By Cindy Solomon, from her blog on Startup Product

The first Startup Product Academy stand-alone, full day course was Intro to Agile on December 16, 2013 in Oakland, CA. Startup Product Academy is a product of the Startup Product movement for product excellence to provide innovative approaches and experiential learning opportunities that forward passionate product people.

Amy Lightholder taught the class in an Agile manner. Amy is well known in the Agile community as a practitioner and community member for the past seven years, including stints as a co-organizer for the Bay Area Agile Leadership Network and Agile Open California.

As a capacious continuous learner, like many other people drawn to product management, I’ve sat through numerous Agile introductions, presentations and seminars. I’ve seen Agile discussed, debated, researched, demonstrated, illustrated, pontificated and dogmatized. I’ve been inspired at Agile conferences and have the utmost respect for Agile experts, coaches, practitioners, and trainers.

Intro to Agile was the first time I’ve seen Agile actually taught using Agile – not merely as a demonstration – but actually as the teaching method embedded into every moment of the class and curriculum.

Here’s what Amy had to say about it.

“I have always been a bad student, because I get bored really easily and don’t have a lot of patience for explanations that don’t have much practical application. I wanted to create a learning experience that would have been able to hold even my attention. And I had a lot of freedom in this class because — since it wasn’t for a certification — it didn’t have a prescribed curriculum. Instead, I could be responsive to what students were interested in and/or needed to know for their individual situations.

“I drew a lot of inspiration for this class from the un-schooling movement, where you start with a project and the teaching follows what you need to know in order to do that project. Most instruction is too abstract, because that is the most effective way of conveying information. But it’s not the most effective means of learning for most people, and it’s certainly not the most enjoyable.

“If you want somebody to really learn a methodology, it’s best to put them in a situation where they need to use it and give them as much practice as possible. You don’t go to class for the material, exactly. There are already plenty of books and online lessons for the pure material. You go to class for the interactive experience with other students and for the opportunity to get personal coaching from an expert who has a very deep experience in whatever it is you’ve gone to school to learn. That’s the real value of in-person learning. Software can replace everything else. I know enough about Agile by this point, that there’s pretty much nothing a beginner student can throw at me that I won’t be able to help them with.”

Agile Teaching Methodology

As a tactile kinesthetic learner, I wish I could learn everything in this manner where I get exactly what I need to know to apply immediately while also interacting with other people equally fully engaged. So I went looking for precedents of this teaching approach.

Back in 2004, Dr. Andy Chun of City University of Hong Kong, identified the ATLM, the Agile Teaching/Learning Methodology, published in Lecture Notes in Computer Science — Advances in Web based learning, Volume 3143. Dr. Chun was referencing a traditional higher education classroom setting where the course takes place in a 13 week semester.

The teaching cycle on the left represents the teacher providing a lecture or tutorial, constantly monitoring feedback from the students, and making immediate, relevant adjustments to the course plan in response.

On the right side, the learning cycle is where the students are engaged. They immediately practice what has been presented individually and in groups, then demonstrate mastery with the rest of the class.