How to Create an Effective eLearning Prototype

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“If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand meetings.”—IDEO.

At Belvista Studios, we could not agree more with this quote. Creating a prototype is a critical part of the design process.

Imagine that you are designing a leadership course for an organisation. There are a number of different types of solutions that you could create. You could:

  • Record video interviews of the leadership team
  • Create practice scenarios
  • Create a PDF handbook
  • Create an interactive video. 
You may have your own process for deciding which solution is most fit for purpose. You may even combine a number of solutions into one. For the purpose of this example, let us say that you choose to create an interactive video. Your client agrees with your decision.

You create a film storyboard, hire actors, book out locations and film the scenes. You edit the videos, put them in order and add interactive elements. You have your first interactive video draft and you excitedly send it to your client for review.

A couple of days later, you get a call from your client:

“Hey. Thanks for sending the interactive video through. It’s good but it’s not what we expected and I don’t think it’s going to work for us. We are going to have to rethink what we do.”


We do not need to explain your potential reaction to this. You can imagine that for yourself (#freakout?). You have spent time planning the interactive video, filming the interactive video and paid for actors. All of this effort and money has gone to waste. This is not a situation that you want to be in. This is where a prototype could have saved you and your client from this undesirable situation. This is why we always produce some form of a prototype before delivering a draft solution.

Our intent for this blog is to provide you with insight into what a prototype is and how we create prototypes at Belvista Studios.

What is a Prototype?

A prototype is a way of testing an idea or concept (Ballantyne & Farrer, 2011). It is a small scale-mock up version of the final product.

1. High-Level Strategy Prototype

A high-level strategy enables you to present to your client:

  • Your understanding of the project intent
  • The information that you plan to include in the solution to meet that intent.
Using the information that we have obtained relevant to the project (e.g. user interviews, policies, client conversations, subject matter expert (SME) guidance etc.) we record:

  • Our understanding of the project intent. E.g. ‘To enable leaders to hold regular and effective performance conversations with their team members.’
  • The key information. For example:
    • ‘Why performance conversations are important.’
    • ‘How to initiate a performance conversation.’
    • ‘How to hold an effective performance conversation.’
This provides your client with the opportunity to review that your understanding of their project intent is correct and that the key information identified meets the project goal.

Once the client has approved the high-level strategy, we begin storyboarding. 

2. Storyboard Prototype

Using your high-level strategy, you can begin to storyboard the module.

The storyboard is the blueprint of your eLearning solution. It is a plan that specifies the visual elements, sound elements, interactions and details relevant to the learning solution that will be developed. Simply, a storyboard outlines the learning content, screen by screen. Any developer should be able to pick up a storyboard and successfully develop the learning solution as it was planned.

Your storyboard will enable you to gain approval prior to developing the final product.

Download our eLearning storyboard template for free here.

Read our blog on ‘How to Create Effective eLearning Storyboards’ here.

3. Look and Feel Prototype

Providing our clients with insight into the look and feel of their eLearning project prior to development is vital. This means gaining approval on:

  • Colours (RGB/HEX codes)
  • Fonts
  • General layout (text placement, spacing, padding and alignment)
  • Image style (cartoon or real-life)
  • The overall look and feel of the module. 
We create common template screens to send to the client for feedback/approval prior to developing the module. 

The types of template screens that you prepare will be dependent on the solution that you are creating. Some examples are:

  • Title screen
  • Text only screen
  • Text and image screen
  • Drag and drop screen
  • Multiple choice question screen
  • Feedback screens
  • Video screen.
We do not start developing a module until the client has reviewed and approved the module template screens.

Creating a course and needing to change look and feel components at the end of a project is a challenge that you do not want to face.

If you use Articulate Storyline as a development tool, read our blog on ‘How to Create a Course Template | Articulate Storyline Tips’ here.

4. Functioning Prototype

Another crucial part of prototyping is testing that the module effectively functions in the client’s environment (e.g. on their internet browser and LMS).

When the look and feel template screens are approved, we also have the client test that the screens work in their environment. This means uploading the prototype module to their LMS and checking that everything looks and functions as it should from their end.

Those are the components that make up our prototyping process at Belvista Studios. We hope that this added value to you and that you are able to apply these insights to your own projects.

We strongly encourage you to create prototypes. Creating a prototype for your eLearning solution is crucial to creating a well thought out and effective learning solution. By doing so, you will avoid spending time developing a solution only to realise that the concept does not make sense, important information has been left out or even worse, the learning goal is not being met, meaning rework and a waste of valuable hours.

References

Ballantyne, P., & Farrer, R. (2011). What is Prototyping. Retrieved from https://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/what-is-prototyping/.

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