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Organizing Course Content with Storyboards

| July 11, 2019 | 11 min read
Learning

Many times you brainstorm about your course writing every concept you want to include. But, you find that written documents are often clumsy and time-consuming. Plus, you struggle to give out a specific sequence about what is going to be taught.

Storyboarding is a technique to better draft modules and create online courses with ease and little effort.

What is a storyboard?

A storyboard is a sequence of panels in which an instructional designer lays out the framework of their course:

What will be discussed in each section?
Which activities will be included?
What pictures, charts, screenshots, or animations will best support the points being made?

Generally, a storyboard should specify the visual elements of every screen in an online course (text elements, audio elements, interactions and branching-where the system or user will go next). The best approach is to leave as little to the imagination as possible and have a particular picture of what the final product will look like.

This is an example of a Storyboard

So, storyboards are detailed maps that represent course content and give an overview of the “story” someone tells. When you see your course on a map, you are more able to evaluate the effectiveness and also, put components in the right order.

Why You Should Start Storyboarding

When you sit down to write your course, you quickly fall into a quagmire of structural issues. Your units don’t transition well; you keep forgetting what is supposed to link to where, and you find yourself spending a lot of time trying to edit disorganized content within your course creating software.

Imagine how time-saving a storyboard would be!

Storyboards go a lot deeper than a mere outline or wireframe. They’re designed to elaborately flesh out your course from beginning to end, including all the technical details you’re most likely to overlook. Here are eight reasons why you need to use storyboards:

1You will know if the course’s concept works

A storyboard helps you validate whether the idea is working or not, and determine the direction the course is going to take. Also, It is during the storyboarding phase that most of the errors related to narration, media, and other relevant details are identified. This saves a lot of effort and cost that could disrupt the production phase.

2You will know if you acquire the necessary media

It is essential to get the most relevant and appropriate pictures/videos into the course. Are the media complementing the content well? During the storyboarding stage, these can be identified and corrected before development starts.

3You will have a clear picture about the learning experience you provide

Storyboards serve as the blueprint of how you have envisioned each section screen by screen. They contain detailed information about which visual elements will be used, which elements would be clickable. You will have a general idea of how the course flows in its entirety.

4You will know the required budget for your course

A storyboard helps you envision what the final product would look like. How many pictures or other media do you have to buy? How many videos should be produced? In case needed, you can make any necessary changes and lower the final budget.

5You will put learning first and visuals second

The design is nothing without hitting effective learning objectives, and storyboarding helps ensure content is focused on those objectives before any cutting edge art, or character design takes over the production schedule. Storyboards in eLearning help put the learning experience first and visual design second.

6You will be able to easily update your course later

So, you’ve deployed your course and learners are taking it. Six months down the line-. How do you update it? You can pick up the latest version of the storyboard and make changes in it without errors and version issues.

7You will have a better communication with your collaborators

Using storyboards allows you to work towards meeting the same goals with the co-instructors. And that’s because you will all have a clearer picture of what will be contained in the course.

8You will provide a better insight to your potential clients

It is advisable to share your storyboard while selling your course. Your target audience will see precisely how an eLearning developer will be presenting the course material and whether primary learning objectives are being met through the proposed learning activities.

How to Create a Storyboard

No two storyboards are quite alike. Depending on how detailed you want your storyboard to be, you can create simple image blocks or on the other hand, create detailed spreadsheets. Some prefer to use Word templates so that it’s easy to add new pages to the course skeleton and make quick edits to previously created thumbnails.

Others create visualized storyboards created in PowerPoint or other software, complete with page mockups and detailed descriptions of every element. In the end, you can create what best suits your needs and preferences. It is all up to you!

