Storyboards in Instructional Design

Learn why flowcharts and storyboards are helpful in instructional design and get some tips. Whether you are a solo designer, or part of a team, storyboards and flowcharts can help you be more effective!

What Is a Storyboard?

A storyboard, as used in instructional design, is a visual or text-based mockup of the content and activities of an entire course. The software used to create a storyboard is simple, usually PowerPoint (visual mockups) or Word (text-based). They can be used as review documents for stakeholders to comment on, they can be used as a design document to help keep a solo instructional designer organized, or they can be passed off entirely to an elearning developer to build out using authoring software like Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate.

Here’s an example of a slide from a storyboard:

Example slide from a storyboard intended to be built out in Storyline or Captivate.

This image depicts one slide from a course intended to be built out in Storyline or Captivate. This storyboard was created in PowerPoint. Notice that the visual mockup of the slide dominates the storyboard slide. Up top, you’ll find the course name, slide name, and number, which will correspond to a flowchart that maps out the course’s structure. On the right, you’ll see a summary of what this slide is supposed to accomplish, what graphics are used, and what the navigation should do, complete with specific slide numbers.

Instructional Design in Real Life

There are several reasons to use a storyboard instead of diving directly into Storyline or Captivate to start building out a project. How detailed a storyboard should be and what purpose it might serve depends on how an instructional designer works.

For instance, you might be a solo instructional designer – you do it all, both design and development. In this case, your workflow might benefit from designing a rough storyboard and flowchart to try out an idea, revise quickly, and then keep yourself organized as you develop it. Or, you might use your storyboard prototype to gather feedback from stakeholders and subject matter experts. PowerPoint and Word files can be very quick to create, and just as quick to revise, with no time lost polishing up the visuals or building out interactive elements.

Or, you might be part of a team – your role is limited to just design! Someone else builds out the actual courses. In this case, you would design detailed and polished course summaries, flowcharts, and storyboards, in order that someone else that just knows the software can build them out. The level of detail would depend on how closely you work with the developer and what your organization’s workflow looks like.

Instructional Design vs. Elearning Development

The reality is that an instructional design job is more highly skilled than an elearning development job, for the most part.

An instructional designer would perform a learner and needs analysis, writing course goals and learning objectives, determine the best instructional strategies, and develop content, activities, and assessments to align with the goals and objectives. They may also work with subject matter experts, trainers, and other stakeholders to ensure that the course will be an effective learning experience.

On the other hand, an elearning developer may only be an expert in using Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate. Pretty much anyone can teach themselves to use specialized software and to build out courses using the software. It often makes sense for an instructional designer to stick to creating storyboards and then have someone else actually build it out.

What’s In a Storyboard?

A storyboard should include, yes, a storyboard, but it should also contain a summary of what the course is and who it’s for, a style guide that gives overall visual design guidance, and a flowchart that maps out the structure of the course. These additional items help orient the developer (or reviewer!) to what to expect.

Storyboard Example

Here’s an example that I built of a very simple course design. This is something I would expect a student to turn in as an assignment in one of my courses. Below, you may download the entire course design as well as a template to design your own!

Notice that it starts with a summary and also contains a style guide and flowchart.

Free Downloads!

Download the example course design folder that includes storyboard and flowchart (licensed CC-BY 4.0).

Download a storyboard template to reuse (licensed CC-BY 4.0).