by D. Williamson | July 20, 2012 | 7 Min Read

A Rapid Prototyping Approach to Learning and Development

We have all had those days. I know. I had one recently. The alarm didn't go off, my daughter lost her camp bag, the dog decided to make a bathroom out of our potted plant, and I was running low on gas when I was already running late. By the time I got home from work the last thing that I wanted to do was cook dinner. As I was pulling the casserole out of the oven there was a sense of relief that flooded my senses. Now I can finally sit down, relax, and have a meal with my family. THEN, I tasted the casserole. "The sauce is horrible. We can't eat that. Not even the dog would eat that! Now I have to start all over." With that I threw the casserole in the trash. If only I had taken a lesson from the work that I do at Unboxed. We've mastered the "test early and test often" way of thinking, whether it be in the development of our sales enablement tools or our training solutions. We have adopted an iterative form of development that utilizes rapid prototyping.

The Potential Danger of the Waterfall Approach

Prototyping is an approach that not all companies have embraced. Many still utilize a more traditional model known as ADDIE. The ADDIE model gets its name from its series of phases: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate. It is traditionally employed using a "waterfall" approach, which means a phase does not begin until the previous phase has been completed. But what if the final product reveals a flaw in the early design? The company will then have to choose between the high cost (in both time and money) of going back to the design phase to make changes, or moving forward with a flawed product. That's where I went wrong with the casserole. I used a waterfall approach, finishing one step of my recipe before moving on to the next. I didn't test early or often to see how the recipe was coming together. In fact, I didn't evaluate the success of my dinner until that fateful bite as it came out of the oven. It was all because of the sauce. If I had tasted the sauce early on, I would have had an opportunity to fix it before moving on. I would have been able to save dinner without wasting time and money on a meal that my family (including the dog) will never eat.

Rapid Prototyping Helps You Sprint to the Finish

Prototyping allows the learning team to combine aspects of analysis, design and development, enabling them to work on all three in parallel. It's an approach that takes some lessons from the world of Agile software development, where teams work in short cycles (or "sprints") to deliver batches of usable content. These batches are treated as prototypes, which savvy teams test against internal reviews, client evaluation, or even end-user testing. This approach invites altering the initial recipe, effectively "tasting" and "re-tasting" as the final product is created.

Think Outside the Box When It Comes to Prototyping

Though the term prototype typically conjures images of wireframes and software demos, prototyping can be used in many different ways. In the learning and development world prototyping can be used to establish the look and feel of learning materials, such as the icons or graphics that will be used. It can be used to establish content, layouts, interactive elements, or even the tone or formality of the instruction. Creating prototypes can save time and money because it allows problems to be identified earlier on in the process, when the price tag for fixing them is smaller. Rapid prototyping helps eliminate those panicked conversations around the water cooler as teams utter," But that wasn’t in the initial requirements!" It eliminates the sleepless nights spent worrying about the new VP being brought in who may want to "change course" on part of a project.

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At Unboxed, we strive to create effective learning solutions in an efficient way. We employ frequent testing and review to ensure we are not wasting time or money making late-stage changes to problems that could have been caught early on. This commitment to reviews in the early stages of design and development helps us create a product that exceeds client expectations. We'd love to share more of our products and our experience with rapid prototyping with you, so follow us on Twitter (@unboxedtech), drop us a line, or give us a call.
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