Storyboarding – A Primer and Current Perspective

Those who know me would tell you that I have a disposition towards technocracy – I love to contemplate how processes can be improved and how tools to improve processes can be created and implemented. It made me popular, even a shining star, in some past career roles; it also earned me some enmity, especially when colleagues had to adopt something new as a result of my efforts.


I share this so that you can understand the common barriers to storyboarding – and also understand my own mixed feelings about this practice in the development of learning programs. I’m not the one to create work – I’m one to eliminate it, to restructure it, or to “work smarter, not harder”.

On the surface, storyboarding just seems like much ado with little return. Let me see if I can convince you (and me!) that this is not the case, and that when done with rigour, storyboarding will save a whole lot of grief.

I love the discovery part of a new learning program. Love it! My more significant contributions for most of my blended and e-learning work is in listening to the client’s needs, talking to client stakeholders, talking to the “learners”, and synthesizing insights that move the program forward. From a guided discovery process to the elaboration of key themes and “actions and behaviours that must be changed”, through the development of what I call a “Learning Map” (or course syllabus) and the creation of an editorial outline, I am in my element. It feels like brilliant play, working in Mindjet’s MindManager and Word templates to pull together something truly satisfying.

The editorial outline, I had always felt, was where the real action was. I tend to indicate information about a section or unit title, some information about the Learning Outcomes to be achieved, and what methods (e.g., video, interactives) can be brought in to course development to make it zing. I take the opportunity, at this step, to elaborate about how to evaluate change and success for the learner.

Historically, after sign-off of my Learning Map by “the client”, I would get busy building, working with SMEs. It often is PowerPoint slide-based, with intent to push to a rapid e-learning composing tool. Such tools should preferably be interactivity-based. Challenges always arise after this early content collection/action phase – because stakeholders want to review, and they just can’t break past early visuals.

And then, the (less than) fun begins. If you’ve been at this for a while, you are well aware of the misery involved with trying to collect review comments from multiple stakeholders. PowerPoint, until its cloud implementation (and not all of us are there yet!), was largely useless in managing a review process with multiple stakeholders. For built interactives, where do you store the digital media – and how do you ask stakeholders to structure their comments? What tools should be used? (These frustrations have prompted me to create a social slide review platform called Slide Swarm™ [], about which I invite your interest.)

And here’s what I’ve learned. In my rush to compose after what can best be called a “10,000 foot view of the landscape”, you open up a world of back and forth trouble. If you are composing with an off-the-shelf learning tool, maybe that’s not time=money (although I still find that it is!). But if you are doing any custom composing with a technology team, your budget will balloon, your timeline will bloat and it just won’t be rewarding for anyone.

Enter storyboarding. Storyboarding allows you, as the e-learning designer, to extrapolate from an Editorial Outline to the screen or slide or media level. It allows you to detail what will happen, step by step, to get the learner to the outcome. A storyboard portrays the interactivity on the whole, while allowing the e-learning strategist to confirm the content, titles, placement of imagery and media, degree of interactivity, and linkages across the corpus of the program. It is a screen by screen description of content + usability of the content.

I have been known to groan when reading, in client requirements, an indication that storyboarding was part of the project. In part, this groaning is because I want to rush in (and you know who they say rushes in, right?). And yet, almost every time, I gain clarity and client commitment from storyboards, and greater insight into the learners’ needs and desired experience.

There are many excuses given for not storyboarding an e-learning program. Among these are notions that it overcomplicates things for the SMEs and stakeholders, that it is a waste of precious development time, that it doesn’t actually work to resolve the back and forth that will come downstream on composing (when changes become more expensive!) and that the lack of a standard approach to storyboarding e-learning could just aggravate confused SMEs and project owners. I’ve heard some e-learning strategists indicate, dogmatically, that “it just isn’t practiced in our shop), and others indicate that they don’t have experience with it and so don’t want to appear as fools. For the elite among us, I’ve caught a whiff of the “yeah, but it’s so linear, and we want our courseware to be more organic/to better meet learner needs/etc.” sentiment. (Hey, I’m a cheerleader for the movement to eliminate the “click next” linear approach to e-learning, and will try to write something about our experience with learning diagnostics and pre-program knowledge assessment to that end. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!)

Regardless of your excuse, motivation is the issue. When you (and I) come to believe that we will get more benefit from storyboarding (e.g., less back and forth at composing) than the alternative, then we will embrace the practice. We will further be enabled when appropriate and easy-to-use tools are made available to do this work.

After all, it’s not difficult from a content perspective to storyboard. We are essentially laying out our screens, slides, interactives and videos – in a Word document. They reflect, typically, a 1:1 correspondence from the content perspective with the final product. We string a series of boards together to provide a preview of the finished flow. We provide space for approvals and revisions by the SMEs / project owners.

