Greedy Instructional Design

Last year I wrote that Instructional Design Needs More Agility, saying that it’s time that the training industry develop its own agile approach or risk becoming redundant. Continuing on the theme of faster and more flexible development, Daniel Lemire thinks that programming could use the greedy algorithm as a basis to manage projects. I mentioned on Twitter that I thought that a “greedy approach” was similar to agile programming and Daniel replied:

@hjarche greedy here means: don’t think globally, make the best choice locally, and the end result will be ok. So, yes, it is agile.

My experience in larger projects is that we spend too much time in planning and then freeze that process once we start development, even if the plan is no longer relevant. In smaller projects planning can be almost non-existent, with a quick decision on what model/approach to use and then it’s off to meet whatever was stated in the contract. Building in agility or the greedy algorithm at the onset seems to give more options to the development team, who now have the responsibilty of confirming that they are on course as they continue to refine the product.

2 Responses to “Greedy Instructional Design”

  1. Daniel Lemire

    What is cool about greedy algorithms is that when they are not optimal, they are usually pretty good.

    But even if you have never taken computer science before, you use greedy algorithms all the time. For example… you have to give back 0.67$… how do you do it? First, you give two quarters, then ten cents, then 5 cents, then 2 cents. This is actually greedy. You first try to give back the largest unit you can (say a quarter) until you no longer can. The end result is provably optimal: you will give the smaller number of pieces. Just ask any first year computer science student and he will write the proof for you.

    If you assume that most problems in life a pretty complicated… too complicated to be easily modelled mathematically… then computer science teaches us to go with a greedy algorithm.

    It is the natural thing to do, but I believe that several generations of philosophers and mathematicians have tried to convinced us that planning was better. Maybe it is more comforting. Maybe it allows you to write more books… but will the end result be better? I doubt it.


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