Will it fly? The importance of prototyping

Suppose you were a head chef and you had to design a 7-course menu for an important wedding. Really important. The bride and groom are famous, and the guests include all sorts of dignitaries and VIPs. Your professional reputation is at stake. 

Which of these two plans would you follow? 

Plan A: Think of 7 dishes that would probably work, put the recipes in a document, email it to your staff, send them out to buy the ingredients, load everything up in a couple of vans, turn up at the location of the wedding on the day of the wedding, and start cooking. 

Plan B: Think of 7 dishes that would probably work. Then, your friends and family get lucky. Over the next two or three weeks they get to try each one. Some of them try individual dishes. Others come into the process later, and try the first three or four dishes. Others yet are lucky enough to combine one or two of your dishes with a couple of different wines you have in mind. Each of them gives you their own feedback, and you adjust accordingly. You don’t have unlimited resources or time for these ‘test runs’, and soon it’s time to put the recipes in a document, email it your staff, and so on as per Plan A. 

Which plan makes more sense? 

And why don’t companies think like this when it comes to eLearning design and development? 

Prototyping in eLearning 

Firstly, let’s make clear that prototyping is more important when dealing with new initiatives. If you’ve been creating eLearning for a certain purpose for a long time and now you’re simply preparing a new instalment, or if you’re using a hard-set format which has worked well in the past, you’re probably fine to go ahead and start designing and developing. 

But most eLearning projects that clients talk to us about are not like this. Most often they have to respond to new and urgent business needs. Learning, after all, usually becomes necessary when change needs to happen.  

So, what is prototyping? In the crudest of terms, it’s the process of designing and developing a part of your eLearning offering to see if it works. If it will fly.  

A prototype is a short learning experience, but it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It looks and feels exactly like your intended finished product, with a near-finalized aesthetic style and as many interactivity types as possible. It serves one of your learning objectives. Its only difference to your full eLearning project is in breadth and duration – or, simply, in size. It also informs your test users about what is not included but will be in the full version. 

Benefits of prototyping 

Building a prototype will give you valuable insight into the following: 

  • What are the required workflows? What is the order in which things need to happen? Where can the project stall? 

  • Who needs to work on our eLearning project? Who authors the design document? Who collects and evaluates existing content, and who authors new content? Who takes care of visuals, and who develops code? Who gives clearance for parts of the offering (e.g., graphics and audio) and who gives final clearance? Most importantly, how do these people work together? 

  • How much time and how much money do we really need?  

  • What do our trainees think of our vision? Does it work for them? What would they change? 

These are all extremely important things to know before you embark on full design and development. 

Prototypes save money and time 

We must stress this to all stakeholders, especially budget owners. To finance a prototype, look for a vendor who is happy to create a prototype at cost (without a profit margin). 

At CCS, our policy is to waive the cost of prototype building completely if the full project is later commissioned, whenever this is financially viable. 

But above all, remember that prototyping will give you insight that will eventually save money and time, and spare you unpleasant situations where you’ve spent a fortune to develop something that doesn’t really work. 

Get in touch 

We’re always available to chat about this or any other eLearning matter.

We love what we do, and we love talking to people about it! 🙂  

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