Storyboards for eLearning

storyboarding
Many people who are new to eLearning want to know how to create a storyboard. Should they use a professional tool? Should they create a template from scratch? What should they put into the template? In response to these types of questions, I interviewed myself about this topic. I have no idea what I might say.

Coach: What is an eLearning storyboard?
Connie:
Generally, a storyboard for eLearning is a document that specifies the visual elements, text elements, audio elements, interactions and branching (where the system or user will go next) of every screen in an online course. Many people also add the learning objectives to the storyboard.

Coach: At what point in the ISD process would one start to storyboard?
Connie: Storyboarding is typically part of the Development Phase. Start after you’ve done Analysis and Design. In the rapid development approach, however, you may start to storyboard as you are designing.

Coach: Is storyboarding important?
Connie: Yes! If you are part of a development team, the storyboard specifies what the graphic designer will create, what the illustrator will draw, what the narrator will say and the interactions that the programmer will produce. The storyboard is usually reviewed by the subject matter expert and your client. It’s the central document of eLearning development.

Coach: Before we get into the specifics, is there just one way to create a storyboard?
Connie: I knew you were going to ask that. Yes, there is only one way to create a storyboard and if you do it any other way, you are putting yourself at risk with the law.

Coach: How do you go about creating a storyboard?
Connie: I prefer a visual approach to storyboarding, so I’ll describe this type of format. Some prefer storyboarding in all text, which may be quicker but may not be as informative. Off the top of my head, I can think of four main ways to go about creating a visual storyboard.

  1. Create a template in Word (in landscape mode) and let each page represent one screen.
  2. Create a template in PowerPoint and let each slide represent one screen.
  3. Create a template in a commercial storyboarding application. There are many of these.
  4. For the rapid development approach, begin writing the course directly in the authoring tool, such as Storyline, Captivate, Articulate Presenter, iSpring Presenter or any of the other hundred tools. In some tools, you can write the script and other notes in the Notes section below the slide. This integrates storyboarding with actual development.

Coach: What do you put into the storyboard template?
Connie:
Create an area for the storyboard title. Then create the following labeled boxes or regions in your template: 1) a box to represent the screen number in your numbering scheme, 2) a box to represent the screen itself, meaning the visual components of the course, 3) an area for the on-screen text (this can be combined with #2, 4) an area for the audio, 5) an area for the interactions and 6) an area to describe branching. Some people add an area for miscellaneous notes, learning objectives and also for reviewer comments. Here is a selection of storyboards you can download and modify to fit your needs.

Coach: Then how do you fill in the template?
Connie: Fill in the template as follows:

  • Title Area: Add the unit, module, lesson or topic name.
  • Screen Number Area: Enter a unique identifier for each screen. Something like “m1l2s3″ for module 1, lesson 2, screen3.
  • Visual Area: Describe in words, sketch or show the visual, such as the graphic, video clip, etc. You can include the text that will be on the screen or make another area for text.
  • Audio Area: Write out the script, the name of a music file and the sound effects that will play on each screen. If you want to be really cool, use the acronym SFX for sound effects.
  • Interaction Area: Describe the interactions that occur on each screen. Take advantage of the medium and provide lots of activities. Specifying these can be tricky and it often helps to write it out in the logic of programming. For example, “If button 1 is clicked, go to screen m1l24″ or “If choice 1 is dragged to correct target, display this response.”
  • Branching Area: Define all the system branching that might occur. Branching differs from interactions, as it refers to navigating the whole system. There are standard navigation events, such as Next and Back, as well as more complex branching, such as what happens as a result of a user interaction. For example, you will need to define what happens when a user fails a self-check, clicks on a hyperlinked term or opts to retake a test.

Coach: Why does a storyboard seem to shrink as you fill it in?
Connie:
An essential talent for storyboarding one page per screen is squeezing in everything you need. What we really need is a three dimensional storyboard space. Scientists are working on that as we speak.

Here is one storyboard template. The first page of this doc is the template and the second page shows a serious example. It’s saved in a (.doc) format. Or you can get a whole selection of different types of storyboards at my Storyboard Depot.

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Comments

  1. Steve Flowers says

    NOTE: THIS IS FROM STEVE FLOWERS BUT SOMEHOW MY PIC IS IN HERE.
    One of the classic mistakes I see people make is to ignore establishment of concept prior to breaking into screens.

    Take a little time up front to establish the concept for the activity or presentation of content. This will help you frame the sequence for yourself as well as the client / SME. Be brief, but start with a concept.

    One of the troubles that I have with a typical storyboard layout is that ISD types rarely have the interaction design skills to describe an experience vision.

    I counter the tendency to build boxes of bullets and images by having the ISD run through an exercise to map out their thoughts in a brief narrative series. This allows the ISD to articulate a well considered vision for what the experience they want to build to the interactive design team member(s).

    Don’t have an interactive design team or a specialist that knows visuals and media? This exercise still works.

    Once the ISD has a good concept for how the activity will run at a micro scale, I have them build up a series of maps or diagrams to show the relationships between the activities. One goal of this exercise is to clearly represent the structure of the experience. If something is difficult to map out, there’s a problem.

    Neither of these activities takes much time.

    I’m not a fan of the traditional storyboard > send to client for review cycle. I prefer scaffolding internally with mental models and evolved narrative descriptions and taking this scaffolding to a collaborative meet with the client. I’d much rather be able to walk through with the client even if we draw each activity on a large sheet of construction paper as we go.

    Pages and pages of storyboards drown the magic. Save that formal step to document what happens after your face to face with the SME or client (this activity also works pretty well with internal teams).

