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3 Reasons Why Storyboarding is Essential for eLearning Design

Learning designers don’t always think of themselves as visual artists. Learning and memory specialists, course writers, interaction designers and teachers, yes; but all of these elements ultimately come together as a piece of art that can be as memorable and engaging as a great movie. This aspiration, combined with our power as learning designers to move and inspire, demands that we storyboard our concepts before leaping straight into development.

As we described in this Introduction to Storyboarding for Filmmakers, storyboarding enables you to adopt a more agile approach, by building the world of your movie – or in this case, your learning experience – on paper, before you build it for real. That way you can share, test and refine your ideas without wasting time and budget.

Too often eLearning ‘storyboards’ are dull text documents that describe visuals in words, without actually showing them through sketches. This can lead to lack of visual creativity and engagement. Storyboarding isn’t about having great drawing skills, as stick figures and messy impressions will do – it’s about pre-visualising movement, sound, graphics and other elements; and expecting more from your media than static images and run-of-the-mill shots.

Here are the 3 reasons why storyboarding is essential for learning design:

1. Validate & improve your idea

When you create a storyboard, you are pre-visualising your concept. Not only does this let you judge whether or not your idea actually works; it lets you share your idea with others. Using your storyboard as a communication tool, you can elicit feedback and create as many iterations as it takes to land on something truly compelling. It’ll prove useful throughout the project, as you communicate with subject matter experts, developers and others; and if you need to revise or update your course later.

2. Save time & budget

If you don’t create and share your storyboard early on in your eLearning project, you risk wasting serious time and money producing a concept that doesn’t hit the mark. By the time cameras are out and code is being written, you might think it’s too late to turn back, despite feeling a sense of doom that the end result won’t live up to your standards. This is a classic case of falling into the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ trap, whereby the more you invest in something, financially or emotionally, the harder it becomes to abandon it.

3. Make better, faster decisions

Movie directors like Ridley Scott storyboard every single shot if they’re planning a complex sequence or using lots of different effects techniques. That way they can make decisions about how subjects should move, which camera angles work best, whether to use CGI or live effects, and so on. Likewise, eLearning artists need storyboards to make decisions about visuals, sound, action, narration, interactivity and how the experience should flow. Great movies have no fat: every single shot and scene serves the purpose of revealing character or moving the story forward. The same applies to eLearning: every frame and interaction should reveal knowledge and insights that move the learner forward.

The relationship between learning and storytelling is incredibly tight. Just as classic heroes in blockbuster books and movies are faced with escalating obstacles that they must overcome in order to grow and triumph, as learners we each face our own hero’s journey. At first we resist the mission to Mount Doom, but as we struggle against tides of frustration and boredom, our mastery and determination grows. Along the road we meet mentors, allies and enemies, each with a unique lesson. We are given tools, gifts and information. Eventually, after almost giving up, on the brink of disaster, we slay the beast, triumph and return home with the elixir!

As stories reflect life, they also reflect learning. Learning is, after all, the only way to reach our potential in life. As gamification becomes more prevalent in eLearning, we’ll do well to remember it’s more than badges and points that move people to action: it’s the timeless power of stories.

If you’re a learning experience designer or a subject matter expert designing your own online course, check out this podcast, where eLearning coach Connie Malamed talks to award-winning eLearning designer, storyboarder and owner of Nuggethead Studioz Kevin Thorn about the importance of storyboarding before you jump into development.

Every visual storyteller has their own unique approach, so we’d love to see examples of your storyboards on Instagram or Twitter using hashtag #fableandmuse or on our Facebook page here.

We’re plotting the launch of the world’s most spanking gorgeous storyboarding notebook, THE STORYBOARD, on Kickstarter soon. If you’re interested in becoming an Insider on the project, you can get involved and help shape the design, give feedback and get sneak peaks by filling in the contact form on our home page.

Our aim is to share super useful stuff and we’re always learning from you guys, so if you have any feedback on this post please comment below.

2 Responses to 3 Reasons Why Storyboarding is Essential for eLearning Design

  1. I commend your thoughts and the angle from which you’ve approached this issue of storyboarding. I think many of us who work in learning are intimidated by the notions of storyboarding or rapid prototyping because we know, deep down inside, that we aren’t really artists or theatre experts… and we feel beyond our capabilities. As well, traditional storyboarding (and I am the distributor of one of those “boring” templates b/c it’s what I know…) takes a lot of time, leaving us feeling like we are doing the work twice. But when we see it as planning vs implementing, the value becomes more apparent. We sure do need a better toolset for storyboarding – I am impressed, directionally, with the new iPad app, Captivate Draft – which occupies a new, intermediate space between storyboarding and e-learning development.

    • Jane

      Thanks for your comment Todd, some great insights. I like your approach of seeing it as planning vs implementing. We’ll be sharing some thoughts on story structure soon that might be interesting when applied to learning. If we put the artistry to the side and focus on the emotional journey of the learner (i.e. the story), perhaps combined with seeing the value of storyboarding through a planning lens, we’ll make some steps forward. Thanks again for sharing. Enjoying your tweets by the way!

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