I still remember the first project I created in Captivate. It was a module about “how to brush your teeth.” I went into the bathroom and videotaped myself brushing my teeth and then did it again taking lots of photographs. From there I built a job aid and an interactive training.

Did I create a storyboard? No. I am fairly confident that I’m an expert in brushing my teeth. I’ve definitely done it more than a few times, and at that point in my life had no cavities, so I considered myself very successful at it. With my eLearning, I knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it.

Through the years I’ve become less of an expert in the content that I am developing as an instructional designer and eLearning developer. The course that I’m making now has four different SMEs signing off on it. Even starting with informational interviews and a literal textbook of resource content, I found that it wasn’t particularly easy to generate scenarios that meet with the laws that vary by state, but also add value for everyone. It’s caused some pretty intense discussions about appropriate choices a learner could make, the implications of those, and how far down a particular path someone should be allowed to go before the result was significantly catastrophic that we’d want them to try again. It absolutely required a series of storyboards.

For this project, I have a tiered storyboard approach. I have a giant board that covers all the content the entire learning path will encompass, with “buckets” for each of the lessons where it’s covered. Then I have a traditional eLearning storyboard for each of the lessons; with all the branching interactions, voiceover, and developer notes. Since this project encompassed video production and I was not the videographer or editor, I also have storyboards with video shots and what I wanted, with angles and timeframes. The combination of these items covers the body of content on the subject. Without creating a storyboard, I never would have been able to ensure that everything was actually covered, all of the legislation represented, and have had a way where my SMEs could weigh in on the implications of branches in their local areas.

Storyboards definitely have a time and a place. The closer you are to the expert in the topic and level of hierarchy in oversight of the final piece, the less you need one. If you’re not the expert, generally then whether or not you use a storyboard will depend on the complexity of the topic and the difficulty to make changes. The more complex, the more you need a storyboard. The harder to make changes, the more you should want a storyboard. There’s not much worse than coding something out to completion to find out that someone doesn’t like something and you have to redo all your work completely!

Storyboards can be used in waterfall and agile development processes. In waterfall development, the storyboard would be written and completed in its entirety at the beginning of development. In agile development, the storyboards might be roughed out and filled in as individual lessons are ready for development, or reworked through iterative cycles.

This isn’t about finding “the right storyboard to use.” This process is completely flexible and adaptable to every developer to meet the project needs. On any given project, one may choose to have a fully text storyboard, a fully visual storyboard, or a combination of the two. It may not even be created on a computer. I’m a big fan of drawing out scenes, particularly for doing my branching plan and explaining visual layout. There is no right way to storyboard. As you experiment with different functionality in an eLearning authoring tool or move into content you’re less familiar with, you may find yourself creating more detailed storyboards. Use them when it suits your needs and don’t when they won’t add value.

From the editor: Want more?

Emily Wood is an expert facilitator, designer, and developer of learning experiences. She is also the author of e-Learning Department of One (published by ATD Press). Emily will present “Introduction to Developing Storyboards for eLearning” as part of The eLearning Guild’s eLearning Foundations Online Conference December 11-12, 2019. She will be discussing when, why, and how to create a storyboard for eLearning, including practical advice on organizing content and adding narrative and visual design. A storyboard can help streamline your development process as well as perfect your design. Register for the Online Conference today!