Daniel W. Rasmus is the Founder and Principal Analyst at Serious Insights LLC. In recent weeks, he has worked alongside Meister in order to promote Agile Learning in educational institutions, aided by both online mind mapping and task management tools. To complement his informative webinar, Daniel has authored a white paper — Mind Mapping for Agile Learning — which details how practices common in commercial software development can be applied in an educational context. In this post, he introduces the white paper and provides an overview of its key themes. 

Whitepaper Summary: Mind Mapping for Agile Learning

The formulation of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, around the turn of the millennium, fundamentally changed how teams and companies around the world developed applications. Moving away from rigid, tightly-controlled project management models — in favor of a more fluid, customer-centric approach — revolutionized how the software industry works and has given power to small yet innovative development companies.

 

I believe that Agile Learning, the principles of agile software development applied to an educational sphere, has similar potential to radically improve the ways in which teachers plan lessons, review study materials and evaluate learner outcomes. In the white paper Mind Mapping for Agile Learning, I go into significant detail to explain this hypothesis. I evaluate where commonality between development and education exists (and how learners can benefit from it), and explore where adaptations must be made to maximize the potential of agile principles. 

Find out more about the differences between Agile and Waterfall project management methodologies in this blog post.

Yet, Agile is a philosophy: it is not a means in itself. Equally important as the implementation of new techniques is the potency of the tools that enable learners to maximize their potential. For this reason, Meister’s online mind mapping tool MindMeister and their task management software MeisterTask feature prominently in my analysis. I will discuss the key takeaways from my paper below. 

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Transitioning from Lesson Plans to Sprints

One of the key differences between agile and waterfall project management is in the planning stage. As such, it seems logical to use a comparison between traditional lesson planning techniques against agile practices as a jumping-off point for the transition to Agile Learning. 

Lesson planning with mind maps? Find out more about how MindMeister can improve learning outcomes in this informative guide.

All lesson plans offer a structure for teaching. Traditionally, they package goals and objectives, requirements, approaches, materials, learning procedures, assessment methods, and reflection: each to be completed after the other. The software world calls this top-down planning, or waterfall planning. Unfortunately, even the best plans rarely survive the first few hours of work. Definitions prove less clear than anticipated, new technology may disrupt assumptions, and requirements may change. Some might argue that planning has failed in such instances, but I do not believe this to be true. Instead, the problem is more basic: no one can predict the future. 

The benefit of agile development is that fortune-telling isn’t a key factor in determining project success. By approaching larger projects piecemeal, in shorter, iterative development cycles known as sprints, teams can work quickly and effectively without as much reliance on central planning. If requirements change, these can be dealt with effectively without causing blockages further down the road. 

The central philosophy of agile comes down to creating valuable experiences through rapid, iterative work that often involves failure and learning. It differs from traditional lesson planning by not trying to capture every nuance and possibility at the onset. In Mind Mapping for Agile Learning, I suggest that educators remove certain elements of planning — namely materials and procedure — and let students engage in a learning journey that promotes responsibility for how they learn. 

Learning from Scrum 

Kanban vs Scrum Cover Image

Agile and Scrum are two industry terms that are often (and incorrectly) used interchangeably. In my white paper, I reiterate that Agile and Scrum are not the same. Agile embodies a series of principles, while Scrum is a set of techniques for getting work done. In development, they fit together well because Agile suggests the need for rapid iterations and the continual delivery of work, while Scrum offers a good way to achieve that goal. 

Certain elements of Scrum can be transferred to the classroom as well, specifically the individual roles that enable working within the Scrum framework. Foremost among these is the role of product owner. In a commercial setting, the product owner represents a product’s stakeholders and the voice of the customer in terms of guiding development decisions. In Agile Learning, they play a similar role, albeit as a representative for learning objectives and standards. In short, it is the optimal role for the teacher.

The product owner (or teacher) has one key question: What looks good? Rather than state all of the details, teachers should instead concentrate on which goals to achieve and what standards to demonstrate. Then, they should exercise restraint in letting the learners figure out how to meet those objectives. 

Getting the Most Out of Mind Mapping

On the surface, the links between mind mapping and the agile methodology may appear tenuous. However, there are extensive crossovers between the techniques that can be exploited for the benefit of students and teachers alike.

In the paper, I use my experience of teaching Romeo and Juliet to teams of students as an example of how the two techniques can connect. The original lesson plan focuses on understanding the historical context of Shakespeare’s history, but it is the implementation of this that defines the agile approach. Rather than providing a rigid template for how the task should be completed, in Agile Learning, the teacher would give freedom and encouragement to students to try more innovative techniques. 

Online mind mapping, powered by MindMeister, is perfect for this purpose. As the tool promotes collaboration, multiple students can work together at any one time, even if they are learning remotely. The ability to expand on ideas and link external materials is also invaluable to the process of providing context and introducing new topics and themes. Furthermore, because mind maps can be shared, students can benefit from each others’ work without the need for bulky handouts or endless repetition.

Learning Retrospectives

Of course, just because something is “different” or “innovative” doesn’t make it “good.” Part of the role of the teacher, as the product owner, is to provide “doneness” criteria that may be aligned to some kind of grading system. As mentioned, the objective of the sprint is to elicit improvements through iteration. As such, the work should be compared against the criteria at the end of each sprint cycle and improvement suggestions offered.

Unlike a one-pass learning experience, a sprint may end up not including everything. Rather than marking down the effort, the teacher (product owner) gives feedback according to the criteria, then suggests that the team should go back to another sprint to develop an improved version.

In the sprint retrospective, which works like a learning reflection, teams may suggest additional ways of measuring their work. Before the retrospective, each team will share their results with the other teams and the product owners. This session helps fulfill non-creation or fact-proof objectives such as public speaking, reasoning on your feet, making logical, verbal arguments, and other standards.

Skills for Study, Skills for Life

I believe that Agile Learning promotes crucial life skills that are easily incorporated into the learning experience. Without such innovation, teaching Romeo and Juliet runs the risk of becoming cliche. Agile Learning offers one way to reinvent that experience, creating a more immersive classroom that allows creativity to shine. 

Agile Learning aims not to supplant lesson planning, instead to make lesson plans more engaging and rewarding. The result: co-created learning experiences that don’t happen by accident, but are purposeful, acknowledged and celebrated.

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