As the blueprint for a course (all the details about content, multimedia, and assessments), storyboards are an extremely important piece of the e-learning design process. However, they can be tricky to develop because there’s no set template or content required to make one. So, how do you know what to put into one?

For example, in some cases, a storyboard might be visually rich and look very similar to the final output. In other cases, it’s a simple text document that doesn’t give many clues to what the visual product will look like. In addition, the tools used to develop storyboards can vary widely, from PowerPoint to Word or even Articulate Storyline.

The short answer? It’s all relative. The look and content of a storyboard depend on many variables, including who’s on the team and what the e-learning course includes.

Consider this: If you’re designing and developing a course solo, your storyboard likely won’t need very descriptive and detailed notes for the developer. Why? Well, you’re the developer! You already know what you plan on doing on the slide, so why spend time writing detailed instructions?

However, if you’re handing off the storyboard to someone who will use it to develop the course, you’ll likely need to include clear and descriptive instructions. That’s just one example of how the storyboard can change depending on who’s involved.

So, while you’ll rarely see two storyboards that are exactly alike, there are some basic best practice items that most storyboards have, regardless of how the project is staffed. Let’s have a look at a few of these.

Screen ID

One of the fundamental things to include in your storyboard is an identifier, or a screen ID. This should be present on each slide, so you can easily identify content and slides in the course. You might not want the screen ID to appear in the final output, but it’s definitely handy to have it visible during editing and review stages.

Speaking from experience, you should consider carefully how you want to number your slides in the storyboard. You’re likely going to end up removing and adding slides throughout your project, so you want to allow for that with your numbering scheme, without having to manually renumber everything that follows.

Text

Your on-screen text is a critical component to your course because it delivers information to your learners—so it definitely needs to go in your storyboard. Be clear about how to format and place the text on the screen. Remember to edit your storyboard text for spelling, grammar, and language so the developer can simply copy and paste the text from your storyboard into the e-learning course without having to edit it.

Images

The graphics included in an online course also communicate important information, so you need to include those details in your storyboard.

If you’re developing a more visual storyboard, you may choose to include the actual photo, or an image placeholder. And if you’ve already selected an image, you should include notes to the developer so she knows where to find it. For example, once I’ve picked an image for a course, I set up a shared folder for media with clearly labelled files. Then, in my storyboard, I tell the developer which file to pull from the shared folder to use on a specific screen.

If you’re relying on your developer to both choose and insert your graphics, you might instead have detailed instructions on the tone, feel, and context of the image you want. Once again, it varies depending on the project.

Narration and Audio

Audio can really add variety and interest to web-based training. If you plan to include narration, add the narration script to your storyboard, as well as notes for how to sync it with on-screen text. Be sure to also include details about the type of voice talent you want.

If you’re using other types of audio, such as sound effects or background music, consider selecting specific clips in advance. Then, in your storyboard, let the developer know how to access the specific file through a shared folder.

Navigation

Confusing navigation is a real distraction, and gets in the way of a pleasant and smooth learning experience. So, a top priority should be to create a clear and easy click path through the course. You might choose simple Prev and Next buttons, or more complex branching that links to a variety of different screens. However you choose to set up your course, include clear instructions for the developer about how navigation will work on each screen.

Be sure to do a navigation walk-through for your course. Do your Prev and Next buttons link to certain slides? How about your on-screen buttons? When a stakeholder or e-learning developer looks at your storyboard, the navigation should be clear as day.

Animation and Transitions

Finally, animations and transitions can add visual interest that will set your course apart. However, if you plan on using animations, be aware that you often need to see it to really understand how it looks and feels in the course. If you decide to forge ahead, give the developer clear notes about the timing of the objects and types of animations or transitions to use.

Keep in mind that, while no two storyboards are the same, most will include the basic items covered here. It all depends on your specific project and its requirements.

Here are links to some great related articles and discussions from the E-Learning Heroes Community:

Do you have any tips of your own for what should be included in a storyboard? If you do, please leave a comment below. We love to hear your feedback!

You can always sign up for a fully functional, free 30-day trial of Articulate software. And don’t forget to post your questions and comments in the forums! We’re here to help. For more e-learning tips, examples, and downloads, follow us on Twitter.

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Mary Lacroix