Innovative Instructional Design: MSU Denver Agile Instructional Design Network (AIDNet)


Taylor Kendal, Metropolitan State University of Denver

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Ever since the first few transistors flowed from Silicon Valley, a wave of entrepreneurial momentum has swept across the country. In 2014, I inadvertently stumbled into this momentum at Denver Startup Week (it’s now impossible to avoid if you’re downtown that week), and having only ever worked within the relatively slow-paced institution of education, the experience was highly impactful.

At the time, I was knee-deep in a graduate program at CU Denver (Information and Learning Technologies) and working on a Library of Congress funded grant at MSU Denver, so I was primed to make a few cognitive connections that otherwise might have passed me by. As I ducked in and out of a range of sessions, some hosted by Silicon Valley hopefuls, I was struck by three things:

1. I found the trends and thought processes within this fast-paced, techno-culture to be far more applicable to the domain with which I was familiar (online learning and education) than expected.

2. Although applicable, there was clearly a particular style of discourse and range of idiomatic underpinnings full of acronyms and jargon that made this super-efficient culture click.

3. There were a lot of really smart people creating really cool technologies!

After ruminating on my nerd-induced culture shock, the reality of my impending graduation set in, and I began exploring the potential for this experience to be catalytic in my educational and professional work. Among all of the disparate ideas presented by these new-age  entrepreneurs, I kept returning to one common thread that seemed to allow their ideas to evolve. Process! Whether it was software, substance, services or structures, all of the companies looking for their share of the Palo Alto (and now maybe Denver) pie, were vehemently focused on maintaining a design process, and no process seemed more popular or referenced more frequently than Agile.

Knowing that this revered process (they even have a manifesto) had been embedded in software design circles for decades, and on the tails of my recent revelation that the education and start-up culture had common ground, I started to explore how the Agile model might be useful in the context of online course design teams at the university level (something I was a little more comfortable with). I quickly discovered that I was far from the first to make this leap. In 2013/2014, Agile design gained a lot of momentum amongst instructional designers and industry leaders like eLearning Industry, and why not, the Agile process was developed with optimization, speed, and efficiency in mind, something most traditional university design teams could seriously stand to consider.

By early 2015, I had drank the proverbial Kool Aid with regards to Agile in education, but after an additional year of research and exploration, I realized that designing online courses and instructional materials, although aided by Agile principles, simply isn’t the same as designing software. Instructional design is less structured, institution-specific, and requires greater collaboration and interdependency among information and personnel systems. I realized that optimizing the process of instructional design for higher education, and specifically MSU Denver, was going to require a unique framework; one tailored specifically to the university’s unique needs. From this realization, the MSU Denver Agile Instructional Design Network (AIDNet) framework was born.

Working with Michael Erskine and Alex McDaniel, key leaders in the Education Technology Center at MSU Denver, a critical analysis and proposal was drafted, and within a few months, AIDNet saw widespread support and institutional changes were underway. AIDNet proposes strategically leveraging sub-systems from a variety of domains including instructional design, network theory, Agile design, entrepreneurship, team dynamics/management, and information systems, and shifting to a networked organizational structure in which smaller (3-5 person) teams build efficiencies through iterative micro-design cycles. Though in its infancy, this organizational enhancement will hopefully lead to greater campus-wide collaboration, more efficient process discovery, ID innovation, greater autonomy, experiential diversity, and ultimately the development of more effective learning experiences for all students.

Traditional models, especially within higher education, are not easily disrupted, but it’s only through disruption that we see the potential for truly revolutionary change. In the latest NMC Horizon Report: Higher Education Edition, Johnson, Becker, Estrada, & Freeman state that, “In order to breed innovation and adapt to economic needs, higher education institutions must be structured in ways that allow for flexibility, and spur creativity and entrepreneurial thinking.” MSU Denver is currently immersed in a unique opportunity to become a pioneer in a nationally shifting paradigm; not by simply adopting more agile, entrepreneurial models, but by constructing their very own, uniquely tailored, strategic ID network. By selectively leveraging the most applicable practices and strategies from the fields of Instructional Design, Network Theory, Agile Design, Entrepreneurship, Team Dynamics/Management, and Information Systems, the education technology team at MSU Denver is reshaping a longstanding paradigm within higher education, one which has gone relatively unchanged for decades.

There’s a perception within certain academic circles that adherence to tradition is what makes the institution of education great, and ideological cross-pollination between high-tech startups and higher education is an exercise in futility, but is this based on experience or assumption? It takes courage and leadership to move beyond the confines of history and tradition, but doing so is often the only way to reveal the adjacent possible; the resources and ideas which we’re institutionally and culturally conditioned to ignore, but when discovered, allow us to be truly revolutionary.

Hear more about AIDNet at OLC Innovate in New Orleans, April 20-22, 2016. Taylor Kendal will describe in detail what this revolutionary shift could mean for you, your teams, and your institution in his presentation, MSU Denver Agile Instructional Design Network (AIDNet). Register for OLC Innovate.

Interested in further exploration? Contact Taylor Kendal at or explore his work at

William T. Kendal brings extensive experience in education, skepticism and instructional design,including over a decade of work for the Library of Congress. Through work with this preeminent institution, he was led to a love for critical thinking, education, design, and skepticism, along with an eclectic variety of interests including, cosmology, astro & quantum physics, bio & nanotechnology, and anything else that elicits philosophical revelations and forces a re-imagining of the adjacent possible. He graduated in 2005 with a B.S. in Technical Communication and a minor in Interactive Digital Media from Metropolitan State University of Denver and recently completed his M.S. in Information Learning Technologies from the University of Colorado Denver. Self-proclaimed futurist, optimist, and technophile with an overdeveloped sense for sniffing out BS.

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