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Nuts and Bolts: Storyboarding Basics

by Jane Bozarth

July 3, 2012

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by Jane Bozarth

July 3, 2012

“An effective eLearning program grows out of careful identification of learners, articulation of performance objectives (learning objectives are for the designer; performance objectives are for the learner and organization), and an approach that supports the instructional goals. The time spent in specifying outcomes and identifying ways of supporting learner success and ultimate workplace performance will pay off in ease of development and reduction of rework and piloting time.”

Careful planning is a key to making dynamic and effective interactive courses. Storyboarding and creating mockups of your program will help you organize your thoughts and ensure that your ideas flow logically, without gaps or overkill. But storyboarding has many other benefits as well.

It will help manage costs and expectations, and it will ensure that client specifications are met. It’s also a quick, inexpensive way to test drive and experiment with your ideas. Furthermore, one of the biggest flaws in eLearning is click-along linear navigation. Storyboarding can help overcome that by providing a good way to lay out and visualize branching decision making and simulations, showing consequences of actions. 

How?

While you can storyboard in a number of ways, even by sketching on a sheet of paper, I tend to prefer PowerPoint as a storyboarding tool. Using the slide sorter view gives me a “bird’s eye view” so I can see the whole program at once, not just a screen at a time. This helps me notice that six consecutive screens are text heavy, or there are no opportunities for interaction for a long while. 

Using the “Notes” format (click “View,” then “Notes Page”) gives me room below each slide for capturing ideas about navigation, multimedia, and narration, and space for providing guidelines for developers or graphic artists. Additionally, I frequently print the screens out, tape them to a wall, and live with them for a few days. Often something new will pop out at me – sometimes a problem, but more often, some better idea.

Other ways?

PowerPoint is my preferred tool, but it’s not the only one out there. I know some designers who like to use Word in landscape mode, with each page representing a screen. Others use commercial storyboarding tools. Depending on the authoring tool, you might be able to begin storyboarding inside that. I have a colleague whose work is more team-based than most of mine, and she prefers to distribute large Post-it Notes and have the team work that way. Colors can help to differentiate contributions from different people, indicate different modules, or denote different elements. A friend loves to work with markers on his office wall (he covered the wall with whiteboard paint, available from http://www.ideapaint.com/), while another uses a freestanding sheet of thick glass mounted in a frame so team members can work on both sides at once. Other colleagues swear by iPad apps like Autodesk SketchBook Pro. Still others prefer to work in text-only; this means using a table format, but I have trouble visualizing a program without some, well, visuals, even just simple sketches and stick figures.

Think of storyboarding as an investment

An effective eLearning program grows out of careful identification of learners, articulation of performance objectives (learning objectives are for the designer; performance objectives are for the learner and organization), and an approach that supports the instructional goals. While it’s tempting, especially when working with a tool like PowerPoint, to just open a new slide show and start adding content, the time spent in specifying outcomes and identifying ways of supporting learner success and ultimate workplace performance will pay off in ease of development and reduction of rework and piloting time. 

If you are working to transform an existing classroom program to an online format, this phase of development is a good  time to examine what’s working – or not – with the classroom sessions, and ensure that the new program provides opportunities for learning, rather than just parroting the content of the classroom program. Being mindful of the principles of good instruction, and especially the new considerations of multimedia that eLearning demands, will help to ensure the success of your program.

Want more?

In most cases, choices about how to go about storyboarding are a combination of designer preferences and stakeholder needs. Examples of several storyboard types can be found at http://flirtingwelearning.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/15-elearning-storyboard-templates/

(Some material adapted from Bozarth, J. (2008). Better than Bullet Points: Creating Engaging eLearning with PowerPoint. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.)

 


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A great web based tool to create your own storyboards - Storyboard That
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