The world is in permanent change. People, processes and environments change and evolve at an increasing speed in a world characterized by marked interconnections and externalities. It is therefore rather naive to think that projects, and individuals participating and managing them, will not need to adapt and embrace change and uncertainty in order to successfully achieve the outlined objectives. The labor market is not an exception; agility in processes and the need for continuous training are essential requirements for any worker and any organization. To assess this new scenario, Agile methodologies were conceived as an alternative to traditional project and organization management methodologies based in thorough and sequential planning (waterfall models). These methodologies’ tenets are based on the fact that any project, no matter the size, has a high degree of complexity due to the large number of variables and inputs that can affect its course. Instead of dedicating the efforts of the participants to forecasting events and associated tasks that may affect the project in the long-term and fight change to stick to a series of rigid requirements and predefined functionalities, Agile methodologies praise adaptive development by means of short continuous cycles of planning, action, correction and adjustment to produce valuable increments in outcomes.
Education, as the key process for generating sustainable and responsible citizens and prepare them for their insertion in the labor market, is also affected by new challenges from our ever-changing society. “Recognizing and responding to change therefore becomes one of the main responsibilities of education alongside developing adaptable self-motivated lifelong learners and developing their capabilities in order to live a life that they value [1
]”. “[...] As learning becomes more personalized and requires adjustment to changing conditions and requirements while fulfilling stringent accreditation standards, new pedagogical methods are required that can reduce the cost of change” [2
]. It is noticeable then, how “education is faced with the challenge of developing our social, cultural, and economic future, but lacks pedagogical approaches or structures capable of efficiently and effectively responding to a world in which the underlying constant is change. [...] pedagogic practices within formal learning environments need to be examined and innovative practices that support learning in a connected, collaborative way need to be modeled and legitimized” [1
Education is thus a large life-long project that needs effective management. So far, “in many ways, traditional education design (following an ADDIE Analysis-Development- Evaluation-Design-Implementation model developed by the Center for Educational Technology at Florida State University for the U.S. Army [3
] in 1975 and later employed to manage projects in multiple subject areas) maps onto the waterfall model: (i) the course is specified according to intended learning outcomes (requirements); (ii) the syllabus of subjects is planned (design); (iii) the teaching materials are produced (development); (iv) the materials are delivered to students (implementation); (v) the course is evaluated by students (testing); and (vi) any changes from the evaluation are incorporated before the next round (maintenance)” [4
]. When analyzing evaluation, one of the most important phases of education, we can see that “traditionally, students perform a course evaluation that feeds into future course improvements [...] this does not directly benefit these students, but it does provide valuable insights into their learning experience. Clearly, if this evaluation can be integrated into the course at multiple points, students may actually see the benefits more immediately” [4
]. In order to produce valuable changes during the teaching of a course, Agile Education implements a series of techniques that promote continuous and significant feedback between both faculty and students.
On the other hand, one of the key challenges for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is to define pedagogies and tools that permit the transmission of competencies in a transversal and holistic way and allow sustainability to expand out of teaching scenarios that are traditionally bounded to subject areas related to nature sciences and environmental studies [5
With this systematic review, we aim to analyze the relationships between Agile methodologies and Education that have given birth to Agile Education, as well as the competencies that are empowered through its application and their relation to ESD. We aim to confirm whether Agile Education conforms a valuable educational framework that helps education in modern societies in a more efficient and sustainable way.
The rest of the article is structured as follows: a comprehensive description of the theoretical principles of Agile methodologies and their application in education is presented in Section 2
. This section has been written to produce a self-contained manuscript which provides enough context to readers new to this type of methodology, thus possibly leading to a longer theoretical framework description prior to the analysis of the results when compared to other systematic reviews in the ESD field. The research questions and objectives of the review are presented in Section 3
. The review methodology, including the literature screening process and selection criteria, is described in Section 4
. Analyzed experiences and results of the qualitative review are, included in Section 5
. Finally, conclusions are outlined in Section 7
The systematic review presented in this article follows the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) selection rules [69
] to determine the works which possess a minimum scientific soundness and quality to be considered. In the first place, we carried out a raw search of papers in Scopus and ERIC (Education Resources Information Center), two well-known meta-search engines which index thousands of papers o multiple journals and publishers. Among them, ERIC is especially relevant as it is oriented to the field of Education Sciences, so the results are expected to be more bounded. On the other hand, Scopus has a generalist purpose, but it searches all the most important databases from largest publishers.
