7 Common Instructional Design Pitfalls in E-learning Storyboards

7 Common Instructional Design Pitfalls in E-learning Storyboards
Summary: Storyboard writing is a core skill that all e-learning instructional designers must master. Yet there are common pitfalls that pop up frequently - both for newbies and seasoned instructional designers. Get these valuable tips for improving your e-learning storyboards: your team, your client, and - especially - your reviewer will thank you!

E-Learning Storyboards: Valuable Tips for Avoiding Common Pitfalls from an Instructional Design Practice Lead

Over the years as a consultant and as the Instructional Design Practice Lead at SweetRush, I have literally reviewed tens of thousands of storyboard pages from instructional designers (IDs). Does that make you feel a bit exhausted? Me too. Well, they only come at me 100 pages at a time, so it really isn’t so bad, right? Good thing I love my job!SweetRush, like any e-learning company, has its own best practices and tools, and there is always a learning curve when an ID is new to a company. Regardless of the e-learning tool, however, there are some common pitfalls I see all too frequently in e-learning storyboards, from newbies and seasoned IDs alike. All of them can be avoided by using some simple techniques and rules of thumb, or just by increasing your awareness of them.

7 Common E-Learning Storyboard Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Pitfall #1: Putting too much content on one page.
Crowded pages are not fun to look at and make content hard to digest. Here are some important rules of thumb:

  • Break content into separate pages. Remember, the human mind can only process seven items - plus or minus two — at a time (Miller’s Law).
  • Use a click-to-reveal interactivity to break content into chunks. Still, be cognizant of the amount of text you are using on one page.
  • If you use more than two minutes of content, or about 300 words, on one traditional page, you’ll likely lose the learner (Davis’ Unofficial Law for SweetRush Storyboard Reviews).

Pitfall #2: Copying and pasting content from source materials without massaging it.
Even if the client owns the content, you still need to add some polish. The writing style and/or tone may be different than the rest of your course. Typically, you likely need to add intros, transitions, conclusions, and examples as well. Sorry, no shortcuts!

Pitfall #3: Lacking detail for other team members, such as engineering and creative design.
You need to think about audio, on-screen text, graphics, and the on-screen action. All IDs have really creative ideas! Just be sure to communicate your overall vision and each detail thoroughly to other members of your team.

Pitfall #4: Providing an audio script that doesn’t sound natural.
Unless you are writing dialogue for an android or a computer character in a sci-fi flick, you want to write the way most of us speak. Use contractions, idioms, maybe even slang if it’s appropriate for your audience and client. Check out an earlier blog of mine for a more in-depth discussion: Press Play: 5 Tips for Writing Audio Scripts.

Pitfall #5: Using on-screen text and graphics that do not support the audio.
Here are my guidelines for audio excellence:

  • Your audio should not exactly match the on-screen text!
  • Let the audio drive the page, while key text and related graphics support the message.
  • Be sure your audio is not addressing Topic A and the text on-screen focuses on Topic B; this is even more confusing for learners. Two simultaneous messages will result in no message being delivered.

Check out this demo. I recognize this is a homegrown example, but the author does a great job of illustrating how the same audio piece becomes more impactful when you cut back on the amount of text and use graphics timed with audio.

Pitfall #6: Using the same page layout over and over.
Spend some time and become familiar with all of the standard page types available to you. You might be surprised how many there are and the flexibility they provide.Here are super basic, easy ideas to keep your e-learning fresh even when your scope and budget is low and you cannot do a lot of customization:

  • Change things up by using stock photos with a horizontal or isotope layout (for those unfamiliar with this layout, think about the Windows 8 Start page with the various sized tiles).
  • Create a slideshow of full-screen stock photos and key phrases timed to audio.
  • Add hotspots with pop-up boxes to a stock photo to give more clarity and add visual interest to the page.
  • Get creative with text by calling out a key point in a very large font with quotes. The variety will help keep the learner engaged.

To keep your juices flowing, take a look at this recent article I came across about adding graphics to improve learning.

Pitfall #7: Waiting until the eleventh hour.
As with anything, it’s not a great idea to do something at the last minute. E-learning storyboards written at 3 a.m. with an 8 a.m. deadline looming are typically not “spot on.” Reviewers can tell if you crammed, because all the common pitfalls listed here become amplified.Ideally, write your storyboard in chunks over the course of several days; your overall design will be better thought out. Also, when you sleep, you are problem solving without even knowing it! You can wake in the morning with fresh ideas or at least a clear head to do some quality work. Even for the most seasoned IDs (me included), there is always room to learn and improve instructional design skills. SweetRush’s lead IDs and I coach all our IDs throughout the detailed design and storyboarding process for e-learning.

Though we often are in the midst of tight timelines, taking that extra few minutes to help an ID improve their skills and course design is something I love to do. I know it benefits not just our clients and our team (including reviewers like me), but will serve our IDs throughout their careers. Have you reviewed thousands of e-learning storyboard pages as well?

Do you have a best practice or common pitfall to add to the list?  Share it with us by adding it as a comment below!Interested in learning more about effective learning techniques for e-learning and corporate training? Check out our interactive infographic: How to Choose the Right E-Learning Solution.

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