When you’re in the early stages of designing and developing an eLearning course, it’s likely your subject matter experts will throw a boatload of information at you. This might include best practice documents, long email chains, links to various online resources, and poorly designed PowerPoint decks. And if you’re like me, you can quickly feel like you’re drowning in a sea of information, which usually leaves you overwhelmed and paralyzed!
As eLearning designers (and instructional designers), it’s our job to take all of that raw content and organize it into a cohesive, engaging, and effective course. While there are many different strategies and processes for how you transform raw content into a completed eLearning course, in addition to creating a course outline, I’ve always been a huge proponent of writing an eLearning storyboard.
An eLearning storyboard is simply a document that outlines the learning content, slide-by-slide or screen-by-screen.
As I explain in my book, The eLearning Designer’s Handbook, an eLearning storyboard is simply a document that outlines the learning content, slide-by-slide or screen-by-screen. The purpose of a storyboard is to provide your stakeholders and subject matter experts a preview of how the course will flow and how the content will be presented. The storyboard also gives reviewers the opportunity to easily make edits and change the course content before you begin development.
While this is a pretty straightforward explanation, it’s important to remember that not all eLearning storyboards are the same, but they usually fall into one of two types: a written eLearning storyboard or a visual eLearning storyboard.
In this post, I’ll give you an overview of these two main types of eLearning storyboards, and share tips for when you should use each in your eLearning development process.
Written eLearning Storyboard
Out of all of the different types of eLearning storyboards that you can create, perhaps the most common is a written eLearning storyboard. A written eLearning storyboard is the type that most closely aligns with my description above: a document that outlines the learning content, slide-by-slide or screen-by-screen.
Usually, when I am drafting a written eLearning storyboard, I like to use Microsoft Word or similar software (Google Docs, etc.), and I like to include some essential elements. Some of these elements are designed to help provide a sense of organization and structure to the storyboard and other elements are intended to provide a holistic view of the course content and structure. At the very minimum, I like my written storyboards to indicate what audio narration will be included on the slide (if any), what will be presented on-screen in terms of the text and graphics, and any relevant technical notes needed for development.
I prefer to use a written eLearning storyboard with almost every project I work on, especially when there’s a lot of subject matter experts involvement. In my experience, I find that written storyboards help focus my reviewers on the course content, rather than how the course will look and feel.
Additionally, I find written eLearning storyboards easier to edit. For example, a small edit to how a fully-developed branching scenario works might result in hours’ worth of work for you to implement it into the design. However, when that branching scenario is just on paper, in a storyboard, making a change is just a matter of moving or rewriting some text. It’s because of this that I recommend finalizing as much of the content in the storyboard stage before you move into full development.
Visual eLearning Storyboard
Unlike a written eLearning storyboard, a visual eLearning storyboard is focused not only on the course content, but also the course design. A visual eLearning storyboard is a hybrid between a written storyboard and a visual prototype.
While visual storyboards are a popular method for rapid eLearning development and iteration, they take a bit more time to get started. This is because you’re working on the course content and visuals simultaneously. Unlike a written storyboard, a visual eLearning storyboard is usually created in PowerPoint or even the actual eLearning authoring tool (i.e., Articulate Storyline) being used to develop the course.
I recommend using a visual eLearning storyboard when you’re working with reviewers who are familiar with the eLearning development process. In my experience, when using a visual storyboard, I’ve found the review process to be difficult, especially when working with stakeholders and subject matter experts who aren’t familiar with the development process. For example, when you tell your reviewers to focus on the content, they inevitably get sidetracked questioning your use of colors or placeholder images.
I’ve found that a visual eLearning storyboard or prototype works best after you’ve finalized your learning content in a written storyboard.
The Bottom Line
While there are many different types of eLearning storyboards for you to use, which one you choose to go with depends on what you need to get out of it. Use a written eLearning storyboard when you need to focus on the learning content and use a visual eLearning storyboard you’re ready to visualize your learning content.
If you’re new to storyboard, I recommend checking out The eLearning Storyboard Notebook, which can help you to start drafting a storyboard for your next eLearning course.
What other types of eLearning storyboards have you used? Share your tips by commenting below!
I’ve mostly used written wireframe storyboards for communicating with SMEs. Then, I later convert it to a visual wireframe before the full build to provide additional perspective to stakeholders. I have found this very helpful when developing eLearning with branching.
That’s great, Philip! For me, it depends on the client / stakeholder I am working with. Some respond well to visual storyboards and others just don’t “get it.” Thanks for commenting! 🙂
I have not used storyboards for eLearning. However, I have produced wireframes for three website development projects and can resonate with your sentiment: “when you tell your reviewers to focus on the content, they inevitably get sidetracked questioning your use of colors or placeholder images.” *Sigh. Thank you for sharing tips and resources for the eLearning space.
Thanks for sharing, Tiffany!
Thank you for making this video and providing examples. I am just learning how to be an ID and right now I am using a visual storyboard (I’m pretty sure I am at least) because it helps me figure out how to translate content onto the screen (I’m a visual learner).
Is there a place where learners can get their storyboard critiqued?
Thank you for making this really accessible video about storyboarding. It was very helpful!