Let’s assume you’ve done a thorough needs analysis and you’ve realized you really need an eLearning course. You’ve also found an eLearning agency to develop a highly interactive course from your raw materials. But what you might not know is that development of eLearning courses happens in two major phases: the storyboarding phase and the design phase. In any case, the storyboard is one of the first and main documents necessary for the creation of eLearning courses.
What is in the background of the storyboard?
Although an eLearning course might be any educational content delivered via the internet, such as a video or webinar, in our world, an eLearning course is educational content designed in an authoring tool, exported as a SCORM package, and delivered through a Learning Management System – LMS.
If you’re thinking about such eLearning, you must have heard about storyboards. But did you know that a Learning Architect is actually the person in charge of creating them? Learning Architecture is the first part of course development. Once the raw material is received, Learning Architects work their magic and create a course outline, which helps with sequencing the course itself.
So, in such an outline we can see all the screens that will be shown in a course and can easily visualize the flow of an eLearning course prior to its being written and designed. While creating an outline, it’s possible to determine course levels or modules and which lessons belong to which module, including subtitles.
An outline can show you the course scenario too. It can be a branching scenario or a linear scenario, of course, depending on the raw materials. If it’s a branching scenario, the users of the course can choose their own learning paths, thus deepening their immersion. On the other hand, if it’s a linear scenario, the course progresses in a linear way, meaning the topics are shown one after the other.
Why are storyboards useful in eLearning?
The outline is just a small chunk of the Learning Architecture, or the first phase of course creation. So, to keep everything under control, the outline must first be approved. Only then does the Learning Architect start writing the course. The need for approval is not just the case with the outline, though, which is shown in our 3C Approach. Every part of a course must be approved so you can always be sure all your feedback was implemented.
A good storyboard contains:
- Well written course content for the purpose of eLearning.
- Instructions and directions for Instructional Designers.
- The vision of the course.
Once the outline is approved, it’s finally time for the storyboard, which is basically a blueprint for the course. It can be used to implement all the content details, but it’s also useful for getting approval from the stakeholders prior to starting with the authoring tools. It also contains all the directions and instructions for Instructional Designers and other team members that work on the development of the eLearning course. An important part of the storyboard is also narration, as it contains the script that should be read for each specific screen.
There are several reasons why storyboards are useful in eLearning. First of all, they are the means of plotting a course before executing it. We must all agree that eLearning courses are digital products. So, just as a mobile application, as a digital product, requires a wireframe, an eLearning course requires a storyboard.
Storyboards also lower the risk of extra costs, as changes are more easily made during the storyboarding phase. Changes to the storyboard are simple, as you should only change the content: both the narration and what’s supposed to be seen on the screen.
They also allow you, as stakeholders, to be involved in the process of creating an eLearning course. If you have any ideas or doubts about anything you see in the storyboard, now is the time to voice them so changes can be made.
But is it really an important document, as I can't visualize a course from a storyboard?
If we could travel back in time, we could watch Walt Disney write storyboards to be used for drawing scenes, like for the Steamboat Willie cartoons. A storyboard really is an important document, or rather – it’s the most important document for developing eLearning courses.
The fact that course visualization is difficult just from a storyboard can indeed be an issue. But think about it from a different perspective! Can you imagine watching one of Walt Disney’s cartoons and requesting changes to the finished product? And it’s not only you, but others have also watched it, and suddenly, a whole bunch of suggestions must be implemented. Well, that’s the point where we’re no longer dealing with initial costs but rather with additional costs of implementing changes during the production phase.
And speaking of costs, it’s worth mentioning rapid eLearning courses, which is a course development type where the process is faster and may also be cheaper, as the final course is being developed through several modules at the same time. For example, if a course has several modules, while the first storyboard written is in the approval stage, the second module is already being drafted. This process also translates to the design phase. Once the first module has been designed and sent away for approval, design on the second module begins right away.
The importance of feedback and what you should focus on
Just like the outline and other parts of eLearning course development, storyboards also benefit from feedback in two ways. Feedback definitely reduces costs, while you also get the chance to finalize your content before it’s translated into the eLearning course.
Although you might see some visual recommendations for Instructional Designers in a storyboard, keep in mind that the storyboarding phase is mainly about the content. This means that once you see the final course, you will again have the opportunity to provide feedback twice on anything related to the design – visuals, animations, colors etc.
During the storyboarding phase you should focus on:
- Narration – Check if all the information is correct, well explained, concise and delivered as appropriate for your target audience.
- Interactions – Drag-and-drop exercises, bullets that reveal new content etc.
- Bank of questions.
- Accuracy of all the information.
All this needs to be finalized prior to the design phase. Think about how you feel when reading the narration and seeing the complete course. You don’t really need to visualize anything, as you will have the chance to see demo slides soon, and you will get a good sense of the complete eLearning course, including design.
Once the Instructional Design team gets the storyboard, their main concern is to assemble it into a concise and attractive course to appeal to learners and make them feel accomplished and involved while learning.
eLearning courses usually have more than one stakeholder. Very often Project Managers are included along with Learning and Development staff, Subject Matter Experts etc. As you can see, the number of people involved gets to five very quickly. All of them are equally important and all of them see the storyboard from their own perspective. So, it’s not hard to conclude that each stakeholder will have their own comments.
While giving feedback, not just on the storyboard, but during any other phase of the eLearning development, it’s important to collect all comments, talk about them, see which ones are relevant and only then send them to your eLearning agency.
That is the only way feedback will be effective. Naturally, if you give feedback in any other way, it will also be implemented, but it increases the potential of too much repetitive feedback instead of just the two instances. Again, the implementation of such feedback is not an issue, but it increases the risk of additional costs.
Effective feedback is key during the storyboarding phase
In conclusion, the storyboard is the most important document for the development of eLearning courses. It contains all the content, narration, interactions, and instructions for Instructional Designers, so it must be finalized prior to the design phase. The finalization and approval of the storyboard reduces the risk of potential new costs, which can increase even more with changes made in later phases.
A key element of storyboard finalization is efficient feedback. It’s essential to collect feedback from all stakeholders, assemble it and send it to your eLearning agency as concise commentary on the storyboard content, as this is the only way to stay within the projected scope of your eLearning project.
- Elkins, D. and Pinder, D. (2015) E-Learning Fundamentals. [edition missing]. Association for Talent Development. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/2325967/elearning-fundamentals-pdf
- Grbavac, K. (2021) Benefits of self-paced asynchronous eLearning courses for organizations, Master thesis, MIA Digital University, Barcelona