Agile learning design at Family Fund

An agile approach at Family Fund was essential for quickly replacing face to face training with eLearning for families that the charity supports. Perry Timms explains how the small project team at the charity embraced agile principles to quickly roll out effective online learning.

Family Fund had to quickly adapt their Power Up training project during the pandemic to account for locked-down limitations. Originally the charity had planned to offer families free in-person training via the Power Up project, and that rapidly had to change. The Power Up project offers free support to parents and carers, to help them develop the confidence and skills they need to use online tools to manage money. Digital learning was the perfect solution to replace face to face training, delivered to families that the charity supports.

The small Power Up project team embraced some classic ‘agile’ principles to meet the challenges they faced. Whilst they were confident producing online resources for staff and volunteers, offering digital learning to beneficiaries was a whole new area. It was also more complex, as the level of digital skills and use of devices amongst families the charity supports was largely unknown. 

Rapidly creating online learning meant the charity could continue to provide essential guidance to families during lockdown. There were other benefits too. A new online approach offered greater accessibility and flexibility – beneficiaries can learn at their own pace, repeating learning as many times as they need to. 

Sixteen online courses were quickly created – these were mainly eLearning, hosted on the Moodle platform provided by the Charity Learning Consortium. Thirteen of the courses were offered as live sessions on Zoom, facilitated by a trainer. The learning management system was also used for webinar registration. 

Course titles include:

 

  • Checking benefits online
  • Finding grants online
  • Cashback sites
  • Switch and save online
  • Using GOV.UK
  • Council services online

Hundreds of families have been helped in this way, and this online approach has  become the hallmark of adaptive and inclusive learning design at the charity. 

Access
Firstly there were a number of access challenges to face – in terms of both the devices and the digital skills that families had. To meet this challenge, Family Fund’s project team established a staged, iterative approach to create digital learning. 

Initially the team used this new approach internally to design learning for staff. Taking what they had learnt, they then used the same principles to create eLearning for the families they support. This meant looking at several elements: 

  • The learning management system they were using 
  • Learning content
  • System security 
  • The functionality of digitised learning programmes

Rather than assuming what would work, both the platform and new learning programmes were tested with a pilot group of families and developed to meet their needs. In agile terms, this is often called ‘show and tell’.

Content
Developing the learning on offer to families was staged (in agile terms, this is called sprints.) Family Fund’s project team didn’t want to overwhelm people so developed online training in phases, according to need and maximum value. 

Content originally used for face to face training, along with other existing digital resources, was also repurposed. In agile terminology, this would be the same as allocating points to determine the priorities, to deliver the greatest benefits and impact.

Feedback from families was used by the project team to create:

  • Recommended ways to use the learning content
  • Themes, so that families could easily see what mattered to them most 
  • New modules, based on need
  • A greater feeling of community, from the joint efforts of families and the project team working together

Hosting
Learning management systems are frequently used to provide staff and volunteers with online resources. At Family Fund, the project team decided to use it’s LMS – provided by the Charity Learning Consortium – as a platform to provide learning to families too. They basically used assets they already had in a new and different way – the LMS, eLearning and other digital content, as well as the people creating and managing learning experiences. In agile terms, this is known as a product pivot.

Agility
Without consciously referring to this approach as ‘agile’, the project team at Family Fund were following agile principles to great affect. They followed five basic steps to agile learning success:

1. Know your vision (your product story)
The project team had a clear vision – digital Learning had to become a go-to place for families to get the support they needed.

2. Understand your challenges (problem statements)
Access was an issue – families’ ownership and use of devices along with their digital skills presented unknown challenges.

3. Understand your people (user stories)
What did families want? When would they need it? How would they access and learn without the intimacy of face-to-face workshops that had previously been a trademark of Family Fund’s learning offer? Previous knowledge and experience of delivering in person training to families gave the project team a starting point for how to structure content. A pilot group and feedback meant they could fine tune as they went – turning learning into focused, clear and easy to navigate experiences.

4. Iterate and adapt (work in sprints)
A staged approach was used to develop different products and features, carry out research and testing. Gradually increasing access to learning content – repurposed for digital use in small, accessible formats – kept this programme manageable.

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    The phased approach meant they could provide immediate help, and then build and adapt depending on needs, priorities and feedback. The project team were responsive to needs, constantly iterating to ensure that products served their purpose.

    5. Use products and solutions not just courses (minimum viable products)
    The project team used their existing knowledge of delivering valuable learning and created a series of digital learning experiences. They aimed to nurture a stronger community feel between Family Fund and the people they support. The LMS provided by the Charity Learning Consortium was at the heart of this approach. The platform provided a central place for everyone to access regularly, progress could be tracked, personal contact could be made and encouragement given. 

    Value and impact assessment 
    Comments from modules on the LMS gave the project team precise feedback, so they understood how comfortable families were with the learning, so they could make adjustments.

    Providing small modules, available on demand and repeatable, using their preferred device and time of choice, has really suited beneficiaries and demonstrates a clear focus on the learner experience. Families have also been positive about the amount of help provided by the charity via the LMS.

    As a result, beneficiaries have reported feeling more confident using digital technology – not just to learn from Family Fund, but to obtain other information and for entertainment too. Ultimately, opening up digital learning has had a positive impact on families, way beyond the specific help that Family Fund wanted to deliver.

    An agile approach to creating learning is perfect for inclusive and pacy projects. As this example shows, it doesn’t have to mean being an accredited scrum coach or even learning the methodology of working in sprints. Without using agile terminology, the project team continue to use agile methodology to create adaptive, people-centred products and solutions that solve problems and create real value.

     The Power Up project team was made up of Heather Cope, Service Delivery Officer at Family Fund, and Lisa Efe, former Trainer at Family Fund. 

    About Family Fund
    Family Fund is the UK’s largest charity providing grants for families raising disabled or seriously ill children and young people. In 2020 the charity provided over 150,000 grants or services worth over £48 million to families across the UK.

    The Power Up project offers free support to parents and carers, to help them develop the confidence and skills they need to use online tools to manage money.

    Perry Timms

    About Perry Timms 

    Perry Timms is the founder and Chief Energy Officer of PTHR, a consultancy in progressive HR/OD. Perry is a proud chartered member of the CIPD and was in the top 10 on HR Magazine’s list of HR’s most influential thinkers in 2018 and 2019. The list was suspended in 2020 but he has been nominated again for 2021. Perry’s book The Energized Workplace, published in 2020, has been shortlisted for The Business Book Awards 2021 in the HR & management category. His 2017 book Transformational HR was an Amazon bestseller in the human resources category shortly after its release and has appeared on Book Authority’s list of 100 best business strategy books of all time.

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