Writing an effective storyboard is the pre-requisite to an effective e-Learning training program. Having said this, the Instructional Designer’s role is paramount in the entire e-Learning production cycle, as it is the design of the storyboard itself that determines the effectiveness of the end product. This brings us to the most important aspects of storyboard design.
Since the storyboard is a document where the design of an e-Learning course is described, there are certain design principles that the Instructional Designer must keep in mind. Most of these design principles, though a matter of common sense is sometimes overlooked, especially by designers new to the field. The fundamental premise that governs good storyboards is to understand how people learn; how they process new information in their working memory; and how do they retrieve information while applying it to their jobs. A sound instructionally designed course must help the learner do all of that.
The following checklist presents the design principles and other general points that Instructional Designers must keep in mind while storyboarding. The checklist mostly covers the visualization and content presentation aspects for both audio and non-audio based courses and does not include English language guidelines. It is divided into eight topics and their related points are listed under each topic.
1. Using Words and Graphics
Instead of presenting words alone, present both words (i.e. printed and spoken) and graphics (drawings, charts, graphs, maps, photos, animation, and video).
Do not add pictures that just decorate the page. Instead add pictures that help the learner understand the material. These are called Explanative Illustration.
Use the following graphics to teach content types:
• FACT: Present images of the actual subject being presented, supported by statements of fact.
• CONCEPT: Present images supported by definitions, examples, non-examples, and analogies.
• PROCEDURE: Show demonstrations, step-by-step animations.
• PROCESS: Show animated diagrams, flow charts.
• PRINCIPLE: Show guidelines, examples in varied contexts.
Use graphs (dynamic or static) to show relationships between elements.
To show relationships among topics, use graphics such as topic maps. For example – In a course on Heath Safety, list the health hazards as topics in a panel on the left side of the page. On clicking or moving the mouse over each topic, the corresponding graphic and text is displayed on the right side of the screen.
To present case studies and scenarios, use a graphical background. For example – In a course on Office Safety Hazards, to teach about hazards in a room, show the graphical background of an office room with the hazards present and identify them for the learner.
2. Text and Graphics Placement On-Screen
Place on-screen text near the parts of the onscreen graphics to which they refer. Do not physically separate the two. To connect the name to the part, use a pointing line.
Use interactivities such as clicks and roll overs; and insert small size graphics to ensure that text and graphics are not separated.
Present the visuals on the left side of the screen and on-screen text on the right side.
3. Using Audio
Present words in audio rather than on-screen text, only if the graphics and the text are to appear simultaneously on screen and the animation is in focus. The reason being that learners cannot look at two things simultaneously at the screen – the animation playing and reading the on-screen text. In this case, they are bound to miss out on the important aspects of the animation.
Ensure that important instructions and directions remain on-screen text even if they are being narrated. For example: Click the items in the room that will identify them as Hazardous Material.
Do not narrate the practice question/exercise directions as the learner will need it as text for reference on the screen as the learner completes the exercise.
When presenting technical terms, list key steps in a procedure on screen, instead of just narrating them. This helps the learner to process the information presented better and reinforce learning.
4. Avoiding Superfluous Text
Explain graphics/animation using audio alone, instead of using both audio and on-screen text that duplicates the audio, when both words and pictures are presented simultaneously. This is called redundant on-screen text and adding such text can will force the learners to read the on-screen text and view the graphics/animations.
Narrate on-screen text only when:
• There is only text on-screen, i.e. when it is not accompanied by animations, graphics, illustrations, photos, video etc.
• Animation is presented first and then the related on-screen text or vice-versa.
• The learners are not well versed with the spoken language and have difficulty processing the words.
5. Avoiding Unrelated and Irrelevant Sound, Graphic, Text
Do not include extraneous sounds in the form of background music or environmental sounds, as they may distract the learner and disrupt the meaning making process of learning.
Do not give an option to the learner to select any background music that they want to hear as the sound is likely to depress learning.
Do not add extraneous or decorative graphics that might interfere while the learner is trying to make meaning from the information presented. For example - Showing the picture of a doctor, in a screen depicting various health hazards.
Avoid adding extra words to lessons as that may result in poor learning. For example - Interesting stories that are not really relevant to the content.
6. Using Pedagogical Agents and Conversational Text
Use conversational style (first person and second person pronouns) of writing like ‘you’, ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘my’ and ‘your’. This enables the learner to feel more involved with the content presented whereas formal style of writing might not.
In ‘Perform’ courses, wherever possible, use a learning agent or guide known as pedagogical agents who presents the material and guides the learner through the course. This induces the learner to interact with the character and creates the feeling of a conversation rather than just receiving information from the lesson. For example – “Let me take you through the course outline.”
