Here's how to produce superior e-learning more efficiently with
collaborative storyboard technology.
Many e-learning practitioners express the sentiment of feeling
trapped by the traditional process of producing content. They
bristle at how it consumes excessive manpower, and they share a
common desire to reform the process. However, because they are so
close to the problem domain, most practitioners don't know where to
begin. Enter collaborative storyboard technology.
A fresh perspective on a classic challenge
To date, systems have focused mainly on the solitary task of
authoring content in much the same way that word processors
facilitate document creation. Improvements in traditional authoring
technology typically are not felt beyond the digital artist and
Acknowledging the e-learning project team as a collective group in
need of tools to support how work flows among them has gone
unaddressed. All stakeholders benefit when e-learning project teams
transition away from the traditional approach to development to a
more collaborative solution built around their unique way of
A key success factor of most projects is the storyboarding process.
Storyboards are to e-learning content what blueprints are to a
building. Clients, subject matter experts, and team members use
storyboards to reach consensus on the product's final form. This
includes specifying the breadth and depth of the content, how it
will be conveyed to learners, and any learning outcomes.
Why storyboarding is critical
| Storyboarding -At-A-Glance |
Step 1: Draft Storyboard Content
What we do at this level: Instructional design, setup overall
structure of project
Organize content outlines and learning objectives
Write instructional text, audio and assessment questions
| Step 2: Determine Content AssetsWhat we do at this
level: Scene fulfillment, assign asset creation tasks
Devise schema to manage media assets (audio, graphics, video, etc.)
Provide programming notes to developers for each asset
| Step 3: Revise StoryboardsWhat we do at this
level: Update storyboards based on alpha / beta reviews
Incorporate feedback from clients, experts and developers
It's difficult to overemphasize how important it is to "get
storyboarding right" the first time. Yet, many e-learning projects
owe their cost overruns, missed deadlines, and attenuated
effectiveness to missteps during the storyboarding phase. Whether
you provide learning services in-house or as a vendor, chances are
you've attended an alpha or beta review and heard the client utter
those unbearable words, "This is not what I thought we agreed on."
Nevertheless, outcomes like this are difficult to avoid in a
traditional development setting.
To deliver effective learning experiences on time and within
budget, project team members need storyboards to help them achieve
an early agreement regarding the myriad of tasks to be identified
and executed. Collaborative solutions with dedicated storyboarding
tools and an intuitive work flow simplify this process by several
orders of magnitude.
Storyboarding is a social process
The storyboarding phase is the ideal time for team members to make
all design issues known because this is when the cost of
experimentation is lowest. If matters of vision, learning theory,
media selection, content organization, user interface, narration,
and interactivity are ironed out during storyboarding phase, a
final product valuable to the business can be delivered in an
efficient and timely manner.
Experience with traditional approaches paints an e-learning
landscape littered with low potency courseware and high rates of
abandonment by learners. By comparing traditional and collaborative
storyboarding, we see how collaborative storyboarding relieves
project teams of tedious value-draining activities while freeing
them to tackle learning challenges with inspiration and creativity.
Step 1: Draft storyboard content
| Activity 1: Organize content outlines and learning
| Challenge Scenario - Sudden, unexpected changes to content
After the instructional designer outlines content using a certain
nomenclature with a fixed degree of granularity (Course > Lesson
> Subject > Topic > Screen), requirements change. Outline
must reflect new requirements (Course > SCORM SCO > Topic
| Traditional Approach: |
Cope with Change
| Collaborative Solutions: |
The instructional designer is forced to spend precious design time
revising Microsoft Word documents in multiple places. Moreover, she
needs to follow-up with an email to team members advising them of
the change.The email has attachments which clog multiple Inboxes.
Even if the email links to a file on a shared network drive, the
seeds of future version control problems are sown if she keeps the
most up-to-date file on her computer.
Email correspondence is separate from any project-related
repository. Unintentionally, this creates another "silo"
undermining group productivity.
On a web-enabled, database-driven collaboration platform, a project
holds accounts for each reviewer and developer. Instantly, team
members can view revisions. Automated notifications announce
revisions to all via email with links back to the system.The
instructional designer easily modifies nomenclature, granularity,
and screen flow using a simple drag-and-drop interface to
- create and revise outlines
- relate learning objectives to the appropriate outline level
- resequence screens.
