In a recent chat with a community member, I explained that I like to include some functional navigation in my e-learning storyboards. Why? A few reasons. First, it saves me time because I build my storyboards directly in Articulate Storyline. I can simply do a “save as” of the storyboard and start developing directly in the duplicated Storyline file rather than having to copy and paste from a storyboard into my Storyline course.

Additionally, with a storyboard in Storyline, I can make my links and navigation functional so I get a sense of the overall flow of the course. I like to make sure the click-path and content flow smoothly through the course, and in my experience, you can’t really know that for sure until you’ve clicked through it yourself from start to finish.

When I explained this to the community member, he responded, “Sounds like you build a prototype, rather than a storyboard!” This got me thinking: “What is a prototype, after all?” After consulting with Google and other sources, I think I agree that adding the functionality of navigation does make it more of a prototype than a storyboard. To help clarify the difference, let’s have a look at both:

E-Learning Storyboard:

The storyboard is essentially the blueprint for the course being developed. The storyboard lays out the visuals, multimedia, text, audio elements, interactivities, and navigation details (where does the learner go next?) of each and every slide in your course.

By viewing the storyboard, the stakeholders should get a clear grasp of what learners will see, hear, and do during the course. It sets the expectations for the content of the course, and is used throughout the development phase as the guide for building the course. It typically doesn’t include any functional navigation.

E-Learning Prototype

An e-learning prototype is an early model of an e-learning course that is built to test certain concepts or processes, such as the navigation and interactions within the course. An e-learning prototype typically lets designers get an idea of the basic look-and-feel and functionality of a product, but without simulating all of the exact functions or visual design.

A prototype also demonstrates the overall flow of the course, so stakeholders can determine if the linkages laid out in the storyboard do in fact make sense as viewers pace through the course, or if they need to be reworked to branch or route differently.

Based on these definitions of storyboard and prototype, what do you think are the pros and cons of each? Have you ever created a prototype of your own? Leave me your thoughts in the comments!

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41 Comments
Chris Purvis
Nicole Legault
Ana  Mira
Troy Greer
Lee Corbett

You are so right Troy. We follow exactly the same process as you for every development job that we undertake. One of the biggest problems with elearning is that most client don't know what they want until they see it, so we develop the prototype at the quote stage. We go tot the effort of building a 5 slide concept with client logos and branding. From a sales perspective this works very well as they feel like the course is already theirs. It does take a bit of effort, but we secure 95% of the quotes we put out because of this effort. Not only that but when you 'win' the job it is very easy for my designers to jump into the project and know form the outset what is expected of them. Funnily enough we don't 'storyboard' at all anymore (we have been in the development business for 10 years). W... Expand

Michael Burns

I'm a 1-person development team (but I work with our Marketing Team), so I probably do things differently than some. I actually develop backwards according to traditional methods - I create an "Instructional Design Model", then sort of translate that into a first-round prototype. Then it's incredibly simple to screenshot all my placeholder objects/text/graphics, and copy and paste text to create a storyboard in Google Presentations (this makes it accessible for different stakeholders to edit text directly or comment on graphics/anything else in the modules). This also makes it easy to step between design and development, so if it turns out there's an easier/faster/better way to do something, I just modify the prototype directly and demo for any stakeholders. Rounds 1 & 2 typically re... Expand

Nicole Legault
Nicole Legault
Shari Hanlon
Alyssa Gomez
Nicole Legault
Pete Brown

Hi Alyssa Whether it saves time probably depends a bit on whether you're building something for someone for the first time, or whether it's part of an ongoing relationship with the commissioners of the work. I.e. you get a good feel for each other's expectations as the relationship matures. The size of the piece of work might also sway me as to whether a storyboard or prototype was going to be more useful. Generally I'd prototype for commissioner agreement on wider functionality (e.g. look and feel/navigational metaphor, particularly on early projects with the commissioner) or to win the commissioners' hearts, then storyboard for the content in a format that the SMEs can easily amend or comment on right there in the storyboard. If there was a particularly complex screen, i.e. one wit... Expand

