Prove it with a prototype

Are you dreaming of an immersive simulation while your team members plan yet another Jeopardy game? If you want stakeholders to expand their horizons, a working prototype is your best friend.

A working prototype has simple placeholder graphics, but the clicking and dragging work as they will in the final activity. Build a quick-and-dirty version of the activity of your dreams, and use it to convert everyone on your team.

Here’s a two-part video that shows what I mean. Leif Cederblom of SmartBuilder compares two prototypes of the same activity and highlights the goals and benefits of prototyping.

Part 1: The conventional drag-and-drop: busywork that’s easy to forget

Part 2: A more realistic activity that’s more likely to change behavior

Try both prototypes yourself and see how the contrast between the two underscores the power of the more realistic activity. No amount of polish would make the drag-and-drop more than a rote activity, while the “leave the lab” prototype is effective even in its raw, prototype form.


  1. very nice indeed.

    Prototyping is critical, so often by passed, and when done, unfocused. Very good example.

    One thing worth mentioning is that the focus should be on where people screw up in this task. Ver 2 is great because it goes where the errors are. That’s the essence of realism.


  2. Willie Morris posted,
    I really enjoyed the discussion on the two prototypes samples that were presented. As an Instructional designer my ability to provide a learning management system that will provide the end user with practical learning applications is a must. As I continue to work with other team members we try to think like the person being trained. You can have great training content, images, videos, functionality, but what good is it if it doesn’t present content learning objectives in such a way that validates successful learning. The company that I work for develops content for distance learning courses that include those offered through print and electronic media, computer-based training (usually stored on CD-ROM), real-time and on-demand Web-based training (WBT) for the DOD. All will go on an LMS system which over the years have accumulated a lot of course content for the war fighter to access even when they are deployed. We create real-world scenarios of equipment, course content, as well as chemical warfare. We use a lot of straw man application simply because we are helping the learner become more familiarized with the equipment before going out into the field where errors will cost him his life. We utilize a combination of learning techniques because when deployed is real-time and scenario based assessment objectives for what we do has shown an increase in retention. The SmartBuilder software seems to be very useful software to implement in the content building process but with little knowledge would pose a steep learning curve. I will explore the software and would love to see an end product of how it truly is beneficial for implementation into our developmental structure.

  3. Bobby Merritt says:

    Your comments regarding the need for a prototype to help stakeholders expand their horizons immediately caught my attention. I became even more interested when I learned that a prototype could be used to sway a team that may seem to have a cookie-cutter answer for similar and maybe even dis-similar design problems. I recall an article I read once that described the extreme value an instructional design agency finds in its ability to develop once and sell many times the same content or content shell. While I’m a great proponent of creativity what would you say to the potential for added expense in the presence of prototypes?


  4. Thanks, everyone, for your comments.

    While prototyping probably adds time to the design process, I think the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

    Our goal is (or should be!) to create a change in the world, not to deliver information. A template can deliver information. However, the same template can’t be used to simulate real-world challenges that could actually change people’s behavior.

    For example, leaving a lab full of hazardous materials is very different from dealing with an angry customer, which is very different from selling a complicated techno-widget.

    I think one of the best ways to save money in elearning development is to use elearning only for the problems that it can actually help solve. Too often, we assume that information will solve a problem, and we use elearning to push that information at people.

    Instead, we need to learn more about the problem and identify more effective solutions, and then include elearning in the solution only when we want to provide realistic, interactive *practice.*

    This is a roundabout way of saying that I think a good chunk of the elearning we develop shouldn’t have been developed at all. An intranet page or email could have delivered the same information at a much lower price, leaving money in the budget for more powerful, prototyped elearning. Unfortunately, that would require a pretty big change in the beliefs and culture of our organizations.

    • dan frank says:

      So, should you still introduce the course witth learning objectives, especially when there are multiple-but related skills that need to be learned. Ensuring that there is continuity and a logical flow seems like it would be a chalenge if you just dive in with the activities. Stakeholdere like to see that text and validate that learnwrs understand what will be expected after completing the course. Do you have a suggestion?

      • Dan, thanks for your question. Yes, I think you should start any learning experience with a quick overview of what the learner will be able to do at the end of the experience. I don’t think the points should be written in “objective-speak” like, “Correctly apply the 4-step Customer Pacification Model.” Instead, they should be written in a more motivational way, such as, “You’ll be able to help upset customers calm down and clearly express their concerns” or something like that.