The same query was employed in both databases, aiming to obtain results including the three pillars of this review: (i) Agile Education, (ii) Competencies and (iii) Sustainability. Two different versions of the query were built as ERIC search engine does not support the ‘*’ regular expression:
Scopus Query: ( ( agile AND educati* ) OR ( agile AND educati* AND sutainab* ) OR ( agile AND environm* AND educati* ) OR ( agile AND competenc* AND educati* ) OR ( agile AND competenc* AND learn* ) OR ( agile AND educati* AND sustainab* ) OR ( agile AND educati* AND environm* ) )
ERIC Query: ( ( agile AND education) OR ( agile AND education AND sustainability ) OR ( agile AND environment AND education ) OR ( agile AND competency AND education ) OR ( agile AND competency AND learning ) OR ( agile AND education AND sustainability ) OR ( agile AND education AND environmental ) )
The search in Scopus yields 1303 results from 1991 to 2018, while the same query returns 160 hits on ERIC for the same period of time. Results from Scopus were less bounded but included valuable works published on IEEExplore, arguably the largest database in Computer and Software Engineering Education. On the other hand, ERIC’s results were more relevant to the topic under study but lacked from the vast majority of IEEExplore results. All search results were subsequently screened based on the title of the work and, when in doubt, the abstract was read by all three authors. This first filtering step narrowed down the results from 1463 to 121 works which were entirely read and analyzed. A second selection step, aiming to find works presenting Agile Education experiences while explicitly mentioning the development of ESD-related competencies, reduced the final number of works to be considered in the systematic review to 11. The criteria employed for this selection are shown in Table 5
and the screening sequence is presented in detail in PRISMA’s flow diagram depicted on Figure 4
In order to obtain statistics of the search results, ERIC hits not present on Scopus were manually added to this platform. Figure 5
shows the distribution of results by year, type of publication and subject, respectively.
As can be observed, there is growing interest in the topic under study within the last 10 years, especially in the areas of Computer Science (42.5%), Social Sciences (27.5%) and Engineering (18.6%). The cases of Computer Science and Engineering are not surprising since the use of these Agile methodologies is widespread in these fields within the last decade. It is also relevant to see that most of the works are published on proceedings of conferences, which are a typical scenario in which experiments with new pedagogical frameworks are presented and which, in turn, indicates the need to continue defining formal experiments which go beyond the presentation of isolated experiences.
During the in-depth reading of the articles, the aspects listed below were inspected for.
What Agile method is employed?
What Agile roles are defined within the students and the instructors?
What Agile ceremonies and processes are held?
Is the syllabus defined following Agile principles?
What are the evaluation tools used during Agile cycles?
Is there a proposal of an Agile Education Manifesto?
Competencies and Sustainability
Are any competencies explicitly mentioned as acquired by the students and instructors?
Which of them are key competencies for Sustainability Education?
Do students consciously acquire these competencies?
What is the sample size?
Is there a control group?
What course is being analyzed?
What are the employed research tools?
For each one of the 11 selected studies we present a description of the experience with special emphasis on the developed competencies that are identified by the authors.