Meg Bertapelle
Fatimah Ahmad

Very interesting discussion we have here. Well, throughout my 18 years of developing e-learning content, I should say that 90% of the time, we would go through the Storyboarding process. Why? 1. Like Nicole said, "the storyboard is essentially the blueprint for the course being developed. The storyboard lays out the visuals, multimedia, text, audio elements, interactivities, and navigation details of each and every slide in your course. Throughout my experience, even though with the Storyboarding process in place, there will tend to be changes, and changes made by Subject Matter Experts every now and then. So, the Storyboards help us in the "versioning" process and to keep track of the "performance of the Subject Matter Experts" (SME)s. In my e-learning exposure, we dealt with tremen... Expand

Nicole Legault
Jennifer St. Amand

I think I do a "pared down" version of a storyboard based on what I've read in the discussion so far. I have two columns in my storyboard (in Word). The first column is content. I put all the written content for a course (audio and written text) into this column. This is what I focus on with the SMEs. I actually don't start developing in Storyline until I get sign-off from the SMEs on this column in the document, which I call a storyboard. I explain to my SMEs that I need a relatively finalized version in order to develop most efficiently (e.g. if I develop with 3 bullet points...and then the SME adds a fourth...I may have to redesign the slide entirely). I find that SMEs don't really care about the final navigation, as long as it flows...which I typically show in an iterative cycle... Expand

Danelle Koster

Like many of the others that have responded to this thread, I tend to want to storyboard right in the tool and get started with the big picture. It helps me to build a screen when I find just the right image or graphic that expresses the thought or concept I'm trying to portray on the screen. This normally helps with my process to produce a narration and on screen text or interaction. The problem with skipping the storyboarding phase is that you can get caught in the trap of entering into "the zone." "The Zone" is where you put effort into putting something together like editing the graphic, maybe adding animations, or interactions because you are in the tool and you think, "this is just what I want." However you forget that the storyboard is supposed to be building and end product which s... Expand

Nicole Legault
Juan Primo
Terry Coe

This is a great article that explains the difference and usefulness of both the storyboard and the prototype. However I use a third method when developing my story. 1) I get my general story approved. This isn't a 'word for word' script, more a general idea of the main topics. 2) I get into a developing frenzy. Using Storyline I develop as much of the course and script and lines as I can, using the main topics of the general story. I make sure to develop everything except sound to make the course come alive to the stakeholders. 3) I then print to Word to present to my Stakeholders as a storyboard. Now they can edit everything that is included in the course with one swoop. I have always felt that getting feedback about individual items could become cumbersome to SME's and Stakehold... Expand

Pete Brown

I agree with your point 1, Terry. Depending on the circumstance (e.g. how comfortable I am with the client or content), I'll make a flowchart, with each node of the flowchart representing a screen.On each node I'll just have a title (will probably become the screen title), and a sentence or two describing, in the broadest sense, what would be covered on that screen - not how it will be represented or how it will look, but the concept(s) to be addressed. I'll usually do this flowchart in Powerpoint or Visio and, for example, a 30-minute module might have around 20 nodes describing the flow. This high-level flowchart can usually be put together very quickly (in a few hours) and is a useful tool/step that: 1. Helps get agreement that all of the material that has to be covered is represen... Expand

Alanda Pettit

For me it all depends on the internal client. What works for one does not for another. I tend to start in Storyline so that I am not duplicating my effort. In one project, I worked in an iterative process. I met with the SME and we reviewed the overall concept. As I began to build out the course, he wanted it in a Word document. No problem. I used Storyline's Word output. I dropped in comments to clarity aspects that do not come across in a one dimensional way. For another client, we met and discussed the content--in pieces because it was very complex. I figured out the type of interactions that would work and met again. I shared my screen with him and we reviewed what I created and then next I sent him a link via tempshare so he could play around. This went on until we covered all ... Expand

Gangotri Patwardhan
Chris Purvis