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Prototype, test, and refine learning designs

"What is the purpose of a prototype in learning design?"

"How are prototypes designed and developed?"

"How are design prototypes tested and refined?"

Imagine a scenario where you presented a creative eLearning idea to a client and received their approval. However, once the client reviewed the eLearn for the first time, they felt confused and disappointed because it wasn’t how they envisioned your idea–and now the entire course needs to be revised. That anxious feeling of missing the mark can be reduced by sharing early prototypes with clients–getting visual representations of your ideas in front of them soon and collecting feedback before dedicating ample time and resources into development.

Through this lesson, you should be able to learn the process of prototyping, testing, and refining learning designs.

What is the purpose of a prototype in learning design?

When creating a prototype, the goal is to create a sample of the product or program–such as one eLearning module or a single course out of a program of many–and then testing and refining it before investing time and effort into developing the full project. Prototyping and testing allows teams to either validate their ideas with key decision makers and learners early or to “fail fast” and course correct before significant time is invested in the development of a faulty idea.

How are prototypes designed and developed?

Regardless of the modality (e.g. instructor-led training, virtual instructor-led training, eLearning), project teams typically select one lesson (or a short course) to design, develop, and test. Project teams often consider client reviews sufficient, but testing with actual learners is the ideal that designers should promote–particularly when designing for unknown audiences or untested subject matter. The industry-wide habit of client-only feedback greatly reduces the potential value from testing early, as clients can’t represent learning audiences with full authenticity; it’s filtered through their biases.

Scroll through the carousel to see how prototypes can be created at varying levels of complexity:

How are design prototypes tested and refined?

The goal of testing is to collect candid, unbiased feedback from key decision makers and learners (whenever possible and appropriate). Designers should collaborate with team members to craft a testing strategy and protocol so all tests are conducted consistently and in line with the team’s testing goals.

In addition to defining who should complete the tests, testing protocols should also identify the type of tests to be conducted.

Review the following to learn about two primary testing methods:

Both moderated and unmoderated tests should be structured in a way that sets proper expectations, shares clear instructions, and allows for candid feedback.

Review the infographic below to learn what best practices for prototyping looks like:

Airport training: a learning project case study

Amir and Kristine have been partnering with their client to design an eLearning course to help airport staff recognize common signs of human trafficking and report them to the authorities. Amir conducted analysis, Kristine completed the detailed design, and then Amir developed a prototype of one lesson. He tested it with 15 learners, added feedback to a priority matrix, and then applied feedback to the design. Kristine also applied the changes to the detailed design to inform future development.

Scroll through the carousel to see Amir's prototyping and testing deliverables:

Summary and next steps

In this lesson, you learned what prototyping is and the importance of it in the design process. First, you discovered the purpose of a prototype–to produce a sample as early as possible to test and iterate as you go. Then you learned about how prototypes are designed and developed, identifying what authentic testing looks like as well as the options available in levels of complexity. Finally, you learned how prototypes are tested and refined, highlighting primary testing methods and best practices for structuring prototype testing.

Now that you are familiar with how to prototype, test and refine designs, consider completing all the other lessons in LXD Factory’s Design series. Otherwise, search for lessons that interest you most.


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