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.
Figure 1. Content development road map
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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!
Figure 5. A learner’s map and content development journey