A good storyboard includes the following information per screen (or interactivity, depending on the level of detail):

  • A number in the numbering scheme for the storyboard set
  • A representation of the screen itself (sometimes a sketch)
  • On-screen text
  • Audio narrative
  • Explanation of interactives, transitions, etc
  • Branching and navigation guidance
  • Learning outcomes addressed or contributed to by the screen

Storyboarding actually can nail down the content with precision, and deliberately does so in the absence of design distractions. This can be especially important for developing quizzes/tests of application, where you want to be sure you’ve got things right and your reference to the original material is correct. (It can also help because it allows contemplated development of quiz supports/hints/tips) When using an appropriate template, the practice creates familiarity and comfort for SMEs. It clearly supports the “implementers” (designers and developers/coders). And storyboarding is a great way to portray flow – and isolate flow problems – early, rather than later, in the project.

One of the common challenges of storyboarding is version control. Storyboard authors must be fanatical about version control. These days, I find it a great convenience to share storyboards through Google Docs (or via Microsoft Word cloud app) to facilitate common access amongst what is usually a group of stakeholders all of whom want a crack at editing. You get the support of versioning in some of these platforms, which allows you to roll back should you need to do so. Some efforts towards creating an online storyboarding tool have begun – check out Storyboard That (, which while not tuned for e-learning (from my take), may be of some help in speeding up the storyboarding process.

My confession: I don’t always storyboard each learning program with which I’m involved, and I’m more “addicted” to the thrills of discovery and mind mapping. However, I have found that storyboarding, which unfolds early in the development of an e-learning program, can place development efforts on firm ground, with its emphasis on precise content confirmation and its removal of the “visual layer”. More and more, I’m finding storyboarding an essential element in e-learning program development.

About Author

todd With career stints in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors, Todd Kasenberg, Principal of Guiding Star Communications and Consulting, brings years of experience and expertise in group processes, adult learning, online learning and marketing communications to his clients. Todd first dipped his toes into the e-learning pond in 2005, and since has used some of the best available e-learning composing tools, including Raptivity, to delight a number of clients in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. Todd’s work has reached and delighted thousands of online learners, in both formal and informal learning contexts. He is an often invited speaker and workshop facilitator, loves to talk apps, mobile learning, and job aids, and is a software entrepreneur.

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Approaches to Adaptive eLearning Design

Adaptive e-learning Design

In my last blog, I introduced you to the concept of Adaptive eLearning Design (AED). Today, I’ll talk about a few approaches we follow at Harbinger to create AED based courses for our healthcare and pharmaceutical customers.

These approaches are easy to follow and implement and designed to ensure great ROI.

1.    Design Models

The most commonly preferred approach is incorporating the AED strategies while designing the course.

It could either be implemented through Strategic Chunking of the software simulations or through a Flipped Classroom model. In Strategic Chunking, the design is instructionally chunked into several self-contained small units so that it becomes easy to implement changes across the required unit rather than disturbing the whole system.

In the flipped approach, you could design the system in a way that there are multiple short instructional videos for people to see. The training content doesn’t include many activities or interactions. This part is handled in the training room. So, the amount of changes to be done in the content reduces.

2.    Show Me, Try Me, Test Me

An interesting paradigm that could be followed for creating AED is by carefully modifying the typical Show Me, Try Me and Test Me model. These three steps should ideally be followed in a sequence for a perfect AED enabled system. On a higher level, it involves showing something to the learner and then letting them try it themselves and finally, testing them on what was shown and tried.

 Here are some tips for designing Show Me – Try Me – Test Me:

In Show Me, the system needs to be designed in such a way that it incorporates multiple closely knit images that give the illusion of a video. It is adaptive in the sense that you could simply change the image when required without recreating the complete video.

Try Me can be considered an analogy to ‘Learning by Doing’. In this particular model, the course is heavy on instructions. This approach performs best when the instructions are textual and not audio/video based. That enables you to just replace the instruction text quickly when demanded and need not get into the cumbersome process of re-recording audio/video.

 3.    Training Instructor Guide

Another approach that you could choose for AED is, opting for training with your eLearning partner. In this approach, partner provides you with an Instructional Guide Manual of the system and also trains you at the end of the project delivery. The training would be on the package design as well as maintenance. In such cases, strategically selecting a rapid authoring tool that is not complex and can be easily operated by your team is the key. We have been designing such instructor guides for our customers which they have found useful once they own the responsibility of maintaining the content.

Apart from the above options, if companies have limited resources and budgets, they may even ask for an annual maintenance contract (AMC) with their eLearning partner. AMC works best when there are constant changes planned.

These changes could be at an instructional design level or simply at screen level. They key to a successful AMC is a partner who is willing to go an extra mile to understand the changes you are anticipating in future as maintenance. The partner team should be able work out a strategy for a cost effective AMC based on your needs.

