Welcome to the completion of week seven as we progress through our 12-week service course, Instructional Design Service Course: Gain Experience For Good.
In this module, we are developing a prototype of our lesson materials based on our Design Proposal. After completing the prototype in this module, the prototype will be part of a round of formative evaluation in the next module. Evaluation will also be the focus of our next blog in this series.
Developing a Prototype
For this article, I wanted to draw comparisons to the need for creating a prototype, especially when designing eLearning. When we’re working with new clients, they often aren’t familiar with the purpose and benefits of a prototype. However, we feel this is a crucial part of the eLearning process, especially for larger and more intricate projects.
For us, the prototype comes toward the beginning of the Design phase of a project. Some people have heard of and use a Design Document, and most people involved with eLearning are familiar with the purpose of a storyboard.
Each of these elements deal primarily with the content and how that content will be presented to the learners. In other words, what is the structure of the material (how will it be organized), how is it going to be communicated (how will you say it), and what are the various presentation methodologies (what will the learners be doing).
While all of these things are crucial within a project, there are a lot of other decisions that need to be made independent of the content. Namely, what the course is going to look like, and how it is going to interact with other technology (like an LMS). This is the purpose of the prototype.
One of the main things we want to clarify just prior to the prototype stage is defining the look and feel. While defining a look and feel (often in concert with an organization’s marketing department) is its own step, I feel it is important to explain the connection to the prototype.
The look and feel discussion will determine the mood, colors, visual approach and other aesthetic components. However, those are typically done on some type of mood board or other static presentation.
A main part of the prototype is to put some life behind a selected design. While a prototype is a small sample, it typically includes a few representative screens from the determined look and feel (title, content, activities, etc.) and may include some of the templates created for this course.
By putting these in, stakeholders can see screens come to life and provide feedback in an environment representative of the end product. By defining this up front and getting it approved before going all the way down the storyboard path, it ensures visual design and our content design are properly aligned.
This allows designers to be more specific about what screens will look like and how they will behave in their storyboard. Without this step we may find we’ve completed a storyboard and don’t have agreement on how that content will be executed in the course.
The other main component of the prototype is to test out technical functionality relating to the eLearning course interacting with other technology. Whether this is external content that you are pulling into a course (like through a web object in Storyline) or communication with a distribution system like an LMS, this information is best to be know early on.
If there are hurdles with getting various technologies to interact, you want to know those as soon as possible so coordination with the IT department can happen in parallel with the rest of the course design/development. Nothing derails a project more than getting to the end only to discover your course doesn’t work or interact with ancillary technology as had been advertised to the stakeholders.
Developing a Prototype: Why It Matters
While some people may choose to skip past the prototype or feel the storyboard serve enough of this function, think about the risks if you get too far down a path without the proper client sign-offs.
Getting the client to commit to decisions up front ensures you’re all on the same page, that your visions are aligned, and provides time to make sure all the technical pieces are in order when it’s time to roll everything out.