May 16, 2017

Prototyping Your eLearning Ideas

eLearning Content Design Tips and Tricks

More often than not eLearning designs are harder to describe than to do. Prototyping lets us strip down the crazy ideas to usable and applicable chunks. It’s easier to share with anybody on the team and let the real work start. So what are the ABCs of prototyping?

1) Assemble
2) Brainstorm 
3) Collect
4) Distil
5) Explain

Assembling the right prototyping team is just as important as having the right team for executing the prototyped plan. The instructional designer being the star of the show does not conclude the cast by far. All graphic and multimedia designers should be involved too, as well as representatives of the technical teams (one for every technology involved). Finally, the glue that holds this conglomerate together is the subject matter expert (SME). A lot of the instructional design that happens at this initial stage involves juggling with the topic at hand and more specifically distributing the information that would go into the eLearning module. It is easy to overlook the importance of a chunk of information or dilute its importance and the SME is the person to keep this in check. Sure, we could send the ideas later to be checked by an SME, but involving one from the very start would inevitably save time later along the path and assure a more sound execution of the learning goals.

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but is at the same time the most important part. Gathering every relevant idea is a good start. No idea is discarded or debated at this stage – just collect and leave the sorting for later. Please mind that we’re not talking about concepts (these should initially come from the SMEs), but rather their instructional design and functional illustration. Again SMEs play a vital sanity-check role here.

It’s time now to make a good sorting of the collection of ideas. You can go by all kinds of distinctions, but the most common include:

  • By chapter
  • By screen
  • By technology used
  • By media used
  • Etc.

Additionally, if the above are your verticals, you can have separate tags to unite ideas around a horizontal like:

  • Ease of implementation
  • Tiers of engagement
  • Originality
  • And so on…

Try and be as thorough as possible as this would again save you time in the long run. The number of reasons for choosing an idea would usually make the difference between two seemingly equal ones.

Once you have all ideas sorted out into categories you can sieve through them very easily by three major principles:

  • Quality (which is a sum of):
    • Relevance
    • Harmony (with the rest of the ideas)
    • Pragmatism
    • Distinguishability
    • Flexibility
  • Budget limitations
  • Time limitations

Surely, the importance of every consideration varies from project to project, but building a robust set of ideas comes much easier once you have them organized and labeled.

Perhaps the most challenging of them all is the actual stage of exemplifying and scripting the ideas that you already chose. This is paramount for making sure everybody on the team, as well as the client, knows exactly where the 2 ‘whats’ and the 2 ‘hows’ lie (in parentheses are the documents each of these points is associated with):

  • what will be developed (script/storyboard)
  • how it will be developed (technical specification)
  • what it will accomplish (project goals)
  • how it will be accomplished (benchmark specification)

Unfortunately, prototyping is often overlooked, especially for smaller modules, but it makes the project much more transparent and less prone to mistakes and misunderstandings. We believe it is a valuable tool that oftentimes makes the difference between good and great eLearning.