File management and version control are no longer part of her job
| Activity 2: Write instructional text, audio and assessment
| Challenge Scenario - Competition forces accelerated product
release date |
Training development time truncated, review cycle squeezed. The
instructional designer presses client, subject matter experts, and
team for comments on the wording of text, voice-overs, and quiz
| Traditional Approach: |
No Shared Workspace Scatters
People and Their Contributions
| Collaborative Solutions: |
Shared Workspace Unites
People and Their Work, Saves Time
Several times a day, the instructional designer is interrupted from
her work when clients, subject matter experts, and team members
offer feedback. Some respond using instant messaging, others email
their recommendations, and the rest reach her by phone.Though he is
an excellent multi-tasker, this frayed approach to capturing
feedback is beginning to take its toll. Occasionally, changes to
the storyboard differ in subtle but material ways from what was
intended, setting the stage for client-team disconnects later on.
The instructional designer is the only person with access to the
most up-to-date storyboard file. As a result, other team members
don't incorporate their colleagues' remarks when responding. Such
bottlenecks to team awareness prevent the final product from
reaching its maximum teaching potential.
Account holders can view or proffer comments anytime using
real-time chat, email, and forum-style posting all tied to the
current project.With the instructional designer relieved of
excessive clerical duties, the time she spent soliciting,
coordinating, and transcribing feedback shifts to incorporating the
better-informed responses of her colleagues.
Dependencies on the interpretations of one person are practically
eliminated, paving the way for a final product with maximum
Step 2: Determine content assets
| Activity 3: Devise schema to manage media assets (audio,
graphics, video) |
| Challenge Scenario - Instructional designer rearranges
multiple screens |
To manage media assets, the instructional designer names files
based on first screen to use them and their general purpose. The
designer faces storyboard administration quandary: embed assets in
storyboard file or mention them by filename?
| Traditional Approach: Sprawling Media
Spiral Out of Control
| Collaborative Solutions: Automated Asset
Supports Current & Future Projects
Though the instructional designer always keeps her instance of the
storyboard up-to-date, includes a legend explaining her asset
naming conventions, and frequently distributes it to everyone, team
members edit the wrong item or ask her questions she thinks are
self-explanatory.She decides to rearrange a few screens. Before she
can assess the full impact on instruction and rewrite selected
passages, she must tell the graphic artist and Flash developer to
rename their files while she does the same with dozens, if not
hundreds, of assets under her control.
With a team review approaching, the storyboard bloats. Email
bounce-backs hinder her efforts to keep everyone up-to-date.
Substituting filenames in place of graphics reduces file size but
sacrifices clarity. With a less visual storyboard, she worries
about disconnects with her customer later on.
In a collaborative context, team members can forget about awkward
file naming conventions. Instead, they tag assets with descriptive
information for instant retrieval and reuse in any project. Account
holders can view an assest's status, plus any notes or comments it
generated.No matter how much storyboards change, the instructional
designer and her media developers are shielded from busywork like
cutting and pasting sections of a document, conforming to the
demands of email, renaming files, and other chores aimed at
She merely moves screens and the new sequence is ready for all to
see. She can now focus on tweaking screen text based on the new
sequence while developers continue doing what they do best:
creating aesthetic media and interactive experiences.
| Activity 4: Provide programming notes to developers for
each asset |
| Challenge Scenario - Instructional designer requests slew
of new assets |
While writing storyboards and pondering the learning needs of her
audience, the instructional designer decides additional graphics
and animations are necessary. New administrative quandary arises:
enter assets and programming notes in related storyboard scene or
list them in separate file?
| Traditional Approach: Growing
Load Crushes Productivity
| Collaborative Solutions: Administrative
Eliminated, Productivity Soars
The instructional designer takes on yet another burden by opting to
perform both tasks: revising her storyboard and keeping a list of
new asset requests in a separate file. The former is a tactic to
ensure her storyboard file remains the sole place to find an asset
in context. The latter lists assets by filename, completion status,
and first scene in order to remain lightweight and
easy-to-use.Frustrations mount as scenes are re-arranged. He
updates his storyboard, revises scene references in the asset
request file, and explains all this to the developers using email
Developers get confused and have trouble reading programming notes
jammed into an already unwieldy storyboard. Worse, developers are
too busy to update their instance of the asset request file. The
instructional designer finds it nearly impossible to keep his
version complete and accurate.
