The 3 rules of rapid elearning prototyping

During the development stage of e-learning, there’s a tendency to create excessive documentation (with good intentions!) but often it’s ignored.

There is an alternative – which helps reduce risks, engage your stakeholders and ensure that your projects are more likely to be successful….

In this video, we’ll explain how prototyping can speed up your e-learning development with amazing results.

In this video:

01:50 – “Do it soon.”

02:50 – “Do it rough.”

04:19 – “Do it often.”

What do you think?

Let us know in the comments below!

Read the transcription here:

Hi, this is Patrick Dunn for the Elucidat Blog.

Now, one of the things that can really mess up a rapid e-learning development process is when towards the end of the project, you go to a stakeholder, a client, a subject matter expert for example and you show what you’ve done and they throw their hands up and they go, “No, No, that’s not what I was expecting”.

Of course in the old days, we would have weighed the poor old stakeholder down with excessive documentation that would’ve explained what we’re doing. But as I’m going to be saying many times in this video I suspect – documentation is the enemy.

Excessive documentation is the enemy of rapid development!

On the whole, many documents are in effect, ignored. So my solution to this is prototyping.

Prototyping is something that is used very effectively in other design disciplines. But on the whole rapid e-learning design doesn’t use prototyping particularly effectively. And it’s a very good way of drawing in your subject matter expert, your stakeholders into the process so they can contribute creatively and effectively.

So what’s a prototype?

The prototype is a working model. It’s a sample of a larger system that you’re going to develop further later, and is typically used for the purpose of approval. But there’s another reason to produce prototypes – which is to draw out, to elicit the views, the creative ideas, the thoughts and opinions of stakeholders. And that second role, that second purpose for prototyping is one that I think is under-rated particularly in rapid e-learning development.

There are 3 principles or rules for prototyping. They are:

  1. Do it soon
  2. Do it rough
  3. Do it often.

I’ll talk about each one.

Do it soon.

What I’ve observed in many rapid e-learning development projects is a prototype being produced, say about half-way through project. So you’ve got a project with 8 weeks in duration maybe and then you produce a prototype. A really nice-looking, polished prototype about half way-through, say week 4, and you take this to the stake holder and share it to them.

Now, what’s really interesting is that in other design disciplines, what we often see is a prototype produced incredibly quickly. So, not within weeks but within days, and sometimes within hours, so that you actually begin a project by producing a prototype.

It’s a much better way of getting people involved in the discussion than documentation because they can be misunderstood. So you actually go to your stakeholders with something you produce very quickly, rather messily, which we’re going to talk about next.

You show them and they say, “Do you think this is what we need?”.

So, produce prototypes quickly.

Do it rough.

Now clearly, if you’re making something very soon, very quickly, it could well be rough. There could be of a lot of unfinished datum, errors and mistakes in it. And you know, I think that’s entirely a good thing.

I think there are some quite serious problems around producing prototypes that are all beautifully polished and finished.

I’ve observed 2 things happening:

Firstly, you take your polished, beautifully-done prototype long to stakeholders, and they say, “Yeah, it looks good enough to me because it’s kind of finished.” You know, and mentally they don’t really engage with it. They don’t connect to it because they think they’re looking at a partial but finished product. And so you don’t get the kind of richness, you don’t get the kind of input, the ideas that others can offer you – and that’s a mistake.

The other reaction is a very different one. So you take your polished prototype. You show it to stakeholders, and they say, “Yeah but hang on, I wasn’t involved”, and they looked for these beautifully-polished, minor errors, because, you know, we all make mistakes. These minor things that are wrong and they throw the whole thing out, because they wanted to be more involved because they have a sense that these things have been finished without them.

So there are some clear benefits for making a prototype rough-looking, making it really obvious that what you’re producing is not the finished product.

Do it often.

One of the benefits of a collaborative elearning authoring software like Elucidat is that it allows all those involved in the project to see what’s going on at any one time and this is important because one of the keys to rapid e-learning development prototyping is to prototype often. Not just once but maybe two, three, four times even for the short projects.

So now you’re working intuitively. You’re working progressively with your stakeholders. So they know what they’re getting and that reduces uncertainty. Of course and above all, it reduces risks. It means that your stakeholders, or the people involved in the project and users can see what they’re going to get.

So to summarise rapid e-learning prototyping: do it soon, do it rough, do it often! Tweet this!

See you next time.