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Designing storyboards for online courses – the sure way of getting everybody on board

If you are an Instructional Designer, you know how exciting it is to sit down at the drawing board, ready to transform some learning objectives into a fun, innovative, engaging e-learning material. With so much technology available and so many different exciting content alternatives it’s always a treat to be given an empty slate to fill with your imagination.

However, challenge lurks in the multitude of options and when flock and flocks of ideas swirl around in your head, you need a storyboard not go overboard.

Learning requires structure. There has to be a red line throughout the e-learning course, the learner should be able to follow a solid yellow brick road in order to achieve the goals set out for him. Hence, a storyboard can prove not only useful but vital.

According to the scholarly literature: “a storyboard is the documentation for interactive multimedia production. It contains instructions for programming, an audio script, and a detailed description of the visual elements such as text, video, graphics, and animation. The storyboard becomes the key design document that the entire production team uses as a base for developing the interactive program”.

In more mundane terms, a storyboard will serve as a blueprint for your e-learning course. It should be very specific in rendering the big idea of the course and make sense of how all the elements you want to put in it fit together.

So before you start whipping up an awesome online course, it’s best to come up with its visual and logical structure. This will ensure you will not get lost on the way to finishing it and neither will the learners once it is up and running.

Know who will be listening to your story

Having as much information as possible about your audience is always important. Even when you choose courses from a catalog you need to have some clue as to what the learners already know, what competencies they need for the job and what their learning preferences are. When you have the opportunity to build an online course from scratch, adapting it to perfectly fit the needs (and computer knowledge) of those who will be enrolled is key to its success.

Of course you won’t be able to please absolutely everybody but at least you can make sure there is something for everybody. In case less computer-savvy people are in the target audience, more explanations about how it all works will be needed. If you want to include social media make sure you also provide an alternative for it as not everybody is on it or wants to mix what they feel is personal with their business learning.

Write everything down

Even though Instruction Design does tackle the realm of creativity, it is best not to leave anything to the imagination. An idea that might seem absolutely brilliant at one time might just flee your brain a few days later and you will end up staring at two or three words wondering what in the world you meant by that.

If you are working as part of a team it’s even more important to make sure you are as descriptive and specific as you can be. The complete storyboard for an e-learning courses should include text, visual aids, the audio component and details about navigation. Include ideas for navigation and interaction in your storyboard – note how learners are supposed to get from one page to the other, how correct and incorrect answers on quizzes will be marked and what interaction options should be available on each screen.

If-then statements will prove very helpful at this step in the process. For example: "If the user picks right answer (answer A), they will be directed to the next screen. / If the user picks an incorrect answer, they will be redirected to the information that is being tested (screen 22)".

It might also prove efficient to use specific labels for screens, instead of just numbers. Especially if you are not working alone, “let’s discuss the ‘customer complain chart’” sounds a lot better than “let’s talk about screen 9”.

The visual is king

Since we are talking about an online course, your main focus should be the visual space and how to combine images, videos, written information, colors and animations in order to reach the training objectives – whether they are about information transfer or competency building. By thinking of everything ahead and writing it down, you ultimately give yourself a chance to improve the finished product.

Even if it is a lot of work and perhaps not as much fun as going with the flow and working on your favorite screen it does pay off in the end and ensures that the quality of the course is the same from beginning to end.

The visual component is the most important because if that’s not attractive and interactive enough, you’ll have learners just click next-next-next as they do on long, boring license agreements. Such an approach does not aid learning one bit and only adds up to wasted time – yours for designing the course and the learner’s for mere floating through instead of being captivated and engaged.

A good storyboard ensures everybody will enjoy being on board with the program.