Originally developed at Walt Disney Studios in the 1930s, a storyboard is a method of organising illustrations or images in sequence. Its aim is to help us visualise a film, animation, motion graphic or other interactive media. Storyboards are now used in web development, software development and instructional design to present and describe all visual, text, audio and interactive elements. For instructional designers and other elearning professionals, an elearning storyboard is a map that guides us through the courses we create.
Why use a storyboard?
Have you ever tried to build a piece of well-known Swedish flat-pack furniture without looking at the instructions? Has it ever gone wrong near the end and you’ve had to take it all apart and start from scratch? That’s why we storyboard!
A clear and easy-to-understand storyboard is the central document of elearning development. It makes the design and development process much more efficient: elearning professionals can illustrate their ideas; SMEs can rearrange or refine content; and clients gain a better understanding of what the finished course will look like.
Putting together an elearning storyboard can sometimes feel time-consuming, but getting the essentials right at this stage makes the rest of the building process a lot easier, helps you tackle possible problems before they arise, and saves time and money in the long run.
Parts of an elearning storyboard
As we’ll discover in the next section, there are a range of different applications you can create your storyboard in. Whichever application you choose, though, there are certain elements that your storyboard must contain:
Your project title and screen information, such as the number of the slide
On-screen text and graphics – basically everything that a user will see when taking the course
Audio information, such as a voiceover script or sound effects
Navigational instructions which explain how each slide advances and where the user goes next
Space for reviewers to write their comments
Word or PowerPoint? Or something else?
The vast majority of elearning storyboards are created in Microsoft Word (a text-based storyboard) or PowerPoint (a visual storyboard). There are advantages to both.
A Word storyboard is created in a landscape page layout consisting of columns and rows. They are quick to build and simple to understand, and therefore worth considering if your reviewers are pressed for time.
Word storyboards are best for linear courses that contain mainly text and simple interactions. They are also useful when there is another person, such as a graphic designer, dealing with how the course looks, or if the look of the course is already established.
A PowerPoint storyboard gives reviewers a clear picture of what you’re planning to show on screen. They are useful when you are creating courses that rely more heavily on interactivity, or if the layout of your course is slightly out of the ordinary.
PowerPoint storyboards also allow you to easily move objects around the screen and rearrange the order of the slides – a really useful tool if your client or SME wants to make simple changes to the layout or flow of the course.
The something else…
It’s becoming increasingly popular for elearning professionals to build a rapid prototype storyboard into their authoring tool of choice, such as Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate or Lectora. These are rough and ready versions of slides that include narration and animations.
If you’re starting a big project for a new client and you need your reviewers to experience early on exactly how the course will look and feel, creating a rapid prototype could be the answer. It’s also useful for courses that contain complex interactions, such as branching scenarios, which Word or PowerPoint can’t easily demonstrate.
What works for one client may not work for another, so it’s always a great idea to ask clients what they want and which type of storyboard they feel most comfortable reviewing.
Mastering the elearning storyboard
We’ve explored what a storyboard is, why you should use them, and which applications to create them in. Now it’s time to master the art of the elearning storyboard.
Understand the course goal and learning objectives
Ask yourself and your client:
Why are we creating this course?
Why do learners need to acquire this information?
What do learners need to know by the end of the course?
What needs to be covered?
What can be left out?
Choose a consistent theme and style
It’s more than likely the organisation you are creating the elearning for uses a certain look and feel for training materials or on their website. Your elearning storyboard is the place to indicate how that will be reflected in the elearning course.
Gather your content
Work with your client and SMEs and do your own homework too. Cover each of the learning objectives, focus on the key points and separate ‘need to know’ from ‘nice to know’. Use the active voice, short sentences and simple language to convey the information. Break the content into chunks or modules and think about how best to order them. The more natural the flow the more effective your course will be.
Know your target audience
How much do they know already? Is there a broad range of knowledge or are most of your learners starting the course at the same knowledge level? If there are differences, you may want to think about personalised elearning. You could begin by checking your learners’ pre-existing knowledge at the start of the course.
Create your assessment criteria
These could be quizzes, knowledge checks, scenarios and more. Carefully consider where you will place them throughout the course and what types of assessment are best suited to your material and audience. Make sure any assessments you include link directly to the course objectives. Make it clear how they will be graded.
Select your multimedia elements
These could be images, videos, interactions or quizzes. However, you need to make sure any elements you choose will help achieve the learning objectives. Note their position using a placeholder such as a still image or text description.
Be as detailed as possible with interactions and navigation
Mention every interaction that needs to be included in the final design, such as where a learner is redirected when they click a button or what happens when they submit an answer. You also need to make it clear where your navigation buttons will be situated.
Add your script
Keep any text shown on screen clear and to the point, especially if your course will be explained further in a voiceover. Include the script for any narration and don’t forget about branches or layers that lead off from a slide.
At GLAD we know that taking the time to storyboard leads to brilliant elearning. Get in touch with us to learn more – send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow us on Twitter.