Quicker Development: Use a Storyboard

It might seem like a good idea to cut development time by eliminating the storyboard. After all, once you have your content down, it would be quicker to just jump into your development tool and start programming the course.


A storyboard is a graphical representation of what the learner will see once they enter the learning environment. There are many different methods to create storyboards–I’ll link to some examples at the end of the article–but they generally have a mock-up of the screen, the narration script, and any special instructions for developers (such as how items should animate on the screen, or how an interaction should work). Once the designer outlines how the content should be displayed in the storyboard, the design can be implemented in authoring software.

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How Comic Books Can Cut Elearning Development Time

Voice-over takes a long time to record and adds cost to any elearning project. For a professional effect, you often have to hire talent. You have to record, listen, re-record any errors, synchronize with the presentation, publish, correct any errors. Outside of the cost of hiring talent (which you can get around by using in-house), there is still the cost in time and money.

A quick way to get around using voice-over, saving time and money, is to use a comic-book style.

comic book coverNow, you might be thinking Captain America and Superman. Or even Archie and Jughead. However, over the past 40 years, artists have pushed the boundaries of the graphic novel. Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for his graphic novel presentation of the Jewish experience in World War II.

In addition, there’s a long history of comic books being used for serious training.  The US Army has used comics to train soldiers to do preventive maintenance since World War II. The New York State Department of Mental Hygiene used Blondie comics in the 1960s to teach mental health. And the US Centers for Disease Control recently created a comic book that used a zombie meme to teach people about disaster preparedness.

In terms of elearning, there’s been some fabulous examples of comic-book style eLearning in recent years, from Cathy Moore’s Haji Kamal to eLearnerEngaged’s Broken Co-worker. (Although each of these use narration, they could have been just as effective without.)

So what does it mean to use a comic book style? Instead of recording sound effects, you draw them. Instead of having a block of text on the screen, you have an identifiable person act as a guide for your learners. In fact, many conventions of comic books, from word balloons to fonts for sound effects, were developed precisely to convey the sense of audio in a silent medium.

But don’t reinvent the wheel. Comic books have been around for almost a century. Over that time, writers and artists have developed a grammar of comic book conventions that are out there for you to pick up and use.

The first stop should be Nate Piekos’s article, “Comic Book Grammar and Tradition.” In it, he outlines the nuances of comic book grammar—how to use ellipses, italics, how to emphasize, the different types of word balloons and their uses. You don’t have to follow these conventions, but they add a polished look to your design.

And, as a plus, if you’re a nonprofit, you can use several of Piekos’s fonts for free. If you’re not, they are reasonably priced. (And a note—make sure that whatever program you’re using embeds the fonts. Because these fonts aren’t on every system, a system without the fonts will substitute different fonts, which can throw your carefully balanced design off kilter.)

Next, take a look at Scott’s McCloud’s work, especially his Understanding Comics. In it, he outlines many of the conventions that have developed over the years. Understanding these will help make your presentation more visually engaging and conceptually clear.

Finally, read your comic book of choice. Study the layout, the pacing, the way that characters are placed in the frame. It may take a little time to discover and incorporate the traditions and conventions associated with comic books. But once you have them, you’ll be able to employ them to create stunning training that helps your participants learn without the overhead associated with audio and voice-over.

Free Webinar: E-Learning that Works (without breaking the bank)

Kevin GumiennyE-Learning that Works (without breaking the bank) was one of the highest rated presentations at the May 2014 eLearning Symposium. We’re excited to bring back Kevin Gumienny, MicroAssist eLearning team lead to deliver this presentation as a webinar.
When:  September 24, 2014, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM CST.  Register Now
Join us for this webinar, where Kevin will show how to create great eLearning without breaking the bank by using techniques such as:
  • How to use visual design to create a great user experience
  • How to drive faster development cycles with storyboards
  • How to give meaning to data through storytelling
  • How to use gamification to encourage users to apply learning
  • How to take advantage of limitations

About our speaker

Kevin Gumienny is Senior Instructional Designer and eLearning team lead for MicroAssist. He has more than 15 years’ experience in adult learning. Dr. Gumienny has a diverse background in adult learning, instructional design, and technical writing. In addition to his work at MicroAssist, he has created, developed, and implemented adult learning solutions at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Stony Brook University.
He has a passion for sharing knowledge about online training, and has organized eLearning user groups and given presentations at several conferences including two eLearning Symposiums.