Why storyboards for elearning are important (4 reasons)

What is a storyboard? Should you use storyboards when you create elearning? Steve Penfold believes storyboarding can increase the efficiency of your elearning design and development process. Read on to discover four reasons why you should consider integrating storyboards into your elearning creation process.

storyboards elearning

It’s said that when Mozart wrote down musical parts for the first time, he never made a mistake. The music was fully formed and flawless in his head before he started writing. Sadly, you and I probably don’t have this ability in music – or when developing elearning.

Most of us need a written plan of one type or another to allow us to grow our ideas iteratively. For elearning deliverables, this plan often takes the form of a storyboard.

The shape of the storyboard and how detailed it is will depend on the size of the project, who will be using it, what software you have, and the authoring tool you’ll be using to build the elearning.

But whatever the form of your storyboard, the storyboarding process is an important phase of elearning development. Here’s why…

1. Storyboarding helps you validate concepts early

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As an elearning author you have several masters to serve. On the one hand, you have the consumers who will be learning from your course. You want to include the right content, in the right amount, and in a way that will engage and inform your target audience.

And then, you have the people who commissioned the work, and who have their own agenda that you must consider. Maybe they want to include (or exclude) particular materials for political rather than andragogical reasons.

Sometimes you walk a tightrope, balancing the needs of these two groups. A high-level storyboard, describing the content elements and how they fit into the course, can be a quick way to get consensus from all stakeholder groups.

Your storyboard might be as simple as a flowchart (consider using Visio or PowerPoint), with each flowchart node representing an elearning screen. A simple comment on each node can indicate what would be covered on that screen.

Advantages of this include:

  • It takes only an hour or two to make.
  • An entire elearning deliverable can be represented on one or two A4 pages.
  • It’s easy to share and discuss.
  • It’ll highlight holes in the content or flow.
  • It’s easy to change if it exposes flaws in your thinking.

2. Storyboarding keeps you within budget

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An interested party in many elearning projects is the Project Manager. He or she will have a distinct view on what’s ‘in scope’ for the project.

A good storyboard will give an indication of how many screens are to be in the course (assuming it is a screen-based project), how many complex interactions there are, and what media elements will be required. These can be compared against logistic considerations like when the project has to be delivered and how much money has been allocated for video shoots etc.

Again, if the storyboard doesn’t meet with stakeholder (in this case project manager) expectations, it’s relatively easy to change to match the budgetary constraints – and a great deal easier than having to rebuild a fully working deliverable.

3. Storyboarding helps you identify errors

storyboarding errors

Errors can take several forms in an elearning deliverable. Examples are:

  • Typos and grammatical errors
  • Missing content
  • Questionable or erroneous content
  • Ambiguous content
  • Logic errors, e.g. scenario branches that go to the wrong place.

Some errors will be simple to fix, but others could require a massive rework. Imagine if a department name was wrong in a video and the talent and video crew had to be recalled for a reshoot.

Usually, no one individual will recognize all types of error: Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) should recognize content related issues, a proof reader will see grammatical errors, but It might take an instructional designer to realize that a proposed branching link won’t work.

By having various stakeholders review a detailed storyboard prior to the first build, that build will be as error-free as possible. This is crucial for efficient development, because rework disrupts the production phase, wastes time and duplicates effort.

4. Storyboarding can set your mind free

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Perhaps this sounds a bit new-age, but it’s true.

If you launch into a prototype build in an elearning authoring package without a firm plan of what you want to build, your ideas will be shaped by what that particular tool prompts you to do.

If, on the other hand, you sit down with a blank storyboard template as your canvas, your options are far more open. You’ll be designing with the end goal in mind, rather than around what the authoring tool designers thought would be a good idea.

You might devise a plan that’s impossible to implement with your chosen tool, but that’s unlikely. Most modern authoring tools, like Elucidat, are very flexible. You might need to be creative with the authoring tool to make it do what’s in your storyboard, but that’s far better than the other way around – and your course will be interesting and fresh because you’ve pushed the boundaries a bit.

In conclusion

Like any other plan, what constitutes a good storyboard will depend on what it needs to do and who needs to work with it. And remember that its form can change as ideas mature and more detail is needed.

But whatever form it takes, the time spent creating your storyboard will help to ensure that all your stakeholders will be satisfied, the production phase will be as efficient as possible, and your elearning program will reflect your creativity.

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Steve Penfold

Steve Penfold

Steve Penfold is the Chief Executive of Elucidat. He helps large companies and training providers speed up and simplify their elearning authoring.
Steve Penfold
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