But now, let’s dive a little deeper at what a storyboard is helpful to include:

The Main Components of a Storyboard

The first component of a storyboard is simple – thumbnails. Thumbnails are blank squares where you can illustrate the images that represent your story. Thumbnails should be numbered and have space underneath to include details. You can add space for any critical steps you may want to include. There are many sites on the internet that allow the creation of mockups and visual maps, and you can use any of them to create your storyboards. Here are just some examples:

You can find more templates of Storyboards below:
Creately’s Template
Boords’ Template
Elearning industry’s Template
The Elearning Coach’s Template

In each of these templates, there are thumbnails or particular areas where you can map out how your idea looks visually. It doesn’t have to be highly detailed, but it should give an overall sense of everything that is happening. Even if you don’t know yet what picture to use, try to draw one.

If you find it challenging to explain the action, break that scene down into 2 or 3 separate ones. Also, it is recommended that you write your notes before you draw the pictures so that you are determined about the flow of your text content.

Each of the above templates is called frame or slide or page on a storyboard. You can use several times the template you prefer, to create the flow of your final story. Here is an example of the storyboard I created for one of our Academy’s courses:

5 Steps to Design Storyboard Slides

This is not a time to cut corners. Be ready to dig in, flesh out every detail, and check all the frames.

Step n.1

Sketch the module flow, the structure on a piece of paper, before proceeding with the actual storyboard development. After that, it’s time to create a mind map either on paper or through an app. We used Popplet to create a concept map one of our courses hosted on our Academy:

Map out the main concepts from which your course will consist of (in the picture, the green boxes) and then expand your ideas to other related concepts that will provide you the course’s subunits. Mind that, this is not an analytical explanation of how to design an online course, but just an example of how to start designing your storyboard.

Step n.2

Pick the tool you will use for creating storyboards. Start the storyboard in the authoring tool. We used “Boords” to firstly map out the contents of each single section. For example, we created this flowchart for the unit “Videos in online courses”:

The framework of a course’s section

As the work expanded, unit titles became even better and precise, also new unit ideas came forth. For example, we thought a downloadable file would be necessary as well as a quiz and a personal challenge students would take. We had to rearrange frames and add audio recordings with plain thoughts about what would be included.

After deciding the content of each section we had a clearer picture of our activities. We could see if there were enough challenging unit blocks students would love and units that would really benefit them. Then, it was time to describe the structure of each and every course unit. Take for example “How to Draw the Attention in Videos”:

The framework of a unit’s contents

Each frame represents a different concept analyzed in the ebook/unit.

Step n.3

Now that you all the details about your content you are able to see your content from another level. Add what interactions you would like to include in the unit or what other instructions students will see, like extra information, jumps to different segments of the course, or internal cross-referencing.

Decide how your different slides link together. Is this unit a prerequisite for the next unit? Is navigation free? Can they jump ahead, or will the navigation button only appear after they’ve answered a micro test? Etc. Write that down on each frame too.

Step n.4

For assessment activities, you not only need to know their content but also how your course should respond based on the learner’s response.

Step n.5

After you’ve finished drafting your storyboard, it’s smart to look at it with a critical eye. Lay out the frames in order and try following the story they tell. Rarely are storyboards perfect after the first attempt. Just keep fine-tuning your storyboard until you are happy. Look at them with a critical eye. Is all information delivered in a logical order? Are your notes clear enough to build a complete course using your storyboard for reference a week later? Have you touched upon all critical areas? Is there a variety of activities that keep students engaged?

While the storyboarding process can be exhaustive, it will also illuminate potential problems with your course, which will save you time in the long run.

5 Important Traits of Storyboards

Every storyboard must have five characteristics: Targeting, visualization, flexibility, reusability, and balance. Why?

Targeting

It is effortless to get off track from the course’s original intention when designing a storyboard. Having in mind your initial goals and objectives is vital for you and your reviewers.

Visualization

You need some way to draw or to import a graphic into a storyboard frame. This will help you with useful mapping of your course.

Flexibility

Don’t choose a very fixed format of frames in a template (like six storyboards per page). Significant changes may be difficult to make, for example, if you want to drag frames to a new position.

