Thursday, February 9, 2023

Elearning storyboard and its elements

What is a storyboard in elearning?

In elearning, a storyboard is a document written by an Instructional Designer that visualizes the flow of content for an elearning module in line with Instructional Design theory and practices. A storyboard ensures that learning content is delivered to a specific learner profile in the most effective way. The storyboard describes the delivery of the content screen by screen with details of the On-screen text, Images, Animation or Videos, Interactivity or Simulation, and Voice-over. With all these details, a storyboard aligns all stakeholders to the complexity, cost and timeline of the project. In this post, we will look at the two popular storyboarding tools and the essential elements of an elearning storyboard.

Elearning Storyboarding Tools

Some Instructional Designers (ID) prefer to describe the screens in sentences instead of showing a visual representation. Such storyboards are created in a word document (such as Google Docs or MS Word) and will only contain references to the graphics that need to be used. There are different reasons for choosing a word document. Perhaps the content itself is predominantly text and does not require detailed visuals. Maybe the visuals are complicated and there is a dependency on graphic artists. So, the ID may find it easier to describe the situation than find suitable visuals themselves.
Some IDs may choose visual storyboarding. Visual storyboards are created in a presentation document (such as Google Slides or MS Powerpoint). In this the ID will also show how the frame must look like.
Below is a comparison between the two types of storyboards.

Descriptive / Text Storyboard vs. Visual Storyboard

Elearning Storyboard Type Descriptive (Text) Storyboard Visual Storyboard
Tool used Google Docs or MS Word Google Slides or MS Powerpoint
Module Complexity Predominantly text and images; Simple animations and transitions; Few or no scenarios Highly visual; Video, Animated or Simulated; Multiple scenarios
Frame content and layout Described in word, with references to graphics Visually depicted, only dialogues and interactions are described
Graphics consistency Inconsistent as only references are provided Almost consistent through the storyboard
Graphic Designer effort during Storyboarding Low to Moderate High to Very high

Nothing really stops you from using a Visual storyboard for all courses. While the effort to develop a visual storyboard is higher, the greatest advantage is that it gives a near-final look of the output. Storyboards that completely depend on textual description leaves the imagination to the developer and if the description is not detailed enough, there is bound to be a mismatch between the intended output and the final output. In Descriptive storyboards, the Instructional Designer will need to be more watchful and do a more frequent check of the development to ensure that it is in line with the storyboard.

Advantages of a visual storyboard

  • Clarity / Precision: A visual storyboard needs to be thought through frame-by-frame in great detail. This detailing results in a high level of clarity and precision in the flow of content that is being written.
  • Expectation Setting: Since the storyboard shows exactly how the content is presented to the learner in a visual manner, it sets the expectation accurately and quickly with the stakeholders, namely, the customer, the developer and the designer. This in turn reduces the numbers of revisions that will be needed on the output.
  • Quality Control: Visuals are easy to compare and so, it is easier for the quality control team to verify if the final output produced is in line with the storyboard from which it is produced.

Elearning storyboard template

A storyboard is constructed in blocks. Usually a block maps to what appears on a screen i.e., from the time a learner enters the screen and until the time they leave it. For example, you may have 15-20 words of text, an image, image labels and two clickable items on a screen. All these must be written together for ease of understanding. An ID would decide how much content should go into a single screen. Now, whether an elearning storyboard is a visual one or a descriptive one, there are some basic elements in a block that help a storyboard meet its purpose. It is recommended to include these elements always and leave the sections blank if there is no information against them.

Sample Visual Storyboard Format in Google Slides
Sample Visual Storyboard Format in Google Slides

Basic elements in an elearning storyboard

  • Screen number (a.k.a. Slide or Scene number)

    This is just a reference number required on every block of your storyboard and can have an Alphanumeric sequence. For example: 1A, 3B. It is significant for the below reasons:
    • Acts as a reference during discussions
    • It tells the developer, the sequence in which the scenes must be assembled
    • It can be cross-referenced within the storyboard. For example: Jump to Scene 23A, if the user assessment score < 70%
  • Visual (shot or reference)

    If the storyboard is a visual one, make sure to depict a very accurate frame of the final output. If not, you must add one or more reference images or a link from an online image source that can be used by the reader and by the artist / designer.
  • On-screen-text (OST)

    OST refers to any text that appears on a screen. This could be a title, a paragraph, a bulleted list or just a label. It is kept on the storyboard in text format, so developers can copy and paste it into the authoring software without having to worry about errors from typing them.
  • Description

    Describe the flow of content in words. This could be the appearance of content, transitions, the way the animation is played out and dialogues. Make sure to cover in words anything that is not in the reference images or visual. This could be short if the storyboard is visual.
  • Audio Transcript (narration text)

    Any module that has some audio overlay must indicate what needs to be narrated and by who (Narrator, Character 1, Character 2, etc). Audio transcript / narration text is sent to the respective voice artists for voice-over recording and is also included in the course for accessibility.
  • Duration (approximate)

    Mentioning the approximate duration of a screen helps the developer plan the transitions and animations and it also keeps a tab on the total length of the course.
  • Instruction to the designer / artist

    Have this section so that the designer or artist can watch for any special instructions. For example, you may want to state "Use branding colors for the corporate building".
  • Instruction to the developer / programmer

    Elearning modules may contain custom interactivity and it is best to have a section on the storyboard where a developer can look for instructions on any required custom interactions.
  • BG Music / Sounds

    An instructional designer should try and describe the background sounds or music required in a scene. Optionally, they could also leave urls of reference music so the developer can search and buy the required audio tracks so they can be included into the module.
  • Background colors, fonts and other branding information

    If branding guidelines are not available as a separate document, make sure to include this in the beginning or the end of the storyboard so it will help the designers and developers ensure alignment with branding.

A few more tips...

Create a storyboard template so that all elements appear in the same place on every screen. This way, the stakeholders know where to look for the information they need. The more visual your storyboard is, the closer it will be to the final output. For storyboarding, select a tool that your customer can easily access, edit or place comments such as Google slides / PPT and Google docs / MS Word. Since a storyboard may itself go through a couple of iterations, the reference images you use are usually not final. So, a watermarked version of the image from a free stock images site will suffice. You can buy the finalized image when the storyboard moves to the development team. Be willing to try and experiment what storyboard layout and elements work best for your customer and their project. Happy storyboarding!

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