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Ask a Trainer: Is Storyboarding or Rapid Prototypes a Better E-Learning Approach?

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Hi Tim,

I began working as an e-learning designer about a year ago. During that time, I’ve been learning about the e-learning development process, and I have a question regarding the pros and cons of drafting a storyboard versus jumping straight into development.

In my research, I’ve found that there is not a real census on what is better. Some people swear by storyboards, and others are adamant about rapid prototyping. To be honest, I’m not sure what’s the right thing to do.

What advice can you offer?


What a great question! When I first started creating e-learning content, I remember asking a lot of the same kinds. Was I supposed to start by drafting a storyboard or by designing slides? At the time, I really had no idea where to begin, and, like you, I found a lot of conflicting advice on the topic.

Over the years I’ve realized that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The decision to start with a storyboard or jump straight into rapid development should be informed by each project.

With that said, I believe there are some instances when it makes more sense to do one over the other.

When Should You Start With a Storyboard?

An e-learning storyboard is a written outline or script of your entire e-learning course. I often like to compare a storyboard to a blueprint for a house. Before you can construct a house, you need to know how each room will be laid out. Additionally, a blueprint lets the future homeowners easily make changes before construction begins. The same concept applies to an e-learning storyboard.

You should start with an e-learning storyboard when:

  • You’re working with stakeholders who aren’t familiar with e-learning development. In my experience, when you are working with folks who aren’t familiar with e-learning development, they tend to struggle to review a rapid prototype and focus on the course content. More often than not, they’ll spend their time commenting on your placeholder images or other elements you’ve yet to finalize in the development process. This can be extremely frustrating when you need them to focus on the validity of the learning content.
  • You expect a lot of edits on the content. As I mentioned earlier, the reason architects start designing a house with a blueprint is that they can easily make changes before construction begins. When you’re developing an e-learning course, if you suspect you’ll receive a lot of edits on the content, it’s much easier and efficient to edit the content when it’s in a written format.

When Should You Start With a Rapid Prototype?


A rapid e-learning prototype is a rough working version of your e-learning course. While a prototype may not include all of the “bells and whistles” of the completed e-learning course, it typically includes the course content and interactivity. Similar to how a storyboard is like a blueprint for a house, I often think of an e-learning prototype as being similar to a 3-D model of the house.

You should start with a rapid prototype when:

  • Your stakeholders are familiar with the e-learning development process. A rapid prototype is ideal when you’re working with stakeholders and subject matter experts who understand that a prototype isn’t a polished, “camera-ready” version of your e-learning course. In these situations, this means your reviewers understand their roles in the process and trust you as a developer.
  • You need to validate complex interactivity. One of the most beneficial reasons for developing a rapid prototype is to test complex interactivity. If you’re creating an e-learning course with a lot of scenarios, branching, or anything else beyond click-to-reveal interactivity, a simple wireframe prototype can help you validate that your concepts are feasible.

Which Method Is Best?


The truth is, neither method is best. Whether you start with a storyboard or a rapid prototype, it’s about finding the method that works best for you, the project, and your stakeholders, and subject matter experts.

I hope that helps. Best of luck!

Tim

Ask a Trainer will be taking a few weeks off for the holidays, but we’ll be back with a new post on January 7.


Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to askatrainer@td.org. Also, visit the Ask a Trainer hub to check out all of your questions and my answers.


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About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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