Comic books are visual representations of stories. There is a lot of action and few words. Think of a scene from a comic book. It draws the reader in with minimal words and lots of graphics. Some scenes contain only graphics, yet the reader is able to follow along with the story. You can reap the same benefit by using a storyboard to sketch out your e-learning course.

E-learning is a visual medium. So why do most instructional designers start with words when they design an online course? To design visually, instructional designers need to think visually. This is where storyboards are useful. They take the emphasis off the words and put the emphasis on what’s happening on the screen.

Benefits of E-Learning Storyboards

Since the course will be online, the instructional designer should consider the visual space and how to use images, pictures, words, colors, etc. to build out the training objectives and competencies. The act of putting the design ideas on a storyboard can help instructional designers improve their course design. Instead of merely taking a PowerPoint slide show filled with bulleted slide after bulleted slide, the designer can use the power of the PowerPoint slides and capture the story in images and text.

In a world where video and images are king, an e-learning course that doesn’t take advantage of the visual space it has is doomed to leave its learners bored and clicking “next” rather than creating lasting performance change. Just like other visual designers, instructional designers need to consider the space they have. Using a storyboard helps them envision their ideas as the learner will see them and helps the subject matter experts (SMEs) envision them, too. Often, when an SME sees the visual treatment of the material, instead of insisting on a list of bullet points, they buy into the visual treatment of the material.

That’s where a storyboard comes in. Using a storyboard allows the instructional designer and the SMEs to conceptualize the screen, the environment and the experience for the learner in a way that they cannot achieve from just a script. Instructional design is, after all, about designing for instruction, and the designer has the opportunity and the responsibility to change behaviors and improve performance through showing and telling, not just telling.

Creating an E-Learning Storyboard

You can create a basic storyboard by printing blank slides in “notes” view. Concentrate first on the blank square for each slide. You will have plenty of time later to fill in the words that will be spoken. For example, if the course will teach the learners how to use a new software program or machine, it should be filled with images from the software program or of the machine. If the course will demonstrate how to have a conversation with an employee or a customer, the course should be filled with scenarios depicting the scene and the people involved in the conversation. These types of courses are usually designed using graphics and images, but they also often get bogged down in words, including checklists and rules to follow. Fortunately, you can provide these materials as resources instead of using them as the main visual elements of the course.

Some courses are harder to design graphically, and these are the courses that are in most need of storyboards to force instructional designers to focus on the images and away from the words. Thinking about the instructional objectives and the way the learner will use the material can help you think graphically instead of verbally. For example, if the course will teach learners the difference between two theoretical concepts, you could design it from a case scenario method, where the results are imagined, and the learners are asked to choose from among consequences (a happy customer, an unhappy customer; a pay increase, a demotion, etc.), which you can display visually.

The key to using a storyboard is thinking visually and based on the results you want from the course. You can sketch a storyboard on a napkin, a piece of paper, a blank PowerPoint slide or something more elaborate, but the main point is to start with a blank screen. Fill it with action and graphics, and bring in small amounts of text only when necessary. When instructional designers complete this process, business partners and learners will desire their courses, and the business will be the superhero in the eyes of its customers.