Rapid development. One of those fairly nondescript-seeming phrases you might see anywhere on an agenda at pretty much any company in the City. For those of us who work in e-learning, though, it’s a bit of a buzzword (or should I say buzzphrase?). Semantics aside, these days it’s all about delivering the same quality at half the price and twice the speed.

I recall an engineering adage that goes, ‘build it fast, build it well, build it cheap – pick two.’ In rapid e-learning, we don’t get the luxury of just picking two. The challenge, the long hours spent building the content into the course, and the satisfaction of getting a release turned around in ten days all go hand-in-hand.

The rapid development of e-learning projects is all about adaptability and versatility. Let me use a recent project as an example. This was a two-hour systems simulation which took – if you’ll permit me to quickly check my Outlook calendar and do a double take – six days, as well as a few hours in the office over a weekend.

Now, I work with some extremely bright and professional Instructional Designers (IDs). And even they struggle with workload from time to time. So what does a rapidly developing ID like me do when, suddenly, a new brief lands on their desk with the final release date looming closer than most pilot release dates?

Here’s where adaptability and versatility come into the equation. Working on rapid projects, even for a little while, makes you especially sensitive to any change in your schedules. Having contingency is a great thing. Sweeping everything non-essential aside, I set about trying to shoehorn the development hours into the hours available.

Naturally, no amount of contingency can prepare you fully for the arrival of a whole project, so it’s important to build a solid plan as soon as possible. Once I had the time blocked out for this project, the next thing was to figure out the best possible use for it. I asked colleagues to help and delegated as much work as possible. We roped in senior management to tackle the client queries. The tech team got themselves stuck into the LMS.

After six (and a bit) days we’d built, quality checked and released a course which our client was very happy with.

Adaptability and versatility are your greatest weapons when going into battle against a seemingly impossible list of deliverables. You have to ensure that all of the essential processes are followed while simultaneously making the most of every possible shortcut you can take. Without doubt, it’s risky business.

I made a few mistakes along the way – rapid development isn’t only a learning process for your target group of users. The upshot is that if you can adapt and stay versatile, it won’t just be your courses that are being rapidly developed.