How to Create a Storyboard for eLearning (Instructional Design)

Updated on 
August 7, 2022
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Storyboards are the blueprints for instructional design and eLearning projects. They include the text, visuals, and programming notes for your eLearning experience.

An effective storyboard allows you to refine your design, communicate your plan to your clients, and give clear instructions to the developers and programmers who will create the full experience.

In this article, you’ll learn the step-by-step process for creating clear, easy-to-use storyboards.

Let’s get started.

Step One: Consider Your Audience and Approach

Every good storyboard is built on the analysis that you may or may not have conducted. Skipping analysis often leads to wasted time and resources, but many teams jump right into the content regardless.

Since the approach to analysis and objective-setting varies, we’ll explore the two most common approaches to identifying the learning goals here: action mapping and traditional course-building.

Action Mapping

If you are using Cathy Moore’s action mapping process, then you would work with subject matter experts (SMEs) to create an action map.

The action map outlines the actions that the audience needs to perform to achieve a specific business objective.

You design your storyboard and eLearning experience to ensure that the audience is practicing those actions.  

If you do not know which instructional design process to use and you’d like to impact a measurable business goal, then the action mapping approach is probably best.

Learning Objectives

If you or your team use a more traditional approach, then you would write learning objectives by working with existing content or SMEs.

These learning objectives list everything that your audience will be able to do by the end of the learning experience.

Once you’ve selected your learning objectives, you would design the storyboard so that the content, activities, and assessment questions are in alignment with them.

Analysis Data

Finally, if you had the opportunity to conduct an analysis of your audiences’ needs, challenges, and goals, then you would write your storyboard with this information in mind.

If you start storyboarding without identifying the needs of your audience (and the contexts in which they will be learning and working), then it will be much more difficult to develop an effective solution.

Step Two: Determine the Storyboard’s Purpose

The second step is to determine who you are writing the storyboard for.

A storyboard that you are going to develop for yourself will look very different from a storyboard that you would show to a client or hand off to a different developer.

It is important to create a storyboard with the needs of your stakeholders and team in mind.

Storyboarding to Guide Your Own Development

Even if you don’t need approval from a stakeholder or you’re working on a portfolio project, you can create a storyboard to guide your own development.

This can help you ensure that all of your activities, content, and assessments are aligned with the learning objective or objectives.

Creating a storyboard can also help you avoid time-consuming rework down the line. It’s much easier to make changes to a text-based document than it is to a fully-developed eLearning project.

Storyboarding for Clients

When working with clients or internal stakeholders, storyboards are the primary way that you will seek feedback and approval.

For this purpose, your storyboard needs to clearly communicate how the final product will look and function.

The level of detail can vary based on your circumstances. If you are presenting your storyboard to the clients in a meeting, it can be less detailed.

You can walk them through the project and answer any questions they might have.

This changes, however, if you are sending it to your clients to review on their own. If you aren’t there to address your clients’ concerns, you need to make sure that they can easily understand the project without your input.

In this case, it is a good idea to include programming notes, visual descriptions, and possibly a mock-up of the slides so your stakeholders know exactly what they are signing off on.  

Storyboarding for Developers

When you are storyboarding for a developer (or developers) you need to keep in mind that they might not know anything about instructional design.

Your storyboard needs to make the developer’s job as easy as possible. In the next section, you will learn how to present the eLearning content so that the developer(s) can easily understand what the final project will look like.

Storyboarding Purpose Conclusion

Many times, your storyboard will serve multiple purposes. You will share it with the stakeholders for approval, use it to guide your own development of a prototype, and then even hand it off to another developer to finish the job.

The important thing is that you keep each audience in mind and write your storyboard accordingly.

Step Three: Identify Your eLearning Storyboard’s Elements

Every storyboard is a compilation of different building blocks or units, as you can see in the sample storyboard below. These units can include the images, audio files, or programming notes for your eLearning experience.

Example storyboard with different units for text, animation, etc.

Once you know which units you’ll need, you can quickly assemble them into a storyboard template that matches the needs of your project.

Keep it Organized

Your storyboard content needs to be easy for your stakeholders and team to understand. Here are a few quick tips to make your storyboard cleaner:

Showing this kind of courtesy to your stakeholders will streamline development and help you get approval more easily.    

On-screen-text (OST)

OST is the text that your audience will see on each slide. As a general rule of thumb: when presenting text, try to mirror the format you want in the final project.

If you look at the examples below, the first image shows a slide where all of the text will appear at one time. In the second image, the text will appear in stages.

Examples of different (OST) units in a storyboard

Voiceover (VO)

If your project has voiceover, then you will want to include the transcript and name of the audio file for each slide.

