Understanding Rapid Learning Methods: Frequently Asked Questions and Recommended Resources

Publication Date: November 19, 2019
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Social service program stakeholders need timely evidence to inform ongoing program decisions. Rapid learning methods, defined here as a set of approaches designed to quickly and/or iteratively test program improvements and evaluate program implementation or impact, can help inform such decisions. However, stakeholders may be unsure which rapid learning methods are most appropriate for a program’s specific challenges and how to best apply the methods. Additionally, they may be unsure how to cultivate a culture of continuous, iterative learning.


This document is a guide for readers who wish to understand, employ, or encourage use of rapid learning methods in social service settings. The guide here follows the October 2018 meeting Rapid Learning: Methods for Testing and Evaluating Change in Social Service Programs, organized by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.[1] The resources in this document touch on several approaches to rapid learning, such as Rapid Cycle Evaluation and Continuous Quality Improvement, as well as specific strategies such as Plan Do Study Act cycles and Breakthrough Series Collaboratives. Each section begins with a frequently asked question, followed by a brief answer and links to related resources for further information.


[1] For additional information on OPRE’s innovative methods meetings, including agendas and meeting products, see https://opremethodsmeeting.org/ Visit disclaimer page .

Key Findings and Highlights

Resources are provided to help answer the following questions:

  • What are rapid learning methods, and what is their purpose?
  • Which rapid learning methods are appropriate for which contexts?
  • What are some practical resources for programs interested in implementing these methods?
  • How can programs build a culture of continuous improvement that encourages use of rapid learning methods?
  • How have rapid learning methods been applied in Federal research projects and contexts?


Holzwart, R., Skinner, R., and Wright, D. (2019). Understanding rapid learning methods: Frequently asked questions and recommended resources (OPRE Report 2019-89). Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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