Rapid Prototyping as an instructional design

By Joe Hoffman and Jon Margerum-Leys

Note: A downloadable version of Joe's accompanying PowerPoint slides can be had by clicking here.

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Table of contents

Instructional design defined

Rapid prototyping defined

Graphic representation of the model

MYDL Curriculum: An example of rapid prototyping

Some groups which are doing rapid prototyping

Some products designed using rapid prototyping

Notes on article by Tripp et al.

About this Web page

This Web page was put together by Jon Margerum-Leys to serve as a reference for members of Education 626 at the University of Michigan. The original page was completed in the Fall semester of 1996 and has been modified only slightly since that time. This page contains information we've collected on Rapid Prototyping. The page you're on is designed to be long but complete.

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Instructional Design defined

From http://www.superlibrary.com/328993992721623/queet/trainers_guide/chap07.html

Instructional design is a systematic approach to course development that ensures that specific learning goals are accomplished. It is an iterative process that requires ongoing evaluation and feedback.

Numerous instructional design theories and models provide guidance in this arena. Yet, only a few of them have been empirically validated against actual designs&emdash;that is, have been tested in a classroom environment to substantiate the soundness of the proposed model. However, do not view the lack of validation as a shortcoming, because the learning process is unpredictable and subject to numerous extraneous variables.

Many instructional design models are based on a behaviorist foundation where the focus is on such things as learning objectives and operant conditioning through reinforcement of the desired behavior. These models fall in the area of reductionism, which is defined as the decomposition of each component of an instructional system into parts: the learner, the objective, the content, and the instructional strategy. The instructional system's design models support this view, which is based on a sequential process that begins with the definition of objectives and ends with the development of components of instruction to achieve each objective.

More progressive models fall under the rubric of constructivism, which posits the belief that individuals learn best from personally relevant and autonomous experiences. These models tend to be more fluid and less constrained to a sequential process of course design. They also tend to incorporate more collaborative learning activities and place less emphasis on the teacher's role.

Despite the proliferation of instructional design models, several elements are common to most of them. These common elements are defining objectives, determining content (and the sequence and structure of the content), determining the instructional strategies and methods for presenting the material, and developing the curriculum. Most models include evaluation and feedback at some stage in the process. The major discrepancy in the numerous models is in the method or approach to design.

Although most models presented in the literature are linear, much debate has been generated regarding the linearity of the models. The learning process is not as predictable; it hardly ever follows a linear, sequential progression. Keep in mind that any approach you use should be flexible, should reflect the reality of the learning environment, and should attend to the practical process of instructional design (that is, it should be appropriate for the classroom environment and not for hypothetical model-testing purposes).

The fast-paced, time-intensive process of instructional design doesn't always allow you to follow a systematic, step-by-step process. Many of the steps occur concurrently or, in some cases, not at all. Although a model can be helpful in focusing your design efforts, it shouldn't circumvent the reality of your particular training situation. Instead, adapt the model to fit your needs&emdash;start with a model that allows you to develop a course within your time and budget constraints. Successful training is not judged by the explicitness of your instructional design model but according to the extent to which your learners acquired skills and were able to transfer them to their workplace or home environment.

Rapid Prototyping defined

Quoted from http://dsnra.jpl.nasa.gov/prototyp.html#definition

What is "Rapid Prototyping"?

Classic (i.e. bad) approach to software development -- the waterfall cycle :

  1. concept definition
  2. requirements definition
  3. preliminary design
  4. detailed design
  5. code implementation
  6. test and acceptance
  7. [griping]

Rapid prototyping -- the spiral cycle:

  1. concept definition
  2. implementation of a skeletal system
  3. user evaluation and concept refinement
  4. implementation of refined requirements
  5. user evaluation and concept refinement
  6. implementation of refined requirements

etc., etc., in a continuous cycle.

Wilson, Jonassen, and Cole

Wilson, et al., in http://www.cudenver.edu/~bwilson/training.html defines Rapid Prototyping as follows:

Rapid prototyping. In a design process, early development of a small-scale prototype used to test out certain key features of the design. Most useful for large-scale or projects.

