Tuesday, January 13, 2009

To Storyboard or Not to Storyboard

StoryboardSome e-learning designers "storyboard," others do not. Me, sometimes I do and sometimes I do not. Below is a list of reasons I do not use storyboards. I also include a list of when I find it worth the time to storyboard a course. Before I begin, I must note that I always create a thorough course design plan (CDP) for each course. My CDPs include a rationale, target audience, participant prerequisites, course description, terminal objectives, enabling objectives, evaluation plan and a course map. So, here we go.

I do not use storyboards because:

  • I run a one-person e-learning department. I am designer and developer. After the analysis and design, the course is very much in my head and I do not need to hand anything off to a developer.

  • Often my courses are non-linear and both difficult and time consuming to storyboard. I have deadlines to meet, people!

  • I have new ideas during development and scrap half the storyboards anyway.

Why I use storyboards:

  • If the course is very, very complex and non-linear, it is the only way I can get a handle on it and remember where I am going from screen to screen. For example, branching simulations.

  • If I have other co-workers involved in the actual design of the course. This gives them a great visual for where we are going with it. In other words, a great way to step back and "run through" the course before we start the development phase.

  • I include a lot of notes on the storyboards regarding the multimedia, technology and/or coding needed, etc. for each screen. This keeps me much more organized and helps prioritize many tasks.

  • Whenever people see a wall full of storyboards in your office they will think you are really busy. That's always a plus.

Yes, I know it appears I contradicted my self with the non-linear thing, but there is a certain point where it gets so complex that I feel it is necessary to storyboard.

FYI: This post was inspired by an online discussion I read where it appears e-learning designers are very split on the subject of storyboarding. I would love to hear from you if you storyboard your courses and why.


  1. I hesitate to storyboard because I don't want the reviewers (or myself) to get distracted by issues of layout, alignment, look and feel etc.

    My course are generally pretty linear, so I find that presenting the content for review and signoff in a document format puts the focus back on the actual text and pictures.

    If I have builds, rollovers or other interactivity planned for particular components, I have found that there are ways to get his across to the reviewer via annotations in the document.

    Because I don't storyboard during build, slide-by-slide layouts tend to be created on the fly during build.

  2. Your rationale holds very much true for other types of interactive designs. When you need to communicate your ideas to non-savvy teams then they can be invaluable. Also, as something to refer back to, along with requirements, to ensure you're staying on track.

    Sometimes, though, the project is too small, volatile or in flux to make flows and storyboards worth the time. Now IA and wireframes, that's a different story.

  3. [...] since grad school and it has not failed me yet. After writing a CDP, I then proceed to creating storyboards or go directly to development phase, depending on the complexity of the course and if there are [...]

  4. [...] J. (2009). “To Storyboard or Not to Storyboard” [Online] Available at: http://minutebio.com/blog/2009/01/13/to-storyboard-or-not-to-storyboard/. (accessed [...]

  5. I have tried developing on the go. I wasted so much time back tracking and redoing that it became obvious that storyboarding would save time. It is also a great place to store notes on media, layout, and script for narration.

    It also allows me to review content for approval from stakeholders before development.

  6. [...] For the last week I have been in storyboard mode for a large course I am creating. Since grad school I have been using the same format for storyboards, when I do use them. Some projects benefit from use of storyboards, some do not, but that is another post. [...]


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