With a centralized, database-driven storyboard, team members easily
view assets with review notes and comments tidily awaiting their
next mouse click.The instructional designer can assign assets to
developers without worrying about administrative overhead. The
system offers a flexible way to specify what each team member can
do or see in relation to a project. Each team member gets
personalized access to those media assets relevant to their
assigned tasks or areas of expertise.
Developers use their preferred authoring tools, upload assets
already completed or in-progress, and with a quick menu selection,
specify the asset's status.
Maintaining the status of assets used to be a tedious,
time-consuming chore necessary to preserve value while diluting it
at the same time. Now, it practically takes care of itself.
Step 3: Revise storyboards
| Activity 5: Incorporate feedback from clients, experts and
| Challenge Scenario - Overcome barriers of location,
culture, and dense text |
Reviewers and experts scattered among time zones, cultures, and
professions. The instructional designer seeks faster response from
business and subject matter experts but lacks clout. Dense
storyboard text bogs down everyone's effort to imagine a superior
| Traditional Approach: Shared Vision
Elusive, Quality Suffers
| Collaborative Solutions: Vivid Shared
Attained, Quality Surges
The instructional designer emails storyboard file, instructs her
distribution list to respond by inserting comments, and requests
they email it back to the list.Few people hit "Reply-to-All" as a
way of sharing comments with the group. Even fewer incorporate the
feedback of others when composing their own. She puzzles over
whether she should respond to the list or the individual.
With staffing in all departments at historically low levels,
businesspeople and subject matter experts do their best with
limited time to read dense text, ponder, write, and respond.
Despite laboring heroically to capture everyone's input and
reconcile their remarks, the instructional designer's confidence in
a true "meeting of the minds" among stakeholders is shaky at
sign-off and she wonders if cost overruns will plague the
In a collaborative storyboarding environment, accountholders can
view all comments of their colleagues. This encourages a healthy
cross-breeding of perspectives just as any inter-disciplinary
project should.Less obvious, when a team member's contribution is
not commensurate with their role on the project, it shows. As a
result, contributors are more timely and responsive.
With tools designed specifically for storyboarding, comments can
appear at any level - asset, screen, section, or course. This
clarifies the scope of a comment otherwise ambiguous in a
Finally, with visual storyboarding capabilities, all assets appear
in their native form " text, graphics, audio, video and Flash
animations. Project team members no longer need a film director's
skill at envisioning how scripts translate to screen. Confidence in
a true "meeting of the minds" at sign-off is widely held and she is
eager to get started with the production phase.
Eliminating administrative chores, scheduling fewer conference
calls, and producing deliverables you can be proud of will make
your learning team captain of its own destiny. To achieve this
goal, consider these alternatives.
Build your own. If your team has the skills and
resources to design and develop a collaborative storyboarding
system, this is feasible. Your system's level of sophistication
will determine the time and cost involved. At the very least, your
team must have expertise in database design, web technologies, and
software programming with a minimum of nine months for development
Use tools embedded in a learning content management system
(LCMS). Several commercial LCMSs incorporate collaborative
storyboarding features. However, most LCMSs lack flexible authoring
and deployment capabilities because they focus on managing content
after it has been developed.
Try a new on-demand application. As web
technologies advance, new on-demand application services go
mainstream. For example, XStream Software offers the XStream RapidShareStoryboard platform, a web-based visual storyboarding environment with fully integrated group authoring, management, and collaboration capabilities.
To be sure, traditional methods of developing e-learning force team
members to overcome numerous hurdles. Collaborative solutions
eliminate hurdles and capture the finest contribution each has to
offer. Invest the time to explore your options today and reap the
benefits of true collaboration tomorrow. Your e-learning team is at
the top of its game. Nothing should hold it back from realizing its