Use agents to primarily teach processes, procedures (demonstrations and worked examples) and principles.
Use the agent to provide instruction rather than for entertainment purposes.
Represent agents visually as human figures, or as cartoon characters.
While using an agent, preferably introduce the agent in the beginning of the course rather than later.
Present the agent’s words as speech rather than text, if the project scope allows for it.
Even if cartoon characters are used, ensure that the voice of the agent (if narration is used) is human.
Do not use learning agents who are too attractive as that can also distract the learner.
While an animation is playing or graphics are being explained, the learning agent must not be present in the screen. If the agent is present, it should not be gesturing or moving as that will distract the learner away from the animation. The agent should only point when the learner’s attention needs to be attracted towards a part of the graphic or animation.
7. Practice Questions
Include as many practice questions as possible in the course. This helps the learner to process the information better in their working memory and will keep the learner engaged throughout the course. It will also help to develop skill and expertise.
Include job realistic contexts or environment in practice exercises or as that help the learners respond to the questions in similar ways as they will do on the job.
Avoid using practice questions that merely recognize or recall information previously provided in the training as that will not help the learner transfer the learning back to the job. The learner may answer such questions without any real understanding of the content.
Intersperse practices questions throughout the course. Do not place them all together at the end.
In practice questions involving facts, the learner can use the fact to complete a certain task. For example – “Use the data in your Job Aid to solve the mathematical problem.”
In practice questions involving concepts, the learner can identify examples or non-examples of the concept. For example – “Identify the correct posture while working on a computer.”
In practice questions involving a process, the learner, given the input, can identify the next step or the output within the process. For example – “Enter your login and password to access the website.”
In practice questions involving a procedure, the learner can perform a task by following the certain specific steps. For example – “Select the correct order of actions to be taken in the event of starting the machine.”
In practice questions involving a principle, the learner can perform a task by applying a guideline. For example – “Create an effective presentation.”
Include a ‘Why’ question at the end of a lesson or topic. This helps to improve learning. For example - “If we step off a boat onto the bank of a lake, and move in the direction of the shore, why does the boat move in the opposite direction?”
Include lots of practice questions for teaching critical tasks like safety procedures and consequences.
Clearly distinguish practice exercises by their placement, color or font, and place them adjacent or just below the question.
While displaying feedback in a practice question, ensure that the feedback appears on the same page as the question and is as close to the options presented or the response area as possible. This also helps the learners see the question and their answers,
The correct options in multiple choice and multiple response items should be highlighted in a different color. If a separate feedback box is shown, use text, graphics, and colors to inform learners about the accuracy of their answers. For example, use green color for correct answers and red color for wrong answers to help learners.
While displaying the feedback, ensure that the question and the options are not obscured. If there isn’t enough space then make the feedback box draggable so that the learner can move it around the screen.
Show the exercise directions in the same screen on which the actions are to be taken. Do not physically separate them. For example, use step-by-step directions in a box or directly on the application screen itself.
Display feedback in text format.
If an audio or video is needed in a practice question, have a Replay button.
In exercises with case studies presented in a video clip, ensure that the learner also has access to a text review of the case.
8. Worked Examples
To save learning time and teach new tasks, replace some practice questions with worked examples (a step-by-step demonstration of how to solve a problem or perform a task). This is to be done especially in the case of novice learners and not experienced ones.
Use worked examples for procedural and principle-based job tasks.
To enhance learning, design worked examples with parts missing that the learner must fill in.
Make worked example interactive by inserting a question that requires the learner to study the example and not skip it.
If you are showing a complete worked example without any interactivities, follow it up with a practice question immediately after.
To avoid a scrolling screen, show the textual directions, steps, or guidelines of the worked example on a fixed screen display either at the top or on the left hand side of the screen and the visual illustration can be shown in the remaining part.
While showing an animated worked example, provide visual cues with arrows or colored boxes to help the learner.
If the worked example is to be shown only visually with no audio, integrate the corresponding text within the example or diagram.
To teach a procedural task, show a single job-realistic worked example with clearly illustrated steps. The example must mirror the environment or requirements of the job.
To teach a principle-based task that requires judgment and problem-solving, include several diverse worked examples to show the application of guidelines to various job scenarios.
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—About our writer:
Instructional Design introduced Praveena to the world of writing and designing a few years ago, and since then she has been passionately pursuing it. But she also indulges in creative writing, in the form of poetry and prose. Writing is the most expressive of communication and also a source of fulfillment for Praveena.
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