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When you’re starting the design and development of an eLearning course, one of the biggest challenges people face (especially new eLearning designers) is taking a bunch of raw content and transforming it into an interactive and engaging eLearning course. In fact, the first time I was tasked with creating an eLearning course, I remember sitting in front of my computer for hours, unsure where to begin. Was I supposed to start by designing my slides, or was I supposed to start with the learning content? The truth is, I had no idea what I was doing.

Eventually, I realized the design and development of an eLearning course is not all that different from the design and construction of a house. When building a house, you don’t just go to the hardware store to buy materials and start building. Instead, you start by drawing a set of blueprints so that you can plan how each room will be laid out. And this is especially important if the house you’re building is for someone else! You want to make sure the future homeowners understand and agree to the design of the house before you begin construction so that you don’t end up having to build the house later once they see it.

Just like a blueprint shows the layout of a house, room-by-room, an eLearning storyboard outlines the content of a course, slide-by-slide.

And as I explain in my book, The eLearning Designer’s Handbook, the same concept applies when designing and developing an eLearning course. Just like a blueprint shows the layout of a house, room-by-room, an eLearning storyboard outlines the content of a course, slide-by-slide. And starting with an eLearning storyboard will not only help you move from raw content to a completed eLearning course, but also give your stakeholders and subject matter experts a chance to review and edit the content before you begin development.

So, how can you get started drafting a storyboard? Well, in this post, I’ll share with you my five steps to help you write an eLearning storyboard.

Step One: Design a Training Solution

Write an eLearning storyboard by designing a training solution.

Before you jump straight into designing and developing your eLearning course, the first step to write an eLearning storyboard is to design a training solution. And this is true whether you’re designing an eLearning course or any type of training—you want to take some time to fully understand the cause of the performance issue you’re addressing and determine what type of training intervention is the best way to approach it.

The best way to do this is by conducting a needs analysis. This will help you work with your stakeholders and subject matter experts to determine the root cause of the performance and make an informed recommendation on how to address it, whether that be training or not.

If, after conducting a needs analysis, you’ve determined that training is the answer, then the next step is to design a training solution and document it by creating an instructional design document. A design document is especially helpful when you’re proposing a blended training solution, as it outlines all of the learning objectives you hope to achieve, along with how one or more training objects can be used to achieve them.

Finally, taking the time to create an action map can also help you design your training solution. Action mapping is the process of identifying a business goal and working backward to determine what actions learners need to take to achieve that goal, along with what types of training activities can be used to help learners practice those actions.

Step Two: Collect the Course Content

Write an eLearning storyboard by collecting the course content.

After you’ve designed a training solution and determined that eLearning can be used as part of that solution, the second step to write an eLearning storyboard is to collect the course content.

Collecting the content for your eLearning course can be one of the most challenging aspects of the whole process. Too often, new eLearning designers expect their subject matter experts to simply hand over a stack of well-organized and documented content, which can then be converted into an eLearning course. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

While you may receive some raw content from your subject matter experts, the truth is it’s your job to collect and create the content for your eLearning course. And the way you go about this will vary from project to project. Yes, you can start by interviewing your subject matter experts, but you don’t want to stop there. Spend some time reviewing any best practices that may exist for the skill that you’re teaching, observe and talk to those learners who are already performing the skill you need to teach, and do your own research with any available information that may exist online.

In addition, it can also be helpful to conduct a task analysis, which is the process of analyzing a specific process or procedure and breaking it down into its individual task and subtasks.

Step Three: Create a Course Outline

Write an eLearning storyboard by creating a course outline.

After you’ve collected the content for your eLearning course, the next step to write an eLearning course is to organize the content into an outline.

At this point in the process, things start to become overwhelming. You’ve either been given or collected a bunch of raw content (typically on a topic you know little or nothing about), and it’s your job to organize it into an engaging, interactive, and learner-ready eLearning course. In my experience, the best way to work through this process is by creating an eLearning course outline.

While there’s no single process for organizing your eLearning content into a course outline, I usually recommend using sticky notes and a whiteboard or an online tool, like Miro or something similar. This process lets you visualize how your course will flow from one topic to another. It’s also a great opportunity to identify and remove nice-to-know information from your eLearning course.

As you create your course outline, start thinking about how and where you’ll include interactivity within your eLearning course. Whether you use simple click-to-reveal interactions or performance-based interactions, like branching scenarios, make sure you’re including opportunities for your learners to put their skills into practice.

Step Four: Pick a Storyboard Format & Start Writing

Write an eLearning storyboard by picking a format and start writing.

After you’ve organized your course content into an eLearning course outline, the next step to write an eLearning storyboard is to pick a storyboard format and start writing!

Just like there’s no single method for creating an eLearning course outline, there’s no single format for writing an eLearning storyboard. However, most storyboards fall into one of two categories: a written eLearning storyboard or a visual eLearning storyboard.

A written eLearning storyboard, usually created in Microsoft Word or similar software, is good when you simply need to focus on the course content and/or if you’re creating a course with a lot of audio narration. Typically, I’ll create a series of tables to draft my course content, with each one representing a single slide within my eLearning course. The additional benefit of a written eLearning storyboard is that it’s easy to send off to your stakeholders and subject matter experts for them to review and edit.

On the other hand, a visual eLearning storyboard, which is usually created in Microsoft PowerPoint, is ideal when you want to visualize or mockup the layout of each slide and/or when you’re working on a text-based eLearning course. Usually, I recommend using a visual storyboard when you’re working with stakeholders and subject matter experts who are familiar with the eLearning development process and can understand that a mockup doesn’t represent the final look and feel of the course.

Regardless of which format you use, there are several elements I recommend including when you write an eLearning storyboard. Including slide numbers and titles, learning objectives, text and audio content, and a description of the on-screen graphics and interactivity can all help as your stakeholders and subject matter experts review your storyboard and as you begin development.

Step Five: Review & Edit Your Storyboard

Write an eLearning storyboard by reviewing and editing your storyboard.

After you’ve written the first draft of your storyboard, the fifth and final step to write an eLearning storyboard is to review and edit your storyboard with your stakeholders and subject matter experts.

Remember, as I said at the start of this post, one of the primary reasons you want to write an eLearning storyboard is to let your stakeholders and subject matter experts review and edit your course content before you begin development. And so, as you plan your eLearning project and create a development timeline, it’s vital that you build in time for several review cycles.

At this stage, the goal is to allow your stakeholders and subject matter experts to review the course content and flow and to check for accuracy. As you manage each of your review cycles, make sure to carefully identify who needs to review the storyboard and explain what needs to be reviewed. Once you’ve finalized your storyboard with your stakeholders and subject matter experts, you’ll be ready to start development.

The Bottom Line

Writing an eLearning storyboard is one of the most challenging tasks of the eLearning design and development process. However, all of the work you put into drafting a storyboard will make it that much easier as you begin building your course, which usually starts with developing a prototype.

So, those are my five steps for how to write an eLearning storyboard. What other tips do you have for writing eLearning storyboards? Share them by commenting below!

Tim Slade

Hi, I’m Tim Slade, and I’m a speaker, author, and founder of The eLearning Designer's Academy. Having spent the last decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content, I have been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for my creative and innovative design aesthetics. I’m also a regular speaker at international eLearning conferences, a LinkedIn Learning instructor, and author of The eLearning Designer’s Handbook.

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