Are you looking for new ways to improve and streamline the design phase of your elearning development process? In this article we’ll look at how benchmarking, prototyping and testing can help the design phase.
During the design phase you want to be testing your ideas before you build them. The goal is to prove that your ideas and concepts will work so you won’t waste time and money.
Benchmarking defines where the project is headed and helps you to set the success criteria against which you will later evaluate. It’s key to making sure that the project targets the learner, and is in line with your business values.
Benchmarking also provides you with guidelines to determine how you deliver future elearning courses.
To begin benchmarking simply create a basic checklist, e.g.:
- For your organization, how does a great piece of elearning look and feel?
- What are the criteria that define it as good?
- What will the resource do?
Prototyping involves testing concepts quickly so you can discard what is not viable in your context and so move on to other ideas. To this end, prototyping should be quick and dirty. The point is to get a visualization of potential solutions without actually making something that you’ll find difficult to throw out later. At this stage, it is about testing your ideas rather than building content.
For example, check out this prototype that has been drawn out on paper:
Here’s what the finished product looks like after building it with Elucidat:
You can build a functioning prototype on the fly while you are doing your initial research. Don’t spend time on the detail of these early iterations. For example, don’t spend hours creating the perfect image or animation. Prototypes should be trashable; don’t create anything at this point that you won’t be ok to throw away.
Here are some guidelines to get you started:
- Focus on user experience, not content (that comes later).
- Iterate over a short period of time e.g. a couple of days, not weeks. This will help to keep you focussed.
- Create wireframes and sketches. You don’t need to be an artist; simple lines and written explanations are quite adequate.
- Develop some mock-ups of the screens. They can be useful for visualizing the lay-out and the overall experience of using the course.
- Review these initial ideas with stakeholders and end users.
Authoring tools, such as Elucidat, make building a functioning prototype really easy. Check out Patrick Dunn’s article that discusses some of the benefits of rapid prototyping with tools like Elucidat.
3. User testing
User testing during the design phase is specifically about testing your design against the end user.
Think who your course is aimed at and how they will use it to solve a problem or fill a gap in their skills or knowledge.
You will need to schedule some usability testing with end-users. Oftentimes, the problems end-users experience will be quite different from what you expect.
For example, you could conduct some one-on-one or focus group sessions and ask very focused questions that provide feedback on your design.
Maybe you’re unsure of a particular interactive mechanism that you’ve set up. Is it too complex? Does it need simplification? Is it clear what learners would need to do?
If you have some basic questions like these, use mock-ups and mini prototypes in a structured way to get feedback on your questions.
Feedback from the horse’s mouth is invaluable at this stage of the elearning process. Use the feedback from users to guide your design process.
4. Look and feel
Wireframes can help you demonstrate the look and feel of your elearning, screen layouts and basic user interface elements such as navigation controls, menus, resources, basic page types, and so on.
This step involves creating concepts that show different types of approach that you can use to communicate your ideas to the end users and stakeholders. Consider it a ‘litmus test’ to help you – and your stakeholders – to understand better what it is you are trying to achieve.
The design phase is where you make mistakes and get a clearer understanding of what you are going to create before doing any costly development. I’ve demonstrated some ways in which you can approach this stage, but remember, the most important part of the design phase is to test your ideas with actual users and stakeholders to ensure your solution will be the best for them.
Other phases in the elearning production process:
- Analysis (1st phase): Set yourself up for success with a scope and plan
- Specification (3rd phase): Define what your solution looks like and put in place a QA criteria
- Production (4th phase): Bring together your analysis, design and specs to map out and build your elearning.
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