Graphic representation of model:

Note that in the model above, the construct prototype and utilize prototype form a loop in which multiple utilizations of prototypes provide feedback for the construction of ensuing multiple prototypes.

MYDL Curriculum--An example of rapid prototyping

Below are links to several iterations of our curriculum unit design. Each of these was developed and put into users' hands quickly, with subsequent iterations using feedback from the prototypes. As a general note, it's interesting how quickly we were able to see where improvements needed to be made

First pass:


Note the huge amount of text here, compared to graphics. We quickly discovered that kids don't want to read this much text off of a computer screen.

Second attempt:


More graphics in this one. Note the much smaller logo at the top of the page. Screen space is at a premium in the schools. It's easy to lose sight of that when working from the university.

Third generation:


This version goes to an opening imagemap, rather than text. Our field observations of the prototypes told us this might work, and when we put this prototype in place, we found that students did make some use of it.

One drawback to this prototype was that it tried to do too much teaching. This seemed especially true of the help section.

Current thinking:


If you visit this site, you'll see that we have made it more graphically oriented than some of the earlier generations. We've also made the site interactive, allowing student to share reviews of sites they find and look at what other students have said about Web sites.

Some groups which "do" Rapid Prototyping

Infinity Software Development, Incorporated

A company which offers to create custom software for clients, using a rapid prototyping model.

Rapid Prototyping Corporation

In industry, "Rapid Prototyping" also refers to the process of using computers to control sophisticated machinery which creates plastic prototypes directly from CAD (Computer Assisted Design) files. This process eliminates the traditional process of having a machinist create prototypes. It's cheaper, more efficient, and reduces human error introduced by the machinist. (By the way, it also puts machinists out of work).

The University of Helsinki (Finland)

Hannu Kaikonen divides Rapid Prototyping into two parts. Rapid Prototyping is the process described on this Web page. Kaikonen refers to the building of models from CAD design (see above) as "Rapid Tooling". It's an interesting and useful distinction.

Some products which were developed using Rapid Prototyping principles

Two-level multi-computer

This is a project in progress which is designing a new type of computer.

SRI international, ITAD division.

This page lists a series of computer hardware and software products which were developed using Rapid Prototyping. Most have military applications.

Ergo, Incorporated

Here's a product which began as a brainstorm at a conference and went through 36 design revisions before being mass produced.


Abstracts and notes from:

Tripp, S. D., & Bichelmeyer, B. (1990). Rapid protoyping: An alternative instructional design strategy. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 38(1), 31-44.

Click here to download an End-Note file which contains the complete citation along with abstracts and notes below:

In this section, we include notes and quotes from Tripp and Bichelmeyer. Our goal is to give you a sense of their thinking on protopying and its relationship to instructional design.

Document abstract (in Educational Technology, Research and Development):

There is a design methodology called rapid prototyping which has been used successfully in software engineering. Given the similarities between software design and instructional design, we argue that rapid prototyping is a viable model for instructional design, especially for computer-based instruction. Additionally, we argue that recent theories of design offer plausible explanations for the apparent success of rapid prototyping in software design. Such theories also support the notion that rapid prototyping is appropriate for instructional design. We offer guidelines for the use of rapid prototyping and list possible tradeoffs in its application.

ERIC abstract:

From ERIC: Discusses the nature of instructional design and describes rapid prototyping as a feasible model for instructional system design (ISD). The use of prototyping in software engineering is described, similarities between software design and instructional design are discussed, and an example is given which uses rapid prototyping in designing a computer-assisted tutorial. (44 references) (LRW)


Tripp cites the efficiency of rapid prototyping and the relative inefficiency of a systems approach.

