The resistance to the traditional, one-thing-at-a-time models of instructional design has generated a different approach; rapid ID, or rapid prototyping. It's a group of techniques and tools that allows a designer to build materials in days or weeks, rather than in months or years.
Jane Bozarth, e-learning coordinator for the North Carolina office of state personnel's HRD Group in Raleigh, N.C., says she thinks it can be an acceptable alternative to the traditional method in certain circumstances. "One of the worst things I see is spending a year building a course, then piloting it, then pulling it back to spend another six months revising the pilot," Bozarth says. "For direct-line trainers who don't understand the science of it, it looks like a huge, cumbersome, monolithic process, and they're not going to mess with it. You don't have to stall six months while you bring in a focus group; some of those stages can overlap. For example, involving the end users up front is one way to make sure that what you're designing does what it's supposed to."
Patti Shank, president of Learning Peaks, an ID consultancy in Denver, believes that, used in its proper niche, rapid ID is just the ticket. She uses it in situations with lower-level objectives where the task in question is not complex, or where the information needs to be distributed immediately.
For example, she says, say you work for Cisco. Mastery learning, which has to be carefully designed over a period of time, would be about the major products that company sells: routers, servers, switches, etc. But when those products change, as software and hardware products do regularly, there's no need to do anything but distribute that information quickly to those who need it.
Another example is the more urgent scenario. "Let's say somebody put the organization at great risk because they didn't know X," Shank says. "You would want to get that information about X out as soon as possible. Then you could combine rapid design with more thoughtful design later on."
The role of the instructional designer in rapid e-learning is just as important as in traditional design, according to analyst Josh Bersin, principal of e-learning consultancy firm Bersin & Associates in Oakland, Calif. The designer's expertise is simply more distributed, and distributed by way of templates and other shortcuts. "Instructional designers still play a critical role [when rapid e-learning is used]," Bersin writes in "Rapid Instructional Design: A Breakthrough," an article published in August 2004 on Bersin's Web site. "In some organizations it is the [instructional designer] who builds the templates, guidelines and final edits to make sure that content is effective and consistent. Subject matter experts need coaching and an outline to make sure that the content they build is easy-to-follow, jargon-free, and written in language easily understood by the audience. These guidelines should come from an instructional designer." —H.D.
See also: Who Has Time to Design? and Instructional Design: The Crash Course.
Have an opinion you'd like to share with Training readers? E-mail your letter to firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Letters to the Editor" in the subject line.