] presents a program that is articulated around Agile PDCA [71
] to improve the employability of students of Vocational Training by the transmission of 10 selected competencies that are required by companies in the current labor market. The Agile process they follow for the design and execution of a Business and Entrepreneurship course is based on five phases: (i) definition of the training, in which the 10 key competencies (motivation, enthusiasm, initiative, result-oriented, customer-oriented, team work, empathy, conflict resolution, adaptability and change management, self-confidence and communication) are defined; (ii) design and planning of the training using Problem Based Learning (PBL), in which the students work also following an Agile approach; (iii) teaching of the course using Moodle as a collaborative learning tool; (iv) evaluation of the training results; and (vi) improvements in the program based on assessment. Therefore, Agile is used by both the instructors to design, impart, assess and improve the course, and the students to carry out the tasks derived from PBL. A sample of 122 students is analyzed, in which 75 students follow the standard program (and are, therefore, the control group) and the remaining group of 47 students follows the new Agile approach. Results show that in 7 of the 10 competencies there are no statistically significant differences in the perceptions of the students about the efficiency of the program to acquire them. However, when it comes to initiative, self-confidence and communication competencies, the study revealed that the hypothesis of the superiority of the experimental Agile program to transmit them, was validated.
] presents an experience of using Agile methodologies to teach an Agile project management course in a business school. The paper presents a table in which the Agile Manifesto values are matched with Chickering and Gammson’s [72
] and Dalton and Tharp [73
] principles. From this matching, an interpretation in a learning and teaching context referred to as the “Agile Learning & Teaching (L&T) method” is proposed. The agile L&T method is based on two premises: learning results from concrete experience and learning as a collaborative process. The agile L&T model is based, as well, in Experiential Learning theories based on the four stage cyclic learning model by Kolb, Boyatzis and Mainemelis [74
] because of its iterative and incremental nature. The method is put into practice using wikis as a means of collaboratively sharing knowledge. The Agile L&T method follows a similar structure to Scrum. There is a product backlog in which the topics to study are set by the leader at the beginning of the semesters. The course is structured in 5 sprints of 2 weeks and students are divided into groups of 4-5 members in which the role of the Scrum Master rotates. Additionally, the teacher acts as the Product Owner and is responsible for selecting the topics to be included in each Sprint Backlog, which is, in turn, published every two weeks after the lecture. Sprint planning, daily stand-up meetings and sprint reviews are scrupulously respected. The course requires students to create wiki articles about the topics indicated by the professor along the course.
The author uses a survey composed of 43 items and secondary data sources such as wikispaces’ usage statistics, student grades and qualitative data from students’ reflections and module feedback. Two cohorts of 34 students taking the course in 2011 and 2012 were considered. The study aims to analyze different indicators and dimensions such as the initial uncertainty, impact on learning, engagement, performance, type of learning satisfaction, teamwork and the role of the teacher.
The study finds that students value regular and prompt feedback, the engagement of the professor to improve their motivation and cohesion, and the practical applications of the methodology for other subjects and aspects of life. It also indicated that students’ learning was enhanced with constant review of the subject and early engagement with the module. Additionally, the perceived learning was not restricted to learning the content (preparing students for life-long learning).
Students showed a high degree of perception and awareness of how the learning method has significantly contributed to improving key ESD competencies such as time-management, negotiation, respecting classmates and growing self-confidence in face-to-face communication. Regarding negative outcomes derived from the use of Agile Methodologies, teamwork issues were found in some cases; some students had difficulties when forming groups as they were not able to select a balanced team in terms of skills homogeneity; some members of the groups stablished themselves as leaders, disregarding, hence the flat hierarchy in which Agile Methodologies is usually based on; finally some communication issues between team members also arose.
