ISPI’s eighth standard for performance improvement is development.  As you may have figured this phase of a project deals with the actual creation of training materials.  According to ISPI it can be much more than training, “The output is a product, process, system, or technology.”  This array of solutions underscores a key difference between human performance technology (HPT) and instructional design.  Where instructional design tends to focus exclusively on training and learning, HPT looks at the way work is done and the tools that are used.

As I have written before, a common mistake is to start with this step.  As I write this, I stand by that position because this approach usually results in unfocused materials and unmet expectations.  However, a recent trend in learning development is rapid prototyping.  This approach combines elements of analysis, design, and development.  By combining these into one process, the team is able to refine their expectations, goals, objectives, and materials as their understanding of the project grows.

In a traditional approach, commonly referred to as the waterfall method, lots of meeting time and resources are spent drafting goals and objectives.  The expectation of this approach is that each step flawlessly flows into the next.  Unfortunately, experience has shown this is not always the case.  When the team finally gets to the development step there is no room to reconsider decisions made earlier.  If something was overlooked or the focus changes it requires significant rework to implement which results in delays and cost overruns.

Rapid prototyping, also called iterative prototyping, puts the emphasis more where it belongs, creating a solution that improves performance.  Through iterations the design of the learning intervention is refined, expectations are clarified and outcomes are documented.  The designer solicits feedback from stakeholders and subject matter experts to get approval on acceptable design elements and direction for future iterations.

The strength of an iterative approach is that it emphasizes what is important, actual learning materials, and focuses the team’s energy there.  It is also less labor intensive.

What are the keys to success when applying an iterative methodology?

  • Create.  Don’t just be creative.  An idea is only useful if it results in something
  • Discard. Be willing to throw out unproductive ideas
  • Learn.  An iterative approach is exploratory and prototypes are disposable.
  • Focus.  Appoint a timekeeper or reality checker.   If the group has spent too much time on an idea without producing anything usable it is their job to call us on it.