only occur at the end of the project. This model assures the accuracy and relevance of content but its major limitation is lack of speed.

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Figure 2. The ADDIE methodology – a waterfall approach

The current need for speed mandates that we move away from generic content development models and use models which align with today’s requirements of the life sciences industry. This blog specifically focuses on the development of scientific training in the L&D domain and some key requirements around content creation for the same.

First, we need to identify the product owners and consumers to understand the supply and demand scenario. The life science company that sponsors the content development would be considered as content owners and the sales/regulatory/healthcare professionals/marketing professionals would be considered as the consumers. The feedback from the learner is highly important, as that guides the content development by the product owners.

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Figure 3. Content requirements of the life sciences industry and consumers of medical information

To add to these requirements, the diversity of material to be generated – which ranges from traditional formats such as PDFs and slide decks to more engaging videos, podcasts, and gamified learning materials – necessitates that we are Agile in our ways of developing content.

What Is Agile Methodology?

The Agile methodology was initially developed and used in the field of software development. It is based on a manifesto released in 2001 with an aim to collaborate with the customer and deliver high-value products in a shorter period of time.2,3 Agile is an iterative approach to project management. The core idea is to deliver work in small batches. The requirements, plans, and results are continuously evaluated and customer feedback is incorporated at each iterative stage. Thus, an Agile project is continuously improved upon throughout its life cycle, with changes being made in real-time.

The Agile learning design is a content development approach that has evolved from the field of software development. This features an interactive and iterative method that promotes speed by collaboration with internal and external stakeholders/process owners to ensure quick incorporation of changes.

The Agile instructional design, developed by Conrad Gottfredson, is focused on the core areas of Analyze, Get Set, Iterate and implement, Leverage, and Evaluate. Analyze refers to defining the objectives and setting the goals. Get Set refers to creation of a blueprint of how the process should develop. Iteration is the core of all things Agile and refers to the implementation of processes to reach the goals and objectives by following through with the plan. Leverage refers to using the data, analyzing the needs of the team, and optimizing the resources to meet the needs. Finally, Evaluate refers to the analysis of the data after product release and feeding of that information back into the project to improve the iteration. See below how the Agile learning design is applied to content development.

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Figure 4. Agile learning design in content development

Additionally, there are other different elements of the Agile learning design that can be used independently or in conjunction with the Agile learning design presented above. Some of these are mentioned below:

  • Instructional systems design (ISD) content development needs are assessed and thereafter materials are developed to ensure maximal use of information.
  • Successive approximation model (SAM) is a simplified ADDIE model developed by Dr Michael Allen. It is an iterative model comprising of 3 steps - Preparation, Iterative Design, and Iterative Development. Based on the information gathered in the preparation phase, a prototype is designed which is evaluated by stakeholders. Based on the feedback, a finished product is developed which is thereafter evaluated once it is deployed. The insights obtained from the evaluation can be used for other prototypes.
  • Rapid content development (RCD) is an interactive and iterative approach to design that typically prioritizes speed over other elements. It consists of small discreet parts of content development such as reusable templates and core messages which are reused for quick market release of the content. This format is frequently used during e-learning.
  • Rapid application development (RAD) uses a combination of a variety of content design and software development methods to drive e-learning. The focus is on reduced advanced planning and increased collaborative development.
  • Lot Like Agile Management Approach (LLAMA) focuses to reduce waste (such as waste of overproduction, time, effort, money, etc.) and quick iterations to increase the speed-to-market.

Agile Learners

Most workplaces have adopted the Agile methodology to content development in some form or another. This has led to a substantial increase in a huge amount of content being released in a very short span of time. Many organizations are also of the opinion of more-the-merrier. However, we need to be cognizant of the fact that much of this material might not be consumed! So, how do we ensure that the content created is influential, consumed and understood, and impactful in terms of higher sales of a drug or higher awareness regarding the therapy? Herein comes the Agile learner! Content developers need to understand the learners prior to content development. Today’s learner is trained to demonstrate agility in learning. They want to understand the content quickly, learn and perform on the job, and learn/revise from multiple sources. Thus, the content being developed need to address the following key characteristics of an Agile learner:

  1. Defined goal/objectives: An Agile learner knows their needs and wants information tailored to address those needs. The content should be aimed toward the audience’s requirements, issues, and goals.
  2. Varied content forms - same message: The learner remembers the content which is reinforced using different formats. Based on their time availability, they want the content to be presented in a 3-minute, 5-minute, 10-minute, and 30-minute format. Thus, adaptable content that can be leveraged to produce follow-up content with quicker turnaround times is crucial.
  3. Visual and impactful content:Another characteristic of today’s learners is their affinity toward visually appealing and engaging content. Such content is retained for a longer duration. Points 2 and 3 form core pillars of multichannel engagement strategies – a core message repeated across various channels reaffirm concepts and create high recall value.
  4. Learn on the go: An Agile learner is eager to apply their knowledge on the job. Additionally, today many learners do not have the time to be leisurely onboard. Organizations too want to see the return on their investment (ROI) in a shorter duration of time. Hence content should be 1) simple and quick to learn, 2) easy to access, and 3)easy to apply. Here, a good LMS/content hosting platform is highly crucial as the learner can access the information whenever required.

Lastly, one of the often-forgotten parts is learning assessment. A well-planned assessment can help an organization to gauge the amount of content consumption, retention, and its impact in terms of ROI. These assessments can be made lucrative to an Agile learner in 2 ways:

  1. Get the assessment professionally certified, such that it becomes part of continuous education. Globally recognized certifications can be provided upon the successful completion of the course.
  2. OR, gamify the assessment. The assessment can be filled with game-based quiz activities where learners win an award at the successful completion of the program.

In conclusion, content development should be done keeping the needs of today’s Agile learners in focus. Content developers should be using Agile methodology to leverage feedback from the learners at each stage of the process. Ensuring that content development stays an iterative process with all key stakeholders providing insightful inputs periodically is the path forward. Agile learning design will ensure that the focus stays on consumption and application of the content and not the creation!

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Figure 5. A learner’s map and content development journey

References:

  1. ADDIE model. Instructional design.org. Accessed September 21, 2022.
    https://www.instructionaldesign.org/models/addie/
  2. Is the AGILE manifesto still a thing? Atlassian. Accessed September 21, 2022.
    https://www.atlassian.com/agile/manifesto
  3. What is AGILE? Atlassian. Accessed September 21, 2022.
    https://www.atlassian.com/agile
  4. What is AGILE methodology in project management? Wrike. Accessed September 21, 2022.
    https://www.wrike.com/project-management-guide/faq/what-is-agile-methodology-in-project-management/
  5. AGILE learning design. Training Industry. Accessed September 21, 2022.
    https://trainingindustry.com/wiki/content-development/agile-learning-design/
  6. Which AGILE learning methodology is right for your learning team? Cognota. Accessed September 21, 2022.
    https://cognota.com/blog/which-agile-learning-methodology-is-right-for-your-training-team/

Authors

Amruta Jambekar
Amruta Jambekar
Amruta Jambekar

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