Razmov and Anderson [75
] present an experience of an Agile teaching methodology applied to project-based software engineering courses. The authors reflect on the importance of feedback for adaptation and learning, and how increasing its frequency leads to more opportunities for both students and instructors. For the authors, not all students follow the same learning path and pace since each of them has their own background and learning style. Therefore, they can benefit from a personalized approach to teaching which is applicable by means of Agile teaching methodologies, which are considered to be all teaching approaches which have emphasis on the continuity of the learning process, are goal orientated, seek feedback from students, show flexibility in responding to student needs, present a short feedback cycle, and allow demand-based personalization of what is being taught. The authors make special emphasis on developing effective assessment and feedback tools that have direct and real impact on the progress of the course and improve critical thinking, self-assessment and communication. To do so, they use artifacts like: (i) post-milestone 30-minutes project discussion meetings in which the instructors and teams clarify issues; (ii) post-milestone in-class retrospectives in which aspects to be improved are discussed; (iii) post-milestone anonymous peer reviews in which students rate the usefulness of the peer review they have received; (iv) reflective papers; (v) anonymous feedback forms; and (vi) a digital interaction system to allow students to provide quick feedback during course sessions. At the end of the three editions of the course that compose the study, students answered a questionnaire to rate the learning experience, the incremental delivery approach and the feedback mechanisms. The study reveals that instructors feel that Agile teaching reorganizes their time to focus on areas that matter the most and that there is less guesswork about what students may be thinking. Therefore, the competency to deal with uncertainty is built by implementing mechanisms to request and obtain regular feedback. Moreover perceptions of the students were highly positive, specially about the incremental delivery approach and the learning experience.
Kastl and Romeike [76
] present a qualitative case-study in which they analyze 11 interviews with 6 teachers on their observations from 20 Agile projects with over 400 students of secondary education computer engineering courses. Their aim is to gain insight into how Agile practices (and more specifically, the AMoPCE—Agile Model for Projects in Computing Education) assist individual learning processes in heterogeneous courses, and how it helps teachers to design and organize projects in order to support students individually. The work aims to answer five research questions: (i) how homogeneous vs. heterogeneous group forming in agile projects influences the performance of the individual students; (ii) how agile projects help the teachers to identify the individual strengths and weaknesses of their students with respect to such skills and to provide them with meaningful individual goals that fit their prerequisites; (iii) how agile projects support teachers to provide adequate individual guidance or coaching throughout projects that start early on in the student’s learning process; (iv) how agile projects foster the kind of interactions that support individual learning-processes; and (v) how agile projects foster the ability of the individual student to reflect and provide, receive, and implement feedback. Results show that competences like the enhancement of soft skills (communication), self-organization and ability to work in teams are strengthened via Agile. Additionally, the authors conclude that Agile projects can be an effective method to foster self-managed cooperative learning in heterogeneous classes since they enable all learners to construct flexible, generalized cognitive structures and to acquire fluid and crystallized abilities.
An interesting experience to analyze the development of competencies to work in a global project involving countries with cultural differences by means of Agile Education is presented in Reference [46
]. The study describes an experience of application of Scrum to manage a distributed software project course between a Canadian and a Finnish university involving 16 students by means of using Agilefant [77
], an open-source backlog management system. Apart from the technical objectives of the project, the main goal of the experiment is to expose students to cultural differences in a global context. The authors identify competencies like teamwork, work estimation and planning and effective communication across large time zone differences as the desired outcome of the application of the Agile Education experience. Results show that despite the existence of some challenges in the way ideas are conveyed, students rate positively the experience of developing a real product, the methodology employed and the global context of the project. Moreover, students also develop competencies to have fluid communication and team work habits with their peers.
An Agile-based methodology is employed in Reference [78
] to leverage soft-skills required in the international labor market. The experiment involves the implementation of Scrum in four research departments at the University of Manaus, Brazil and 23 projects involving 34 students. Results revealed that competencies such as communication and story telling, responsibility and commitment, leadership, transparency and honesty and time management were successfully improved based on the perceptions of the participants and the completion of the syllabus’ goals.
