Storyboarding eLearning Courses

You may be thinking that storyboards are something used to plan out and develop films—and you wouldn’t be wrong. In fact, Walt Disney Studios began using storyboards in the early 1930s to sketch out the scenes for their cartoons; by the close of the decade, all major studios had adopted the practice as well. But the application of storyboarding doesn’t end with film; instructional designers utilize storyboarding to aid them in the development of cohesive and instructionally sound learning solutions.

What is a Storyboard?

In Instructional Design for eLearning, Marina Arshavskiy defines storyboards as “visual organizers that illustrate and communicate ideas to other professionals on the team” who are collaborating to build the course and its accompanying materials. Storyboards keep every member of the team on the same page; it’s where decisions about the look and feel of the course are made—from the general layout of the screen content, the appropriate media and graphics, to the programs used to build course content and material, and even the font and color choices. Think of it as an architectural blueprint that helps to guide the development and structure of your eLearning course and materials. Without the solid foundation of a storyboard to build upon, you will lose course cohesiveness and consistency, and the overall quality and effectiveness of the course will diminish.

There is no single right way to storyboard, and a variety of templates exist that can be modified based upon the needs of your organization or individual project. While there are some tools and applications that you can use to build storyboards, most templates are built in either Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. Here is a link where you can find a sampling of downloadable templates you can also modify for both text-based and visual storyboards.

The Anatomy of a Storyboard

While storyboards vary from one instructional designer to another (and even from project to project), there are common elements that make up the anatomy of most storyboards:

Header/Title—This provides the project name, course name, date, slide/page number, and all the other information you need to keep your storyboard sorted correctly.

On-screen Text—This is the text, in full, as it will appear on-screen for learners. This includes any navigational instruction students will see, as well, such as “Click NEXT to learn more.” This lets Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) see exactly what information you will be presenting and how that information will be presented to learners.

Audio—This is the narration that goes along with each screen; it also includes any necessary audio notes like pronunciations of terms and explanations for acronyms with which the narrator might be unfamiliar.

Graphics—This is where you include any images or animations that will be present on-screen, as well as their positioning on the screen. If you cannot find the exact image you want to use, or need your graphic artist to create a unique image or animation, you can describe the graphics you want to present.

Navigation/Interaction Instructions—This is where you include notes for the developers about everything a learner can or should be able to do on the screen. As part of this, you want to include any interactive trees (like quizzes, for example), along with the different responses that will display based on learner behavior. In addition, be sure to specify how learners will navigate from this page to the next. In writing your navigation/interaction instructions, use “if/then” statements whenever possible.

In addition to the core components above, it’s always a good idea to leave space for reviewers to leave comments.

The Process of Storyboarding

Just as the product of the storyboard will vary from one instructional designer to another and from one project to the next, the process of storyboarding will look slightly different as well. However, as you begin your storyboarding process, be sure to take into account each of the following:

Needs Assessment—When you begin the process of storyboarding, you always want to start with a needs assessment of your target audience. Determine their educational background, culture, professional knowledge base, experience level, etc.

Goals/Objectives—Have a clear set of goals and objectives before beginning the storyboarding process. This will ensure that your course ultimately accomplishes what it needs to accomplish. See my last blog for more details on creating SMART objectives for eLearning.

Instructional Technique—Determine how you are going to present course content: through storytelling, a scenario-based approach, or some other method?

Content Sequence—Sketch out a rough order or outline for your content. What topics need to come before or after others? Are there any modules or units that fit more naturally together than others? Addressing these questions and having even a rough idea of the sequencing of your course at the start will save you a great deal of time in the long run.

Storyboarding takes time, and it is occasionally time (and money) that organizations are reluctant (or even resistant) to invest, but the process is essential to the development of a cohesive, effective, and instructionally sound eLearning course. While storyboarding does require some time and money, ultimately it saves organizations both: utilizing a storyboard ensures you, the development team, and the client are all on the same page throughout the entire development process, and having a clear plan for project management means greater efficiency and accuracy; in addition, necessary changes are made and mistakes are corrected in the moment rather than upon completion, allowing both the instructional designer and development team to avoid rework. Beginning with the solid foundation of a storyboard ensures your eLearning course will be a cohesive, consistent, effective, and quality product.

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