by Richard Sites, vice president - client services | @rhillsites
As many of my colleagues are at ASTD TechKnowledge 2013 enjoying the California weather, I am stuck here in the Atlanta airport – dodging tornadoes and dealing with weather delays. For those of you at the conference, I hope you have been able to attend some of the Allen Interactions and ZebraZapps demonstrations, workshops and sessions. We are sharing the new features of ZebraZapps Professional and the first day-long workshop about SAM, the iterative design and development process that Michael Allen and I co-authored a book about in September.
I admit I am a bit envious of those of you who, like my co-workers, are enjoying northern California in winter while participating in sessions and roundtables, engaging in conversations about building instruction and training, debating about the best tools to create high quality e-learning, or even spending time with old friends reminiscing about the old days.
I figured since I wasn't able to attend the conference and engage in some of those debates and conversations, I would share a topic that has been coming up a lot for me lately - the role of prototyping.
Designing effective and engaging e-learning can be a challenging endeavor. There are many expectations by many people in the organization – all needing to be recognized and accounted for before any course goes live. Couple those expectations with the requirements of budget and timelines, and it is easy to understand how designing quality learning events can be overwhelming.
So sadly, more often than not, we fall back on designs which made it through the approval process in the past – they are safe and reasonably effective. We fear rocking the boat with crazy notions of interactivity and settle for a fancy page-turner preceding an assessment. And why not? This has produced good results for us in the past, surely it will again. But has it produced the results you are looking for, or has it simply put a pretty course in front of a learner? Are learners engaged? Are they transferring their training to their work environment? Or, are they simply completing the course only to forget the content within minutes of exiting?
Perhaps it is time to try and push your design a step further - to avoid the trap of playing it safe. One way to make this effort more effective is through the use of prototypes. Prototypes are powerful because they provide clear insight into the design while assuring alignment of expectations of everyone involved.
Understanding what prototypes are, how they are built and their role in design is the biggest hurdle. So what exactly is a prototype? I have seen people create semi-functional prototypes only to use them as screen captures in a storyboard. Others build prototypes which only demonstrate simple designs for assessment, like drag-and-drop or multi-select. And others simply sketch out where components will be on the screen.