First-Time Storyboarding

Recently, two masters’ Instructional Design and Technology graduate students from the University of Tampa in Florida completed internships for Artisan E-Learning. This week’s blog entry features reflections on their experiences as first-time storyboarders.  

My only prior storyboarding experience comes from the creation of a TV commercial script. In that instance, we used a white poster board filled with Polaroid pictures and Sharpie notes. Therefore, writing a storyboard for an entire e-learning lesson including all of the narration, graphics suggestions and programming notes was a new frontier for me.

For our internship project, we were converting the materials from an existing instructor-led training into an online course. The source materials consisted of an instructor guide as well as a transcript from a classroom session. Finished storyboards and completed modules from Artisan’s previous courses for the same client provided both examples and templates.

In the beginning, I anticipated our storyboards would largely include copying and pasting from the instructor guide and transcript. However, our project managers quickly pointed out that starting with existing materials instead of from scratch could sometimes make the process more challenging.

In reflection, this was indeed the case, and it was my primary lesson learned on the project. While the instructor guide gave the outline and main points to be covered, it allowed lots of room for the SMEs to fill in from their own experience. So if you plan on basing the storyboards on the instructor guide, you might get the main facts, but you’ll miss the real-life examples, the nuance, and the practical application. In some cases, the recording from a live class filled in those holes. In other instances, we got this extra information from our client during our weekly calls.

The remaining gaps became opportunities for us, as instructional designers, to improve upon the existing materials. Essentially, we broke down the instructor guide and transcript into bits and pieces and then reorganized everything to make it more effective and efficient for the self-led learners who would be taking the online course. When we hit snags that we simply didn’t know how to fix, we turned to our far more experienced project managers for guidance.

Through the process of numerous drafts and revisions, working both individually and as a team, we were able to finalize well-organized storyboards that effectively and efficiently conveyed the information our client’s online learners would need to successfully complete their lessons.

Here are some of my other “lessons learned” from this first-time storyboarding experience:

  • Whenever possible, review several of the client’s existing e-learning lessons before beginning your own storyboards. Viewing the existing lessons provided a vision of where we were going as well as an understanding of how all of the source materials would ultimately fit into, and contribute to, our finished product.
  • Figure out what organizational method works best for you. After trying sticky notes and PowerPoint slides, what ultimately worked best for me was creating an old-school outline of all of the slide topics, adding corresponding bits and pieces of information from the source materials, and then including all of the required components (such as learner interactions, video of the subject matter expert, etc.) This format easily allowed for rearranging the content repeatedly and became a checklist for ensuring all of the necessary components were included.
  • Trust the learning process. Often, my fellow intern/classmate would tell me a solution she’d discovered to a particular problem we’d encountered. I wouldn’t get it at the time, but a couple of days later and further into the process, a light bulb would go off and I’d understand. My mantra became, “I don’t know how to work through this challenge right now, but as my experience grows, things are going to look different, and I will get there.”
  • Reflect during the downtime. Our storyboards needed to be reviewed by both of our project managers. While waiting for revisions, I would work on other projects as well as mull over what I’d learned so far about storyboarding. The reflection time meant I was further along in being prepared to take the next steps when the revisions arrived.

Storyboarding for the first time is exciting, intimidating, and challenging. No longer a newbie, I look forward to applying all I’ve learned from this experience and continuing to grow from experiences to come in my new profession.

Michelle Schumacher
Michelle Schumacher is presently interning at the University of South Florida. She will graduate from the University of Tampa with her Master's in Instructional Design and Technology in May 2015.

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