Magazine article Talent Development

Quick Draw: Rapid Prototyping Is a Powerful Design Methodology for E-Learning. the Key Lies in the Speed

Magazine article Talent Development

Quick Draw: Rapid Prototyping Is a Powerful Design Methodology for E-Learning. the Key Lies in the Speed

Article excerpt

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Designing e-learning can be a costly and time-consuming activity. The traditional ADDIE process for design is comfortable for many designers and project managers, but it rarely creates truly engaging and instructionally interactive applications. Instead, most e-learning created using the storyboards typical of the ADDIE process results in lessons that are little more than content narratives with inserted comprehension questions and pasted-on media.

Rapid prototyping and iterative design is a powerful alternative method for designing e-learning programs and is more appropriate for achieving true instructional interactivity and valued performance outcomes.

What is rapid prototyping?

Rapid prototyping is an established method for software design that is especially appropriate for e-learning applications. In this iterative process, initial design ideas are proposed and then represented in very rough form in an online, working prototype that is created with minimal investment of time and resources.

Content is rough, graphics are crude, and actual functionality is usually improvised and incomplete. Prototypes may not even be built using the same tool that ultimately will be used to author the application. However, the prototype does need to represent the kernel of instruction that will allow the entire team, including target users, to make informed and powerful assessments of the design and crucial improvements before wasting time and money doing the wrong thing.

Prototypes are reviewed and refined through a few iterations (three is usually appropriate), culminating in the creation of a reasonably complete and descriptive functional prototype. This functional prototype defines required functionality of the instructional interactivity, along with course controls and navigation. It also stipulates guidelines for media and content.

The interface look-and-feel graphics are created to support the design as defined by the prototype, rather than the typical approach of forcing content into some predefined interface. Content documents (usually text documents or spreadsheets) are written so that, taken together with the functional prototypes, the developer has a complete roadmap from which to implement the design.

How it works

Rapid prototyping and iterative design works when the team embraces some core assumptions about e-learning design and development.

* The goal is to create effective instruction. (This seems ludicrous to stipulate, but many e-learning development teams perform under a management philosophy that just getting something ... anything ... online is good enough.)

* Good e-learning is achieved by creating a memorable and meaningful experience that motivates the learner and incorporates actual performance behaviors in the interactivity.

* Good instructional design is not a prescriptive or rote process. It benefits from experience, experimentation, shared responsibility across all team members (subject matter experts, designers, managers, developers, media specialists), and validation with end users.

Guidelines

Selection of the prototyping tool is important. Here are some guidelines.

* The prototyping tool must be able to represent (at least crudely) all types of interactivity available in the delivery environment. For example, Dreamweaver is rarely used to deliver full e-learning programs, but it is a decent prototyping environment because one can represent the range of available response gestures pretty easily. …

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