Many of our clients prefer going the AMC way due to the complimentary instructional and authoring skills we bring in.

Each approach has its own benefits and limitations. The best suited approach can be decided after a thorough analysis of client requirements and expectations. I hope you enjoyed reading this blog. I would love to know your thoughts. Do share your comments below.

Harbinger’s specialization in Video & Simulation in Medical Education

Harbinger has been seriously involved in applying videos and simulation in medical education for sometime.

Medical education is a field that has long remained at the cutting edge of technology – both in terms of adopting technology as well as teaching technology. With the advent of e-learning technology, medical education has changed radically and rapidly. One of the newest techniques in e-learning is simulation, and medical education is definitely not lagging behind in the use of this technique to improve efficacy. However, the use of videos and simulation in medical education is quite different from the way it is used in other fields.

For one thing, with medical education, the stakes are much, much higher. Human lives are directly at risk. True, something going wrong with a mechanical product does put human lives at risk, but in the medical field, human mistakes can have lifelong effects on people, not to mention the direct risk of death of the patient. As such, medical education is serious business and simulation has begun making inroads in this field only through bluntly proving its benefits.

Medical students have long had a tradition of learning by watching and assisting star surgeons in the field. Many say that an internship is the most effective and important education that a medical student receives. However, the number of medical students has increased dramatically along with the number of operations being performed. As such, it becomes difficult for many students to watch a star surgeon in action. This is where videos have become indispensible.
Videos of surgeons performing operations allow these valuable lessons to be viewed by hundreds of students world-wide, regardless of time and place. No longer do they need to wait for a procedure to be performed, or pray that they get a chance to view their idolized surgeon at work. Videos are also being successfully used in patient education and continuing education in the medical industry, and are one of the first successful applications of e-learning technology to this field.

Simulation allowed interactivity and opened up the dimension that was missing in videos. With videos, students could watch and learn, but were entirely at the mercy of the camera angle and quality of the video. With simulation, it became possible for the student to interact and even attempt performing the procedure themselves, resulting in superior understanding and retention of the content. They could make mistakes and learn without having to face the risk and consequences that would be associated with making a mistake during a real procedure. That’s not to say that videos are no longer useful – the best results have been observed by using an effective combination of videos and simulation techniques. An example would be having the student watch a star surgeon perform a procedure and then attempt it themselves to reinforce the learning.

In medical education, practice makes perfect, and the blended method of videos and simulation is one of the best reinforcements of this adage. Many institutions are successfully using simulation in their teaching methodology, and it has found widespread appreciation in basic education such as first aid training.

To learn more about how Harbinger could help you, write to

Harbinger’s Thought Leadership Forum – Session #1: The Best and The Worst of Educational Outsourcing

As we had mentioned in our previous post, Harbinger’s Thought Leadership Forum, in its first edition, has taken up a topic that’s very relevant to all of us in the educational outsourcing business – What to do and what NOT to do in the educational outsourcing business.

And sharing with us decades of knowledge and experience on this subject is Kim Sullivan, Senior Editorial Director of Words and Numbers, Inc.

In a freewheeling chat with Kim, we learnt many interesting facts about educational outsourcing. She strongly emphasized the need for quality, transparency, trust, consistency, domain knowledge and creativity. Educational Outsourcing in not a factory business and should not be termed as a BPO [Business Process Outsourcing].

Given below is the link to the audio recording of the interview by Bijoy Banerjee, AVP – Business Development. We look forward to reading your comments on this post or you can also write to us at

Session #1 | Aug 2012
Topic: The Best and The Worst of Educational Outsourcing
Expert: Kim Sullivan, Senior Editorial Director of Words and Numbers, Inc.
Podcast duration: 12.5 minutes

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Harbinger’s Thought Leadership Forum – A Series of Podcasts With Leading Industry Professionals

Harbinger is proud to announce the launch of Harbinger’s Thought Leadership Forum, an unique place where learning and industry experts come together to talk about thought leadership, trends, challenges and solutions in the learning outsourcing business.

This forum is meant for all of us in the learning business. You can access blogs, case studies, white papers and podcast of interviews with the learning experts. It’s going to be an exciting place for knowledge sharing and thought leadership in the learning domain. We welcome you to connect with this forum.

In its first edition, the forum has taken up a topic that’s very relevant to all of us in the educational outsourcing business – What to do and what NOT to do in the educational outsourcing business. And sharing with us decades of knowledge and experience on this subject is Kim Sullivan, Senior Editorial Director of Words and Numbers, Inc.

Watch out for this first podcast in the series starting next week where you can listen to Kim Sullivan sharing her experiences with Bijoy Banerjee, AVP, Business Development.