Prototyping: A Rapid Approach to Instructional Design

Instructional designers are continually pressed for ways to increase or speed up the course development process.  Contemporary design techniques are rapid, interactive, and can be easily modified.  One specific technique I use to develop a course is prototyping.  This article aims to explore three things:  what is prototyping, prototyping as a problem-solving technique and finally, steps to develop a prototype for your next instructional design project. 

What is Prototyping?

Prototyping is the process of creating a model, sketch, or course product for analysis, testing, and modification.  It is developed during the early stage of the project.  An instructional designer would develop the prototype to jump-start the design of a new course.  Oftentimes, the prototype is completed within the first week of a new course design project.  It may be developed immediately after project scoping is completed. 

Prototyping as a Problem-Solving Technique

Prototyping gives the instructional designer the opportunity to address the organization’s problems early on.  The designer may use the prototype to generate a discussion or conversation about workable solutions.  For example, an organization may have determined it has a knowledge transfer problem for new hires, new leaders, and safety reporting.  The designer would create and use a mock-up in the development of the prototype for the course.  The mock-up may be used as a focal point in the design meeting to gather additional ideas from the subject matter expert about the knowledge transfer problem.

Note:  It is not uncommon for the prototype to be destroyed or discarded after it has fulfilled its purpose.  In some instances, it may become the final tool or product for which the organization uses. However, it is intended to be a springboard for the development of a new product or service.   

Developing Your Own Prototype

You should practice creating your own prototype for course design projects you are currently developing.  I have included the seven steps I created to generate a prototype for course design:

1). Determine your organization’s or client’s needs and requirements

2). Write your course objectives

3). Create an outline or course map for your potential course

4). Select the main topics for each section of the course from the course map or outline i.e. roman numeral I, II, III, etc.

5). Develop a course flow diagram or chart to show how the pieces fit in the design

6). Develop the mock-up

7). Design the prototype

Use the steps above in the development of a prototype for your instructional design projects.

Adrienne Captain, CEO & Founder, HR-OD Analytics. Real Talk from a Real Consultant:  ID, OD, and Change Management.  Visit her company page: and sign-up for one of her courses.