Another analysis of the competencies that are developed through Agile Education can be found in Reference [79
]. In this work, an experience of the application of the “Learning Methodology + Service (L+S)” by means of Agile is presented. It proposes the combination of Agile practices with the framework proposed by the authors (L+S), which is based on carrying out practical projects to solve a real problem or case of the community. This way, the learning process also serves a public service to the community. In this case, Agile methodologies are applied to create a web portal to promote the local bookstores association. Additionally, an analysis of the competencies obtained both by means of applying Agile and L+S are derived. Examples of competencies observed by the instructor during the project include communication skills, complex problem solving skills, empathy with the community, teamwork, collaborative work, working under pressure, self-management skills, and self-organization. Analogously, students: (i) experimented the concept of social responsibility by providing the local community with a valuable service; (ii) understood the importance of listening and talking to their peers; (iii) assumed the responsibility of working in areal challenge; (iv) valued differences and tolerance; and (v) learned in a collaborative way. The combination of Agile Learning with a community service served as a powerful combination to raise awareness about the importance to sustain local communities and developed key ESD competencies.
Agile Education experiences can also be developed in virtual environments. In Reference [80
] a framework for designing virtual learning environments based on Agile Learner-centered approach is presented. The proposed Agile Learning Design is an iterative model that focuses on collaboration and rapid prototyping. The learning environment is based on: active users participation, collaborative development, architecture/design envisioning, iterative modeling/design, model/design storming and early and continuous evaluation. The learner-centered approach develops competencies and benefits such as personalized learning and advanced participation, increases retention of knowledge, improves problem-solving skills and encourages collaborative learning.
Scrum is applied to structure a full Computer Engineering Degree program in the work by Soto et al. [38
]. An adaptation of the Scrum framework to the processes, resources and results of teaching-learning process is described. The goals of the Agile Education approach are to: (i) apply the Scrum framework to academic activities such as planning, development and follow-up; (ii) obtain self-managed student teams with high level of interaction; (iii) actively involve students and teachers in the different stages of the teaching-learning process following the practices of the Scrum framework; (iv) use Agile practices as mechanisms to develop competencies such as: organizational capacity, teamwork, communication and leadership; and (v) improve the efficiency and satisfaction of the work team. The usual rules, roles and artifacts of Scrum are followed. An experiment, based on student surveys, to analyze the application of the framework by 6 teachers and 250 students during 3 semesters is conducted. Results show a high satisfaction with the model among students and high rates of completion of course objectives and tasks to be implemented. Moreover, other qualitative objectives such as optimal organization of students and teacher work, acquisition of students competencies and learning, motivation and increased interest in the participation of academic activities were achieved. Regarding the competencies that were initially outlined, students developed the ability to work collaboratively, discuss different points of view, develop critical thinking and reach consensus, communicate effectively and lead projects.
In Reference [36
], Krehbiel et al. propose an alternative Agile Manifesto for Teaching and Learning based on 6 principles materialized in the form of competencies (see Table 6
) which are part of the backbone of ESD.
An experiment is presented to validate their approach, in which 109 students participating in courses structured using Agile Education from different subject areas, such as computer science and programming, technical writing, supply chain management, early childhood education and civic studies, are surveyed in relation to their satisfaction with the use of Agile methodologies and its ceremonies and artifacts. Students acknowledge that the inclusion of Agile methodologies leads to a more effective learning experience and a more efficient use of their time while enhancing teamwork and communication. Also they appreciated the fact that it simulates real-world conditions of team-based work. Faculty noticed that the use of Agile led to increased quality in the work delivered by students and they expressed their willingness to continue using Agile in their future courses. However, they highlighted the fact of needing to carry out some adaptation of the lexicon and terminology of Scrum in non-technical courses to avoid confusion and rejection of students. As a conclusion, the authors state that the application of Agile methods in education leads to better learning outcomes for students, greater student buy-in for group-based projects, more authentic forms of group collaboration and greater opportunities for creativity and leadership by members of student groups.
In Reference [33
], Onieva discuses in a thorough and explicit way the competencies that a professor must possess and that can be obtained by means of Scrum and which, consequently, can also be transferred to the students by means of Agile Education in general. Among these competencies, the author considers: (i) competency to plan, develop and evaluate education for the reinforcement of human values; (ii) competency to create and maintain open, flexible, democratic and culturally rich environments where a positive learning climate is stimulated; (iii) competency to promote professional development and training of learning communities with education stakeholders; (iv) competency to develop critical thinking; (v) competency to learning to learn, (vi) competency to develop communication skills; (vii) competency to develop autonomy and self-organization; (viii) competency to adapt to changes; (ix) competency to present ideas in an argued way; (x) competency to reach consensus; (xi) competency to foster and accept diversity; (xii) competency to optimize time effectively; and (xiii) competency to develop creativity.
