Work smarter, not harder, with storyboarding

Let’s say you’ve been working on an e-Learning for a client. You’ve spent tens of hours developing, and you’re proud of your work. But when you present to your clients, you can tell immediately that they do not love your e-Learning as much as you do. They don’t like the look, the layout or any of the examples you’ve used, and the scenarios aren’t all that relevant. You’re back to square one for developing the e-Learning — and at risk of losing a client. What went wrong?

You missed an important piece to get stakeholder approval: A storyboard.

Contents

  • What’s a storyboard?
  • Visual or text storyboard?
  • Written storyboard sample
  • Visual templates
  • Sources + Additional reading

What’s a storyboard?

A storyboard is basically a plan for your e-Learning. It’s an opportunity to pull together all of the learning objectives and plan how the instruction will take place. Tim Slade compares a storyboard with a blueprint for a house, explaining that you don’t want to build a house only to find out that the homeowner wanted the kitchen in a different place.

There’s no “correct” way to storyboard, but they do typically include several things: 

  • Learning objectives
  • Narration script (if your e-Learning has narration)
  • Slide-to-slide flowchart, especially if you’re using a branching scenario
  • Interactivity explanations
  • Visual descriptions
  • Slide numbers and programming notes

How you format this information depends on your project, your stakeholders, and your preferences. 

Visual or text storyboard?

There are different kinds of storyboards, designed to be used for different types of projects. Each format serves a different purpose. Your storyboard can be in Word, PowerPoint, or something else entirely.

More visual storyboards usually provide more space to show a sketch or display an image or graphic. This provides an idea of what the visuals of the final product will look like. This is a format typically used for video production or video-based learning. This is the format I’ve used most.

Visual storyboard template example

Another format is text-based. Instead of showing images, the storyboard uses words to explain the design, layout, and flow of the e-Learning. If you’re like me, and are unfamiliar with this type of storyboard, you might be thinking isn’t it better to show not tell? Or maybe you’re thinking, “I can’t even get a stakeholder to read a five-sentence email. How will I get them to read a 500+ word storyboard?”

A written storyboard example

Hear me out–or, rather, Hear Tim Slade out, because his explanation of the benefits of written storyboards resonated with me the most. His argument presented in the linked video is two-fold:

First, SMEs are subject matter experts – not necessarily eLearning design experts, so we want them to focus on content accuracy and not how we’re designing the course.

Second, SMEs and other stakeholders can get distracted easily. If there are pictures to look at, people will look at them. Instead of the reviewer focusing on the content, they want to know if you can change the type of shoe the vector-based character is wearing. (“I don’t like that style of shoe. Can we change it?”)  Or they want to know if the office plant can be removed from the background because they don’t like how it looks. (“You can do that kind of thing easily in Photoshop, right?”)  I’ve fallen victim to this before. We get through the review and they’ve spent more time critiquing the images than reviewing the content.

Let’s look at an example to see one way we can approach a written storyboard.

Written storyboard sample

I found this sample by searching for “elearning storyboard template.” This storyboard is one of many examples provided in a past Articulate e-Learning challenge. I’m using Kevin Thorn’s submission in this post.

You can see that he starts off with listing the learning objectives and providing some instructions about how to read the template. Then, for each slide, he provides a written description of the visual layout, the narration script, animations, and advancement notes.  Look at the attached example to see how he filled this in.

This version of a storyboard would be better for keeping stakeholders and SMEs focused on your content – NOT the graphics. 

Prototyping

If you still want or need to show stakeholders what the e-Learning will look like, you might take another recommendation from Tim Slade. In that video he describes his process for creating 5- 6 slides to show stakeholders and get buy-in  on the look, feel and navigation of the e-Learning. He creates slides displaying the following things:

  • Branding
  • Title slide
  • Content slides
  • Interactivity slides
  • Quiz slides
  • Navigation

Visual Templates

What if you want to use a visual template?

One of the benefits of using a storyboard is to help with the development stage, that is, to ensure you have all the moving parts worked out before you ever open your authoring tool. When I’ve had projects that relied heavily on graphics and animations, taking the time to layout my slides and see how all the graphic pieces look together has saved me an unmeasurable amount of time. It’s much easier to move and adjust things in PowerPoint than an editing software or authoring tool.

I have typically used a visual template because my work has been more with creating interactive, graphic-based videos than developing in an authoring tool like Storyline. I obtained the original version of this template several years ago from the course “Instructional Design Essentials: Storyboarding” by Daniel Brigham, available on LinkedIn Learning. The version I share is a not-much-changed adaptation of his handout.

I would note that this template was almost entirely for my benefit. For these projects, my stakeholder was far more concerned with the narration scripts than the visuals. I was very fortunate in that once I had approved narration scripts, I was largely turned loose to do as I saw fit.

With my narration scripts complete, I’d use this template to:

  • Show a mock-up of each slide design
  • Detail the portion of narration for that image
  • Use the Graphic Notes section to list graphic elements and detail animations
  • List advancement options, especially for any scenarios
  • Provide review notes – from me, not stakeholders. I use this piece to explain some of the rationale behind why I’m displaying a particular image or using a particular instructional method

I generally only shared this with stakeholders and SMEs when I wanted feedback on a branching scenario or simulated conversation that was not included in the narration script. I shared the PowerPoint file with my stakeholders and SMEs. If we weren’t able to meet to review, they would use either the slide notes feature of PowerPoint to provide feedback, or type up a list and email it to me.  

Sources + Additional reading

There are so many methods and tools for storyboarding out there! I encourage you to search around for different methods, try out a few and find what works for you and your stakeholders. Here are some other resources I found to help get you started:

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