  2. Connie Malamed says

    Steve points out an excellent intermediary step to take prior to storyboarding. This approach uses experience design techniques to think through interactions and activities. I think maps and diagrams can replace the more complex parts of storyboards if you are trying to communicate concepts that are difficult to express in flatland (2D). Thanks, Steve!

  3. Mark says

    I used to use storyboards until a few years ago when I read Dr. Allen’s book and learned that his producers skip them completely (he goes into an explanation of why they are a bad idea in the book). After skipping them myself, I’ve learned through the years that there really is no value to them and they simply slow down the process, at best.

    Once the needs analysis is complete and the design concept is mapped out it is best to simply dive in and create a working prototype right away. Whenever we’ve hired new designers (some with lots of experience in elearning ID) most insist on spending days to weeks on these storyboards (they spend half the time devising/modifying templates…). Then at the end, after they spend all that time on a ‘storyboard’ and actually go to put the course together they realize that they would have been better off skipping the detailed storyboard altogether. It’s just not conducive to creativity/experimentation.

    I prefer to use mindmaps to get a non-linear set of approaches/ideas down and then dive in.

    A number of years ago I put together a nifty Word-based template that had all sorts of macros, menus, etc. It is one of my most popular blog posts too. I haven’t used it in years. What’s the point?

    mark
    http://www.elearninglive.com

  4. Connie Malamed says

    Great comment, Mark. Thanks! It’s amazing that even storyboards can be debated. I use them at times and just prototype other times. It depends on the project, the team, whether there will be a lot of SME comments back and forth, the organization’s requirements, such as if it’s a government project, etc.

    You’ve pointed out some good things to watch out for–if using storyboards … watch that they don’t inhibit creativity and innovation. Mind maps and prototyping are a good way around this.

  5. Tabatha says

    I have used the type of storyboard that you (Connie) mention in this posting, but don’t find it to be as useful when capturing technical traniing using Captivate. Here I would have to agree with Mark’s comments. However, what I do need is a script of sorts to outline what is to be captured, the steps neccessary, and the audio content. Does anyone have a template that could be used for this?

  6. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Tabatha. Good to hear from you! You don’t always need a storyboard, it’s true. Only use one when it will help the project rather than hinder it. I’ve taken two approaches to scripting the audio portion of software training. 1) Write the audio directly into the Slide Notes area in Captivate. (Just drag the bar at the bottom up and type.)

    2) I’ve also used a text-based storyboard where in the screen area, I simply added the title of the screen to be captured and the actions to take and then wrote the script next to the corresponding screen. I like your idea of making a storyboard template for this second approach. Anyone have one already done? I’m assuming you’ve looked through the Storyboard Depot in the Resources section, right? Just wondering if you could modify one of those.

  7. Colin says

    Mark,

    you say “Once the needs analysis is complete and the design concept is mapped out it is best to simply dive in and create a working prototype right away.”

    But could that be called a type of Storyboard?

  8. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Colin,
    I’m not sure what approach Mark uses, but in my experience, a prototype is a look and feel proof of concept, possibly with a few interactions. On the other hand and particularly in rapid development, I think you could expand your prototype into an working storyboard.
    Connie

  9. Karen M. says

    This is a great discussion. I was curious of others thoughts on the use of storyboards when it is for internal use vs. a more formal contract development. I started researching storyboards for an upcoming presentation I will be giving at a conference later this year in which I will talk about our use of them internally for development using Captivate/Articulate/Lectora and how they have aided in the review and approval cycle of the subject matter experts. The audience will most likely be trainers that are relatively new to developing elearnings. The depot was a great resource for me to show some examples and how they differ depending on use. I will probably also have them debate whether to use them at all!

  10. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Karen,
    I think storyboarding for internal development can be just as powerful for allowing SMEs to provide content and course flow or priorities. Of course, you often need to keep the SMEs looking toward the goal and thinking about what learners will need to do at the end. Many designers are now using a more rapid approach, which involves storyboarding directly into PowerPoint, which can be converted to a Flash-based course in any of the tools mentioned above (you’d have to import to Captivate).
    Connie

  11. Scott says

    @Mark,

    We had Allen Interactions provide a workshop on advance eLearning design and do want to point out that they do stress rapid “prototyping”. After the presentation, the instructor did admit that once the design was nailed down from the prototyping rounds, a storyboard was created for the internal development team in order to bring the lesson to completion.

    I find that having the detailed storyboard for development, even if the end result ended up being different in some ways, and a detailed revisions document, stating what changed in the different review phases, proves to be invaluable. This becomes apparent in large team environments and in looking at the whole life cycle of eLearning deliverables, pertaining to reusability, updates, increasing the ability of switching resources as needed, etc.

  12. Rajesh says

    Excellent material and very helpful, I will be happy provided with instructional text for e-learning storyboard

  13. Jenn says

    Hi there,
    You say that there is only one type of storyboard and if you don’t follow it you are in violation of the law. Can you explain this further? I have a B.S. and M.S. in Instructional Design and Technology and have never heard this. I’m hoping you were joking.
    Thanks!

  14. Connie Malamed says

    Sorry, Jenn. I was joking. I was hoping everyone would know. The point was that nothing is rigid about how you storyboard and you are free to find or create a format that works for you.
    Best,
    Connie

  15. Kathryn says

    Hi–What an informative post! Do you know of any courses or trainings that describe the writer-as-instructional-designer handing off content with assets and production notes to the developer? We’re moving towards that model and would like training/resources but aren’t finding much. Do you know anyone who uses that approach?

  16. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Kathryn,
    I think I may not understand your question because it seems as though you could use storyboards to do that. Can you explain in more detail what you are looking for?
    Connie

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