As an example, the author considers some core competencies of the degrees imparted in the Education College, such as the elaboration and defense or arguments and problem resolution, issuance of judgments including reflection on relevant social, scientific and ethics topics, transmission of information, ideas, problems and solutions to both specialized and non-specialized audiences, development of learning skills to become autonomous and last, but not least, group working, collaboration and respect of diversity and discrepancy. These competencies are all related to communication, social relationships, creativity and personal, emotional and academic development and are all, again, key competencies of ESD. Moreover, they are hard to learn for students using a learning strategy purely based on lectures. As a result, the author defines these competencies as part of the learning objectives of an experiment in which Scrum is applied to manage a class project in the context of a course in a Primary Education Teaching degree. The 85 enrolled students, divided into 11 groups, showed high motivation and produced quality works. Additionally, the number of conflicts between them was considerably reduced when compared to other course editions and the desired outcome in terms of competencies was achieved by means of creating a work environment in which students respected and trusted their peers.
To finalize the presentation of the works considered in this review, a summary of the key aspects of each work has been included in Table A1
in Appendix A
. The table reflects the education level in which the experience is carried out, the employed Agile methodology, objectives and results, ESD competencies that are transmitted by means of the experience and the employed methodology.
By using Agile methodologies to design, structure and steer courses as a whole, or punctual activities and projects, instructors are offering a valuable framework and environment for students to develop valuable competencies that can serve to increase their performance in their work life and their development as responsible citizens living in a sustainable way. The study has revealed how the core competencies, in which Agile Education is deeply rooted, are shared with key competencies for ESD identified by researchers over the last decades.
The change in the education paradigm to evolve from “traditional education” to “Agile education” implies a large, although easy to adopt, revolution in the design, planning, teaching and evaluation processes of educational programs. This revolution entails the fostering of a more participative and collaborative education that empowers students in rights but also in responsibilities as the tasks and learning objectives are clearly stated by means of publicly specifying their ownership. Students become active learners and cannot remain passive in courses structured in this way. In addition to the transmission of ESD competencies, students learn a work methodology that is largely applied in the labor market, preparing them, then, in a better way to address challenges presented in modern work environments.
The present research sheds light, as well, on the opportunity and the current challenge of Agile methodologies as a strategy to favor models of economic sustainable development from the context of education. It is important to be aware of the impact and controversy that the implementation of agile methodologies in the work environment can generate. A misuse of these Agile methodologies oriented to the sheer obtaining of results and short term benefits, without considering the socio-environmental impact, can cause negative effects in the environment that comes from unsustainable actions (overproduction, resource wasting, disproportionate generation of waste, etc.). The mere application of agile methodologies in the context of education does not guarantee the promotion of pro-environmental behaviors. Special emphasis must be done during the process so that the underlaying ESD competencies enumerated along this work, and which are put in practice by means of Agile, are revealed and known by the students. When the synergies generated between ESD and Agile methodologies are known and explained, key competencies to teach responsible and sustainable citizens and future employees, as well as businessmen, are consolidated.
The studies analyzed in this review have shown how the application of a series of basic actions such as forcing periodic group meetings, gathering feedback, working in cycles, equitably distributing tasks and developing a closer relationship between faculty and students, allow the development of important competencies such as critical thinking, coping with uncertainty, adaptability, creativity, dialog, respect, self-confidence, emotional intelligence, responsibility and systemic thinking which conform the pillars of sustainability-oriented citizens.
The applications of Agile Education are multiple and varied. Different methods like Scrum, Kanban or XP can be curated to fit almost any course or learning experience and show great potential to adapt to the life-long learning required by our current fast-evolving society.