Rapid prototyping is the process of quickly fabricating a scale model of a physical part or assembly using 3D data. It is most often used in the tech and web development industries, where because it allows engineers to quickly move products into the hands of stakeholders and end users for feedback. They can make changes more quickly than when building full-scale working models, they generate feedback faster and they can scrap projects early if they’re not working.
Rapid prototyping is also beneficial for instructional designers working in fast-paced environments, where the business needs must be met sooner rather than later. You can use prototyping in all aspects of instructional design; however, it is especially useful when designing e-learning.
The instructional design process, from needs analysis to evaluation, is notorious for taking a long time and is one that not many stakeholders understand. As a result, it often results in impatience and a rushed or incomplete product. By using rapid prototyping to design mock-ups and learning modules, you can move the process along faster and gain stakeholder support from the start.
Using rapid prototyping can help to clear up any miscommunications by showing the design and functionality visually and up front during the process. Moreover, making small changes and testing them out with your learners is a great way to obtain user feedback and assess the flow and navigation of the e-learning. You can implement the product while you’re developing it, which can ultimately lead to a better course. It’s a time-saver that results in a more efficient process overall.
One of the easiest first steps in designing an e-learning is to draw it out on paper with a technique called storyboarding. Starting with a storyboard can help you strategically design and create your interface without spending hours on developing the initial version.
Essentially, a storyboard is a graphical representation of your design and thoughts in one place. It makes it easier for others to see the direction of your design and themes prior to starting the build. The goal is to have the storyboard represent and illustrate the intended outcome of your e-learning, keeping it as simple as possible.
Once the storyboard is complete and the stakeholders have bought into the process, you can develop a prototype as physical proof of the concepts in the storyboard. According to Lyndon Cerejo, a certified user experience strategist, “A good rule of thumb is to focus on the 20% of the functionality that will be used 80% of the time; i.e. key functionality that will be used most often.” He elaborates by suggesting that prototyping is all about how things work together.
Focus on the learner’s most used paths within the e-learning so that you can test them and receive feedback. You can use wireframes, if needed, to replace media that you have not created yet. They serve as place-holders to show the layout, navigation, and look and feel of the e-learning.
Once you’ve completed the prototype, it is time to review and refine the e-learning. Make a small change, review the flow of the e-learning and gather feedback, and then continue making changes to refine the product. This process is ongoing and evolves as the needs of the business change. Using rapid prototyping allows instructional designers to quickly develop e-learning courses and gain the necessary buy-in needed from stakeholders. The key is to continually evolve, test and retest along the way.