Components of the Learning Model Canvas: Design Part 2

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In last week’s Saltbox Savvy, I started to introduce the Design section of the Learning Model Canvas with an overview of different types of learning. Today, we’ll conclude that overview by finding out how the production of learning experiences can affect the overall learning model.

As I mentioned, time is a critical factor when it comes to types of learning, and it’s equally important in learning production. All training takes some time to design, develop, and implement, but some approaches to training take longer than others. Though the impulse is to develop every learning experience carefully and completely, in a crisis, providing the workforce with content late would be just as bad as never. Meanwhile, in situations with few time constraints, it would be a waste if L&D didn’t use as much time as necessary to develop, test, and iterate whenever possible.

While every L&D unit may have its own style of producing learning experiences, ultimately, they all fall into three general categories: Waterfall (i.e. ADDIE) , Agile (i.e. SAM, LLAMA), or Ad Hoc.

Build It and They Will Come (Hopefully…)

The Waterfall approach requires the most time to implement, though it is also the most regimented of the three production styles. It is a linear development process that emphasizes finishing each phase of production before moving on to the next. It results in a complete learning experience available all at once, only after the final step is finished. As you can see below, the Waterfall design process maps roughly with the ADDIE model.


The process is like a waterfall in that time, like water, keeps flowing downhill and never reverses or returns to its initial starting point. This means that once an experience is complete, few changes or iterations are made.

Designers of Waterfall learning experiences still receive feedback, however any measurement of effectiveness occurs at the end of the process, to be used as background for future projects. This is why considerable focus (and time) goes into analyzing the learning needs at the beginning of the program, often with the help of SMEs.

Example Scenario: L&D is asked to create a class on presentation skills as part of a management succession initiative. L&D goes through the full ADDIE process and offers the experience within its corporate university. User measurement and feedback are captured at the end of the class with minor changes made, at which point the experience is considered complete.

Develop and Adapt

While the Waterfall approach is useful for learning experiences that have little need to change over time, situations that call for multiple iterations and significant customer feedback (such as continuing education), require that L&D has the freedom to rapidly update its content. The ideal production style in this case is Agile design.


Agile learning development is a process that delivers learning experiences through an ongoing series of iterations influenced by user feedback. It often includes rapid prototyping followed by beta user experiences at each phase of development. Unlike Waterfall design, Agile learning experiences often do return to earlier phases to re-asses and re-tool. Megan Torrance introduces the distinction well with LLAMA (Lot Like Agile Management Approach) , and also makes the point that your learning model and corporate culture need to align to be successful.

Example Scenario: L&D is asked to develop a product launch learning experience for retail employees. They rapidly create a prototype experience which includes a short demonstration video, specifications document, and quiz (iteration #1). After review by an SME, a FAQ is added to the experience (iteration #2). Initial user feedback suggests that the video is not being watched to the end, so it is broken up into shorter video clips with descriptive titles (iteration #3).

There is often much debate of how many iterations are appropriate, or how many iterations can an L&D team support with a minimal team. Some methodologies support an average of three iterations, as the law of diminishing returns applies. In fast paced, rapidly changing environments, it will be important to do small iterations often to keep the experience fresh.

One and Done

Both Waterfall and Agile design styles require some lead time for development, but not all situations will give L&D that time. In a crisis or emergency, urgent information sometimes need to be delivered to the workforce. In these cases, an Ad Hoc style of learning production is required.


An Ad Hoc style is a series of “one-off” development processes, usually for time-sensitive learning of a very specific problem. This might be in the form of breaking news, quick company updates, or micro learning. Little or no user feedback is expected, as there would be little time to implement it.

Example Scenario: A news story is broadcast identifying a defect in a company’s retail product. L&D is asked to provide pertinent information to sales and call center employees to prepare them to respond to the expected increase in customer inquiries. As this is expected to be a one-time event, no further action is required.

Connection to the Learning Models

Taken together, the type of learning and method of production make up the preferred Design of training in your learning model. High time-dependent learning types produced through Ad Hoc processes require information to be disseminated as quickly as possible, so it is no surprise that this Design style often fits best in a Performance Support or Mass Distribution model. Similarly, the intensive skills development expected of the Innovation model requires a great deal of lead time to develop, which works well for the linear Waterfall production process in developing low time-dependent types of learning experiences such as new-hire training or continuing education.

Once you’ve identified a mode of production (and your overall design), the impulse will be to jump straight into execution, but take care to layout a plan first. My own style has been to connect Design, Delivery, and Business Outcomes in a down-and-dirty approach, but for a more refined and formalized blueprint, you might try Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping method.

In next week’s Saltbox Savvy, we’ll start looking at the Delivery aspect of learning models, a section of the LMC that is very much intertwined with Design. If you have questions about learning production or the Design portion of the LMC in general, drop me a line at Saltbox or leave a comment below.


I’ve mentioned before that the focus of learning models may be company-centric or participant-centric, and that’s particularly relevant when it comes to Design. If L&D is operating with a participant-centric focus, it means designing a role-play scenario that’s true to life, and satisfies the user’s motto of “what I want to learn, when I want to learn, and how I want to learn it.” Meanwhile, designing a training document that reinforces the business’ marketing message means taking a company-centric approach. Both can have their place in different situations, but keep in mind that trying to communicate both a company- and participant-centric message in a single learning experience can sometimes muddle the intended objective. This is why high-level learning factors, like a Business Outcome or Value Proposition, are important even for practical-level aspects of the LMC such as Design.