Reusability

Designing something once that can be repurposed for other uses is a compelling concept. The benefit is that you save time, and your design is consistent. Make sure to contain pictures and notes that can be reused in your next course creation.

Balance

Don’t leave out too many details so no one can tell what’s going on. On the other hand, don’t put in so much detail that it’s confusing. Tell just enough to make sure that your audience can follow the action and understand your intention. It is recommended to show your storyboards to people who don’t know the story or the lesson at all and work to fix things that confuse them.

Choose the Right Activities

There is a specific order according to which learners process information in a course. Bloom’s taxonomy helps understand this natural order. What Bloom did is describe the levels of student learning, that could help a designer set the right objectives:

For each learning stage, there are specific multimedia you can use. The following table depicts everything we are talking about.

Source: Spice up your Storyboard

The Best Tools to Create Storyboards?

Boords

With Boords, you can quickly assemble storyboards, re-arrange frames, and create new versions in a snap. The platform features an extensive royalty-free stock image library so you can tell your story effectively, regardless of your drawing ability. It also provides a unique Animatic Tool. Boords finally fosters collaboration with teammates and clients in real-time.

Storyboard that

Storyboard that is a platform with an extensive image library, posable characters and scenes from antiquity to the space Age- all customizable. You can upload your material, or you can use ready images and flexible layouts. The experience is intuitive and straightforward with a drag and drop interface you can create a storyboard in minutes!

Captivate

Captivate is a software where you can refine your ideas as quickly as you capture them. You can use simple gestures to add objects such as shapes, text boxes, images, and more. You can customize the look and feel of your slides by applying colors or images as slide backgrounds.

You can also add hotspots to your slides and flesh out full conditional branching flow within your storyboard. Plus, you can do a collaborative review and share your storyboards with anyone. Reviewers can post their comments for you to view in real time, and they don’t even need to have to be an Adobe Captivate member.

Canva

Canva is a powerful tool for anybody who wants to create graphics in seconds. Canva’s drag-and-drop feature helps users design consistently stunning presentations, social media graphics, and more. You can use different font combinations, image filters, and of course, its beautiful layouts to create a series of frames for your course. Note that in there, you can also find millions of pictures and shapes.

Popplet

Popplet is a more education-centric tool and is excellent if you want to create mind maps quickly. It is one of the best tools to capture and organize ideas. You can use it on the go to brainstorm, generate ideas, jot down notes, and plan projects. With this tool it is easy to create maps around concepts and to expand your ideas as we showed earlier.

MindNode

Another excellent mind mapping tool is Mindnode for Mac and iOS. MindNode makes it easy to get a loose collection of thoughts into one document. MindNode’s Smart Layout makes your drafts readable and beautiful. When your thoughts are on fire, you want to get them out and onto the page as quickly as possible. Quick Entry makes adding different ideas easy and intuitive. And what’s more, you can add multiple types of content like words, images, links, tasks, or extensive notes.

Paper by 53

Paper by 53 is an excellent iPad drawing app for capturing ideas anywhere just as if you had a paper and a pen. It’s perfectly-tuned tools make it easy to sketch, type, paint, draw whenever and wherever you want. The app has a renewed focus on beautiful simplicity. You can capture your ideas as sketches, diagrams, illustrations, notes, or drawings and instantly share them across the web. You can also organize pages into beautiful journals and sync them across your devices, ready to pick up where you left off.

Evernote

Evernote allows you to create a journal of your notes. This app helps you quickly digitize your thoughts. You can upload any form of content you like (notes, files, photos, and voice memos) and also clip anything from the web and access those files from anywhere. What’s more with this app, you can share information quickly and securely. Evernote also keeps your data protected and private.

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Course Designer & Content Creator at LearnWorlds

Anthea is a Course designer and Content Creator for the LearnWorlds team. She holds years of experience in instructional design and teaching. With a Master of Education (M.Ed.) focused in Modern Teaching Methods & ICT (Information & Communications Technology), she supplements her knowledge with practical experience in E-Learning and Educational Technology.

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