Images

Image information could include the actual image, a URL, or a description of the type of imagery you will include. An image description could be as simple as ‘Two people having a meeting over coffee.’

Programming Notes

Programming notes include all the information about how the slide will function. This could be as simple as: “Jump to slide 3 when the user selects the Choice A button.”

The programming notes could also describe more complicated actions, such as: “After the third incorrect attempt, jump to Failure Screen 2.”

You don’t need to get overly technical here. As long as the programmer can understand how the slide is supposed to function, then they can handle the details.

Animation

Animation notes can be their own unit, or they can be included in the programming notes. They should be as brief as possible and include what elements should be animated and when each animation should start.

Step Four: Tailor your Instructional Design Storyboard to the Project

Now that you have a good idea of how to structure the different building blocks of storyboards, it’s time to combine those units for your particular project.

Elements of a Traditional eLearning Course

A Storyline project can include all of the elements above. As you can see from the example below, each unit has its own clearly labeled section. The image area could also include a mock-up of the slide.

You can lay out the different units in whatever way works best for you, but make sure you keep it consistent for ease of use.

An example storyboard for a storyline course.

Animation Storyboards

When projects are animation-heavy and do not include much interaction, you don’t need to include programming notes.

That being said, you will want to include cues that tell the developer when each element should appear. The goal is to keep the elements in sync with the narration.

An animation storyboard example

As you can see, there is an interaction between the voiceover, the OST, and the images. As the voiceover plays, the different elements should appear in stages on the screen. You can clearly picture what the learner will experience.

You can communicate these appearances by including the asset names (or numbers) in brackets throughout the narration. See the example above.

Scenario-based Projects

Scenario projects are much more lightweight. They are generally a series of multiple-choice questions with a story that weaves them together.  

Example storyboard for an action mapping project

When working on a project like this, it is a good idea to let the client know up-front that each of the prompts will have a continue button that leads into the next prompt or question slide.

Include examples so that the client knows what the final project will look like.

When you work with the client or stakeholder like this up-front, the storyboard does not need to be as detailed (especially if you’re going to do the development yourself).

As long as it’s enough to finalize the script and questions, you can get it approved and move on to the next stage of development.

When handing off a project like this to a developer, you can include additional programming notes in brackets and even include a prototype to show how it’s supposed to come together.  

Educational or Explainer Videos

Sometimes, the project will be video-heavy (or it will be a single video). In these cases, you can include even less detail.

Instead of programming notes, you can describe which visuals will appear in sync with the narration. This will help the stakeholders imagine the final product before investing in further development.

Example storyboard for a video project

As you can see, the narration column shows what the audience will hear and the visual column describes what they will see.

The only unique feature you should include in this type of storyboard is the voiceover file number you see in the leftmost column.

This creates structure if you hand the storyboard off to a voiceover artist. They can record the files and number them exactly like the storyboard.

Step Five: Building Instructional Design Storyboard Templates

The cool thing about storyboards is that once you create a template that works for your project, you can re-use it for years to come.

Reusing Storyboards

As you work on a variety of instructional design and eLearning projects, consider creating a storyboard template from each of them.

After you finish each project, go back to the storyboard and remove all of the specific content.

Example storyboard template

Doing this will stop you from losing time rebuilding storyboards when you work on similar projects.

Incorporating Instructional Design Guidance into Your Storyboard Templates

You can bring your storyboard template up a notch by including instructional design guidance throughout.

For example, you can include a section in your storyboard for each of  Gagne’s nine events to ensure that the learning experience is comprehensive and does not lack any key elements.

Check out this YouTube video about writing eLearning storyboards to learn more.

Choosing your Storyboard Tools

While there are multiple tools to create storyboards, you should choose a tool that you’re comfortable with.

Google Docs

Often Google Docs is the way to go. It’s free and collaboration is easy: clients can leave comments, and you can edit in real-time.

Microsoft Word and Microsoft Powerpoint

Both Microsoft Word and PowerPoint are extremely popular storyboarding tools. Powerpoint is particularly useful because you can actually design the eLearning slides in PowerPoint, then you can import the slides into Storyline and make them interactive.

Storyboarding in the eLearning Authoring Tool Directly

You can develop your storyboard in a tool like Articulate Storyline 360 if you don’t want to work with a separate tool for storyboarding. You can simply make a lightweight version of the final project then add elements as each slide is approved.

Conclusion

Storyboarding is one of the most critical skills for developing as an instructional designer. If you are able to create clear, easy-to-follow storyboards, then you will add value to any instructional design team (and developers will love you).

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