What is rapid prototyping approach in elearning?

Posted by Greten on 17 Jan 2021 under Terms

Rapid prototyping is the process in which an instructional designer or elearning developer produce a rough version of the learning product to show to other stakeholders for evaluation. Other stakeholders here can be the SMEs or project owner, and the final learning product can be a video, and HTML5 interactive learning module, or some other form of courseware material.

To put it another way, you can summarize rapid prototyping like this: produce the learning product in the shortest time possible, even if it's ugly, so the guys whose opinion we need to consider can see it and use their comments to progress to better versions.

Origin of the term rapid prototyping

The phrase "rapid prototyping" originates from engineering, where its definition is that it is the process of quickly creating early versions of the product to evaluate its appearance and functions. A common way of making rapid prototypes is by using 3D printers, where the material used by the printer might not be the material intended for the final product.1

A man with a laptop and a 3D printer on table

The rough and ugly early version of the learning product is the prototype. The SMEs, product owners, and the instructional designer themselves are the evaluators of the product. Hence, the rapid prototyping in elearning is conceptually the same as that of engineering.

Rapid prototyping as a storyboarding

Rapid prototyping can be regarded as an alternative to or as a kind of storyboarding.2 The rapid prototype serves the same purpose as that of text and visual storyboard; their purpose is to show them to SMEs, project owners, and other stakeholders for evaluation. However, rapid prototypes aim to show not just the content and description of the functions in a learning product also how the functions exactly work.

In an earlier entry about storyboarding I mentioned that when using slide presentation such as MS PowerPoint or Google Slides, you can either put notes on how the animation and interactive elements are suppose to work, or you can build the animation and interactive elements in the slide presentation itself. If you build the animations and interactive elements in the slide presentation, you may consider it a rapid prototype. By analogy, it is also similar to rapid prototyping in engineering, where the prototype and final product are made of different materials.

However, unless your final product is also a slide presentation, a more practical approach is to use the elearning authoring tool that you intend to use for the final product to create the learning prototype. If you are going to use Articulate Storyline for the final product, then use it for the rapid prototype. The same goes if you are using Adobe Captivate or Lectora Inspire.

A common situation in which rapid prototyping can be useful is if you already have the information from the SME and you already sent notes to your in-house illustrators. While waiting for the illustrations, you can create a prototype using an elearning authoring tool with doodles or rough sketches. You can use the prototype to give the other stakeholders an idea of how you intend the final learning product. When the illustrators are finished with your request, swapping the sketches with the illustrations is a small step from the prototype to the final product, or the next iteration if your work process involves several reviews.

Two elearning slides. The one on top is made of shapes and black and white outline. The one below is a colored illustration of the same concept above.

In the illustration above, the slide on top is a sample of what a rapid prototype learning module would look like, while the slide below is the final version of the learning module.

Rapid prototyping as an instructional design model

Aside from being an alternative form of storyboarding, rapid prototyping is also an instructional design model similar to the ADDIE model.

If we focus on the rapid prototype, we can see rapid prototyping as a storyboard. However, if we focus on the steps following this prototype, we can regard rapid prototyping as an instructional design model. Rapid prototyping is an instructional design model where after the initial analysis, you produce a prototype that is subsequently improved during the several rounds of review and revision before releasing it to learners; it is still continuously evaluated for future improvement after the release.

The process diagram below shows the steps involved in the rapid prototyping model.3

Rapid protototype instructional design model diagram: it starts with Analysis followed by a cycle made of design, iteration, and review, and then another cycle with develop, implement, and evaluate.

Notice that many of the steps are similar to the ADDIE model. It's similar to ADDIE except that we have two cycles of development and evaluation; the first cycle is only among those involved in the lesson development (instructional designers, SMEs, etc.), and the second cycle involves the learners.

To summarize, rapid prototyping is the production of a rough initial version of the learning product to have it evaluated by other stakeholders in its development. The rapid prototype can be an alternative to the storyboard, while the series of review and revision cycles in rapid prototyping makes it an instructional design model.


  1. Engineering Product Design (n.d.) "Rapid prototyping", Engineering Product Design Knowledge Base, retrieved 17 January 2021
  2. Brigham D. (2014) "Instructional Design: Storyboarding", LinkedIn Learning, retrieved 17 January 2021
  3. Boulet G. (2013) "Rapid prototyping: an efficient way to collaboratively design and develop e-learning content", Mercer University, retrieved 17 January 2021

Last updated on 17 Jan 2021.

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Instructional design and educational technology for effective learning