Using Iterative Development to Create Powerful Online Learning Experiences

December 4, 2014


Iterative development is a cycle in which you begin with an idea, execute a small part of that idea, receive feedback, and improve. Development continues in this manner until you are pleased with the result.

This method of development ensures you’re never too far off the mark without an opportunity to correct course. There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a project, only to realize it’s something that nobody wants to buy.

This post will outline the three fundamentals of iterative development and provide you with actionable tips to help you apply this approach to the creation of your online learning experiences. 

1. Start Small

A lot goes into a full-blown course, but in order to get there you have to start somewhere!

Your goal is to reach thousands of students with your amazing course content, but you can’t do this without writing the first sentence or taking the first step. In Seth Godin’s post “Overcoming the Impossibility of Amazing,” he talks about the importance of getting started. Even if the first thing you create isn’t amazing, it’s a start and it’s that much closer to your vision.

Here are some ways you can start small but have enough substance to receive feedback:

  • Create a course and build out a single lesson. You can build out additional sections, but mark them as “Coming Soon” so students can see what you have planned for the future.
  • Start with a blog, or transition some blog content to an outline in a course. Click here to read our 2-part series on how to turn blog content into a course. This will allow you to get your ideas on “paper” and have something to show for your work.
  • Schedule and record a short webinar or webcast every week for a few weeks. Before you know it, you’ll have several recorded videos to include in a course.

2. Get Feedback Early and Often

Build something small, test it, get feedback, improve, repeat.

Build some content, then show it to people. Utilize your network! Ask as many people as possible what’s missing and/or what’s not clear. Ask them what else they’d like to learn or where they wished you were more elaborate. This will help you discover where to take your content next.

Tip: For best results, be sure to take the material to the type of person you’d like to teach.  For example, if you’re teaching beginning HTML, don’t ask an expert HTML programmer what parts are confusing to her. Chances are you won’t get much out of it.

If you already have students taking your course, insert a Typeform survey into a course activity and ask questions about where they tripped up while interacting with your content, or where they think your content could benefit from greater clarity.

3. Testing & iterating

Once you’ve collected feedback on your materials, modify your existing course content and build additional content with that feedback in mind. Then, take it to more people and ask them the same questions. The key is to repeat this process often until your courses are flawless.   If your content hasn’t improved significantly, you can always take your courses in another direction. When each iteration is small, going back to the drawing board is a very small setback.

If your friends and family get tired of repeatedly reading your course, try something like to get your course in front of more unbiased eyes. This service allows you to instruct users to go through a task for a small fee. In return, you receive a video of test group members taking the course, complete with their questions and concerns. Building a learning experience takes time and effort. Compared to this, however, iterative development is relatively fast, and the payoff is enormous.

Try it today to ensure your time and effort go towards something amazing that can reach hundreds - if not thousands - of students in an effective and meaningful way.



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