Rapid Prototyping for Instructional Design in the Age of Agile Software Development

Continuous quality improvement has been a watchword in business excellence for nearly a half century. CQI evolved as more industries and practitioners adapted it for their own purposes. Following the introduction of the software industry, CQI evolved as an agile approach to product development. The term “agile” has become synonymous with innovation and competitiveness, and today influences the need for rapid prototyping in the instructional design world, too.

Clearly, while the ADDIE model remains the gold standard for the training industry, in the world of instructional design “agile” expresses itself as the Successive Approximation Model (S.A.M.) for continuous improvement based on the ADDIE model.

What does all this mean for you as an instructional designer?

Quite simply, it means that the most innovative and responsive training designers today embrace the agile process in the development of the training product.

The agile process expresses itself as

• Spending your time developing working products as opposed to documenting processes
• Preferring human interaction over processes and tools
• Engaging in ongoing customer collaboration instead of contract negotiations imposing rigidly defined roles and expectations
• Responding to changes rather than following a plan

Do Your Tools and Techniques Support S.A.M.?

Many of the tools and templates for instructional design are formal documents, often in hard copy or in a fill-in-the-blank word processing program which is often an electronic version of the hard copy mentality. For instructional designers who are dedicated to the ongoing iterative process of an agile work environment, static documentation stifles creativity.

Software applications used to construct training programs are naturally built to accommodate an agile instructional design process. For IDs who have become proficient using training design software, they are well-equipped to apply an innovative and responsive approach to building a training program. Like continuous quality improvement, the concept of rapid prototyping is borrowed from manufacturing but has important applications to training development.

Rapid prototyping is known to:

• Decrease development time
• Decrease costly mistakes
• Extend product lifetime by adding necessary features and eliminating redundant features early in the design
• And more.

Rapid prototyping has many advantages over the traditional static instructional design process.

1. Many IDs have started to build a program only to realize that they may want or need to veer from the plan as new information arises. When you are committed to a project plan’s completion, you have to wait until you deliver the first draft – or deliver the first program! – before problems are acknowledged and corrected. When you are in an agile state of mind using rapid prototyping, issues and problems are acknowledged, addressed and corrected as they arise.
2. The client’s needs change. A training program is conceived to respond to a set of circumstances that may change during development. When circumstances change, development teams with an agile mindset can quickly adapt and shift the plan to something that accommodates the evolving situation. When the development tools support rapid prototyping, extensive work is usually not lost but rather the product and project are easily adjusted.
3. Budgets or schedules are blown mid-project. When training is built based on one set of assumptions, and the budget or timeline changes, the original content may have to be modified to meet more modest budgets or tight schedules. Agile thinking in instructional design is based on the assumption that change is constant; successful IDs use tools built to support a pivot.

Be an Innovative Instructional Designer

Static tools and rigid methodologies require a plan to be fully baked and executed according to the original need and concept. When the world moved more slowly and information remained static and rigid over time, formal templates and project plans worked.

Today, in a world where priorities and plans pivot quickly in response to changing circumstances and new information, the most innovative designers are working with rapid prototyping tools that support agile product development and evolving client needs.

Ask yourself: do the tools and templates I use right now support innovation and continuous quality improvement in my instructional design process?

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Rapid Prototyping for Instructional Design in the Age of Agile Software Development