Agile Development in Higher Education: A Process for Learning and Optimizing




As universities across the country pursue innovative new strategies for learning and enrollment, many have found great value in a process we know well and utilize here at Devetry—Agile Development.

In case you need a refresher, Agile is a project management methodology that leverages small, continuous change that quickly improves software projects and fosters innovation.

How Does Agile Apply to Higher Education?

Agile methodology is especially applicable to universities and education programs because of the constant change they have. For example, the world of Higher Education is currently experiencing a period of significant change including factors like:

  • Surges in enrollment
  • The demand for online platforms
  • The demand for differentiation – online and off
  • Reduced government funding
  • Higher operating costs
  • Shifts in indirect technology and information access

Universities are being forced to innovate and challenge their traditional ways. As we’ve experienced directly through our work with Arizona State University, Agile methodology in higher education can help you transform your digital offerings and learning management integrations. Agile is a great fit for universities looking to transform their curriculum as well as their entire approach to Higher Education.

higher education ebook softwareDownload The Role of Technology in Higher Ed, an eBook from Devetry!

This eBook contains perspectives on Agile development in the industry, how artificial intelligence will affect higher ed, WCAG compliance, and web app analytics.

>> Download

Why Agile is Beneficial for Higher Ed Organizations

Agile is ideal for Higher Education because it’s essentially all about learning. When we develop software, the short sprints of Agile mean we develop, test, and adjust in increments—we learn and iterate. That feedback loop is essential to developing high-quality software with valuable features, and the same is true for education. The process itself is based on dynamic learning, not institution. As universities innovate, the small risks and iterative improvements of an Agile process will help keep initiatives on-budget and on-target.

Cure for Bureaucratic Hold-Ups

Agile also includes all stakeholders throughout the entire process. With Agile, teams stay constantly tuned into the users’ needs, which keeps them from developing perhaps the world’s most wonderful software that absolutely no one finds useful. Historically, Higher Education has been known for being bureaucratic, top-down, and slow-moving, and these are precisely the kinds of organizational issues Agile was created to correct. By making sure all stakeholders—whether that’s faculty, staff, students, or the community—are brought in along the way, universities can course-correct continually to ensure that the final result is valuable for all involved.

User Engagement

Universities also face the unviable fact that their main users, the students, are some of the most tech-savvy humans on the planet. Any piece of software or learning platform has a high bar to hit and that means it is crucial to get it right. Using a proven and effective software development process like Agile to keep efforts iterative and user-focused is essential.

The move to Agile in Higher Education began naturally enough in online education spaces; digitally-based initiatives that brought in Agile as an extension of the software world. But now, similar to many other industries that have internalized and benefited from a shift to Agile, Higher Education is using the process in more than just software development.

The UK’s Open University has been practicing Agile development for its learning management systems for more than a decade, and Head of Transformation Matthew Moran describes the need for this shift as an evolution of the higher ed marketplace. “Universities are in the platform and product business now, even if they don’t accept that.” He argues that the increasingly modernized and competitive marketplace of Higher Education demands a shift in the very substance and value learning institutions offer.

Similarly, ASU President Michael Crow has been developing their EdPlus program as an evolution of the online university, recognizing that “People learn in different ways and there needs to be more than one route to success. As educators, it is up to us to devise what those pathways are and how to provide the knowledge and support that produces positive outcomes.” These pathways—some digital, many not—include online learning, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, game-based learning, entrepreneurship, public and private sector partners, and global alliances, and all are innovation efforts that can benefit from Agile.

Simply switching to Agile doesn’t necessarily solve all of Higher Ed’s challenges right away, but it’s a piece that helps complete the puzzle: ongoing learning and optimization coupled with regular stakeholder check-ins to manage bureaucratic wants and needs. There are many places for Agile to fit in, from software to the classroom and beyond.