There are natural sciences and artificial sciences. Some artificial sciences are enginerring, medicine, architecture, and instruction. "The four qualities that separate the natural sciences from the artificial or design sciences are (a) artificial things are synthesized by people; (b) aritificial things imitate appearances of natural things but lack the reality of them; (c) aritificial things can be characterized in terms of functions, goals, and adaptation; and (d) artificial things are usually discussed in terms of imperatives as well as descriptives." (p. 32)

"Ésince problem solvers are rarely in a position to identify all possible solutions, they must deal with bounded rationalities. Bounded rationality refers to the need to make decisions without complete information." (p. 34)

"designers take on the task of turning indeterminate situations into determinate ones (Schön, 1987)" (p. 34)

"The most fundamental difference between the two fields [software design and instructional design] is the degree of rigor that can be expected in each. Software designers deal in part with computer software, but primarily with systems based on human cognition, which entail more uncertainty and accept more ambiguity." (p. 34)

"In this methodology, after a succint statement of needs and objectives, research and development are conducted as parallel processes that create prototypes, which are then tested and which may or may not evolve into a final product." (p. 35)

"The use of rapid prototyping in software design depends on development software which allows rapid construction and modification of software." (p. 35)

On differences between rapid prototyping and traditional instructional systems design: "Émany traditional models emphasize early constraining of design decisions, while rapid prototyping follows the pragmatic design principle of minimum commitment, that at each stage in synthesizing a design no commitment is made beyond what is absolutely necessary to solve the problem at hand." (p. 37)

"A crucial part of the prototyping process is the utilization of the design with potential learners." (p. 37)

"Rapid prototyping presupposes a design environment which makes it practical to synthesize and modify instructional artifacts quickly. Without such an environment it becomes inefficient and, therefore, loses its attractiveness." (p. 38)

"There are a number of reasons why traditional models may not be successful. As Streibel suggested, they may be incomplete, or they may not account for the situated nature of knowledge. Or perhaps, as Maher and Ingram (1989) suggested, many traditional designs have a linear quality which in many instances is not a true reflection of the design process. They argue specifically that recent research has found instructional design models with sequential, hierarchical features do not adequately represent what people really do, or what they should do, in specific design situations, and that software engineers frequently need more realistic, more flexible models to follow in planning and executing a project." (p. 39)


One of our students had been involved in the development of a computer-based grammar tutor for foreign students. He found that his analysis of the types of information which would be useful to students, the types of feedback that should be given, and the general structure of the tutorial was becoming very complex. On the other hand, he felt that he could not pilot-test the program until it was in a relatively finished form. I suggested to him that he should try rapid prototyping the tutorial. The prototype was deliberately only a model of the finished product. That is, it contained only the major elements of the final tutorial, and these elements were presented in a schematic way. He was able to produce the prototype in a short period of time (a matter of hours) and immediately started teshng it with potenhal users, while collecting their suggeshons and comments. He reported that this process answered many of his queshons and that he was able move quickly toward a full version of the tutorial. This example illustrates the essenhal features of rapid prototyping. First, a model of the system was used to inveshgate and design the full system. Second, the software environment allowed rapid synthesis and mod)fication of the system. Third, a slow and uncertain process of analysis and detailed speciQcahon was replaced by an efficient process of hands-on design. Although this application was successful, it depended upon two factors: a plastic and modular medium, and an intention to leam through the process of design." (p. 41)

"Some may argue that rapid prototyping is nothing new--the methodology of rapid prototyping has always been with us, even if the models of design did not acknowledge it. In one sense this is true. Where possible, engineering design and instructional design have used prototypes. The use of prototypes is not the same as rapid prototyping, however. In many cases, the use of prototypes is dictated by the sever consequences of error (i.e., aircraft design), rathen than efficiency considerations. Rapid prototyping emphasizes the rapid synthesis and utilitzation of designs because the medium affords it." (p. 41)

"Whitten et al., (1989) have summarized the advantages of prototyping in a systems engineering context. We have adapted their conclusions into the instruchonal design environment. The following are potential advantages of rapid prototyping:

"The main disadvantage of prototyping can be summed up in one complaint that is easy to imagine: it has a tendency to encourage informal design methods which may introduce more problems than they eliminate.

This failure can be avoided if the following issues are kept in mind:

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