Student Voice

Agile Manifesto for Teaching and Learning

By Christine Enowmbi Tambe

Agile describes a workplace environment where teams place a strong emphasis on defining their goals collaboratively, modifying work plans on a regular basis, fostering authentic group interactions, enhancing team chemistry, and encouraging experimentation and creativity (1).

Essentially, Agile teams do not adhere to a rigid plan of action but rather, plans are placed permanently under construction throughout the project. Initially conceived for the software industry, Agile has brought many benefits such as increased software development success rates, improved quality and time to market, and enhanced IT team motivation and productivity (2). Following its success in software development, professionals have sought to adapt and apply the key principles and concepts of Agile to group-based work in other sectors.

In their 2017 paper, Krehbiel and co-authors (3) proposed an Agile Manifesto for Teaching and Learning, modeled after the 2001 document that launched Agile in the software industry, to provide a guide for future adaptations in higher education. They also reported the integration of several collaborative Agile-based practices in multidisciplinary classroom environments within a mid-sized public university. The aim of these implementations was to create instructional environments where learning is student-centred, self-authored and collaborative. Finally, Krehbiel and co-authors (3) described the experiences of the students and teachers who participated in these pilots and shared a brief outline of their journey in the hopes of guiding other educators interested in learning more about how Agile might enhance their own work.

The Agile Manifesto for Teaching and Learning is a declaration of essential professional and personal principles that should be prioritized in daily faculty work for the successful application of Agile in higher education. To that end, the Agile Manifesto for Teaching and Learning proposed by Krehbiel and co-authors (3) advocates for the following value-ordering:

  1. Adaptability preferred to prescriptive teaching methods. Instructors are encouraged to eschew rigid syllabi in favor of flexible response to the needs of students. In this way, students are prepared to thrive in an ambiguous and dynamic world.
  2. Collaboration preferred to individual accomplishment. Faculties are encouraged to facilitate meaningful group interactions that require everyone's participation, cooperation, and contributions. Participation in collaborative work provides students with teamwork skills essential for their professional and personal lives.
  3. Achievement of learning outcomes preferred to student testing and assessment. Educators should encourage students to be learning-driven rather than test driven, and should nurture self-motivated, lifelong learners.
  4. Student-driven inquiry preferred to classroom lecturing. Instructors should provide students with active-learning assignments and simulated real-world conditions for projects to foster their motivation to learn and individuality. When students engage with information and build practical skills, they evaluate contexts, develop new questions, and use their own voices leading to deep learning.
  5. Demonstration and application preferred to accumulation of information. Educators should create ongoing opportunities that allow students to apply the knowledge and skills they have attained. Students gain self-confidence, learn more deeply, retain information for longer periods of time, and adjust rapidly to changing needs and demands when they create concrete evidence of their accomplishments.
  6. Continuous improvement preferred to the maintenance of current practices. Instructors should frequently evaluate current teaching practices with a willingness to attempt new things.

Krehbiel and co-authors (3) reported the application of Agile in computer science and software engineering, information systems, supply chain management, English, teacher education, civic studies, and political science. In the group-based projects of the courses, a range of Agile tools and practices were adapted, including:

  • ‘Project and Team Chartering’ which included the creation of social contracts, to encourage students to actively share and discuss ideas, reach agreements about shared goals and desired outcomes, and work collaboratively.
  • Physical and virtual ‘Story/Kanban’ boards for groups to visualize and manage their work.
  • ‘Daily standups’ which call on group members to provide updates on progress and challenges. Standups proved to be a highly effective tool for instructors to monitor the mastery of project learning outcomes and the quality of interactions and collaborations within groups. This enabled them to make mid-project changes when required.
  • The use of ‘showcases’ and ‘retrospectives’ aimed at highlighting completed tasks and contributions from each team member to the project, evaluating lessons learned during the project and providing timely, constructive peer feedback. Multiple, short, unrelated Agile projects are recommended so students could perform multiple retrospectives giving them opportunities to improve without being hindered by mistakes made in earlier projects.
  • For courses outside of engineering and computer science such as civic studies and political science, it was recommended that instructors deliberately avoid the use of Agile terminology – such as ‘Scrum’, ‘retrospectives’, and ‘Kanban’ – while introducing student novices to its principles of collaboration so as not to confuse them. Nonetheless, a range of Agile-inspired tools – including regular client check-ins, time-blocking, discussion of user stories, and standups – were used to foster an Agile ‘mindset’ that can usefully guide students’ collaborative work.

These adaptations of Agile practices produced positive outcomes by enhancing the efficiency of time management, creating a more effective learning experience, improving interpersonal dynamics and the quality of collaboration within teams, increasing student engagement, encouraging students to take ownership of their own learning, and producing high-quality deliverables which were better integrated as opposed to loosely compiled pieces of individual work. Instructors also commented that the implementation of Agile techniques enhanced transparency and quickly exposed ‘free-riders’ in groups who can then be coached to modify their behaviour. The experimentations with Agile methods by the interdisciplinary group of faculty members indicate that Agile offers a way of collaborating and creating that is beneficial to the higher education community.


[1] Smith G, Sidky A. Becoming agile:--in an imperfect world. Greenwich: Manning; 2009 May.

[2] Rigby DK, Sutherland J, Takeuchi H. Embracing agile. Harvard business review. 2016 May;94(5):40-50.

[Source] Krehbiel TC, Salzarulo PA, Cosmah ML, Forren J, Gannod G, Havelka D, Hulshult AR, Merhout J. Agile Manifesto for Teaching and Learning. Journal of Effective Teaching. 2017;17(2):90-111.

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