There are some things that you just can't compromise on. Storyboards have four of them.
It's well understood among people who want to write a decent novel that the completed manuscript will have to have essential elements, such as a protagonist (hero), antagonist (villain or challenge), ancillary characters, dialogue, rising tension, climax, resolution, and so on. The same is true for screenwriting: In addition to all the things required for a novel, a movie script needs vivid descriptions of settings and action taking place on screen.
However, when it comes to storyboarding multimedia eLearning courses, the knowledge of how to elevate competence into actual skill is arcane and esoteric. Few know how to do it, yet it's essential that it be done well. A well-written storyboard can be the difference between a substandard course and one that wins kudos and exceeds expectations.
Here are four essential questions to consider when reviewing any storyboard to help decide whether it has what it takes to become an effective and engaging eLearning module.
1. Does it have strong instructional design?
This should be obvious, but it's practically impossible to design an effective module without a foundation of a clearly stated, relevant, and measurable learning objectives, a well-organized structure, frequent interactions and exercises, and so on. (Strong visual design is important too, but this is normally separate from the storyboard.)
2. Is there a clear distinction between voiceover and screen text?
A common mistake with narrated courses is for the voiceover to repeat verbatim the text printed on screen.
Not only does this approach imply that your audience doesn't know how to read, it takes up valuable screen space. It's more effective to use bulleted text to summarize key concepts stated in the narration, or eliminate screen text entirely, in favor of motion graphics or photo slide transitions.
That way the learner can simultaneously listen to the voiceover and watch the visuals. Also keep in mind that voiceover text should be written to be easy for the voice talent to say and easy for the learner to listen to. Tongue-twisters should be deleted or re-written.
Screen text is better for technical abbreviations (50mmHg) or unfamiliar words (buprenorphine) that may be hard to understand if they're only heard rather than seen.
3. Is it well paced?
The more text and voiceover there is on any given screen, the more it slows the pace of transitions from one screen to the next. Of course, some topics may require more explanation than others.
If so, make sure there's more for learners to see and do than listen to the narrator and stare at a single static image for 20 seconds or more. Keep track of the word count per screen. Anything over 200 words should either be trimmed or divided into more than one screen.
4. Is it possible to develop as written?
Whatever is written in the storyboard has to correspond to what's possible and practical for the developer to create.
For example, if the storyboard indicates a drag-and-drop with six movable objects, the writer should know whether there will be enough space on screen to move the objects from where they are to where they need to be, or whether this would even be possible on a mobile device. (Hint: It isn't.)
These four quality factors are essential whether you're designing and developing your own modules or contracting a vendor to do it for you. The good news is that if you can find a vendor that is consistently able to produce eLearning that looks great, sounds great, holds your interest from start to finish, and actually teaches you something, it's almost certain the answer to every one of these questions will be a definite "Yes!"
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