Previously, in our Course Development Tips – How to Build a Good Design Plan post, we wrote about the importance of having a good design plan in place before jumping into development to ensure the success of a corporate training program. For an eLearning course, instructional design services should also include creating a visual storyboard as part of that plan. A great storyboard will save time, money and avoid clients being surprised or disappointed by the end results. A visual storyboard is, in essence, a bridge between what is envisioned and what will be.
Imagine that you've just bought a house and your friends come for their first visit. You've been telling them all about your new home; the size, the rooms, the colors you've painted the walls. So when they finally arrive, you hear the words 'Oh - that's not at all what I imagined!' They pictured pale blue walls, not the deep blue they actually are. You did say you had painted the walls blue; you just never thought to say what shade of blue. Considering your main communication up to this point had been through telephone conversations and emails - it really shouldn't come as a surprise that it wasn't what they envisioned.
That brings us back to the eLearning world. As an instructional designer, if you don't specify what 'shade of blue' you are intending to use, your client might be surprised when it comes to the final deliverable. A great storyboard can cover your 'shades of blue' but also communicate much, much more.
Storyboards provide instructional designers with a means to correspond with the clients, subject matter experts and developers. It should be viewed as an opportunity to collect, organize and review content, provide visuals, give instructions, explain animations, and write narration.
There are several different formats for storyboarding that vary in complexity from basic tables to complex software. Whether the format is one that you chose or was chosen for you, it is not as important as the components it contains. In other words, regardless of the format every storyboard should capture these important elements to work effectively:
It might seem obvious, but the content component of a storyboard provides the subject matter expert with the opportunity to see exactly what the message is going to be and how it is going to be presented. It is their opportunity to review and approve before development begins.
The old adage - 'a picture is worth a thousand words' holds true in storyboarding. Visuals should include the graphical elements being presented on a page including size and color of font; backgrounds and navigation, images, drawings, text placement and anything else that helps to tell the story.
This may not apply to all eLearning projects, but if your course includes voice-over talent or closed captions, including narration in your storyboard is important for both the subject matter experts and the developers. The subject matter experts should approve what the narration says while the developers, with the assistance of the instructional designers, will ensure the narration works with the on-screen elements.
Whether graphics and images are provided to you by the client or custom graphics are being created, conveying what you require is crucial in the storyboard. It may be as basic as requesting a graphic treatment such as a drop-shadow or asking a graphic designer to remove a background and replace with something that works with the theme.
Though written for developers to tell them everything they need to know to program or build the course, these instructions can explain to approvers and subject matter experts how a page will work. Developer notes also explain navigation, buttons and other interactions that may be built into your course.
Storyboards are an important communication tool for all instructional designers. In addition to telling a story but they help your clients, subject matter experts and approvers visualize the end product. Storyboards communicate technical information to developers, visuals to graphic designers, and narration to voice over talents. Storyboards, in essence, relay both visually and through text, what all parties need to know to lift a vision from the page and bring it to life on the learner's screen.