Written by:

Holly Macdonald


October 11, 2011

Have you heard of The Toolbar? It’s a podcast by Brian and Judy on e-learning. And beer. Why not?

(Although I’m not a Mac user, I hope that doesn’t completely eliminate me as a target listener).

This week they talked a bit about storyboarding. During the listening of the podcast, I found myself wanting to ask questions, jump in, get clarification, etc. Which is a great thing. I think it’s a sign of an engaging program.  Turns out, others were listening too! As a matter of fact, it seemed to be a bit of a trend. I saw this post on the Captivate blog as well.

Kevin Thorn (aka learnnugget) was the guest and he said he is not a fan of showing any kind of graphic to client in the initial stages, as the client can become fixated with that element and derail the higher level instructional framework. He starts with the storyboard and maps it out. Judy talked about prototyping, referencing Michael Allen’s approach (alluding to this, but not necessarily endorsing).  It made me think about my design process, more specifically marrying the graphic or visual design with the instructional flow. I’m not sure what to call my approach, because I don’t think it’s strictly storyboarding, nor is it prototyping. It’s more like information architecture with a splash of film treatment, like the elearning coach says.

I don’t have the design chops that Kevin has or the development skills that Judy has, so can’t really subscribe to one camp or the other. What I find that I need is a design concept to not only organize the content, but contextualize the instructional activities, envision the navigation, filter and organize the content and narrow down visual/graphic design ideas and usability and finally to anchor the project. And, I can’t do it all sequentially or in a linear mode. I sort of flesh it out organically.

In fact, I have a tendency to show different approaches/design concepts with clients to test their reaction and elicit feedback (“hate that idea”, “too hokey”, “we’ve already used metaphor X”, “I like this, but toned down a little”…). Usually I do those as categories: process-driven, scenario-heavy, realistic, etc. The things that the client reacts to, gives me insight and somewhere to discuss.  For example, I recently reviewed some options with a client and he loved one element, but did not want to use it for the whole course, but for certain activities. We talked some more about things and he said “well this program is like a classic hero’s journey” which gave me tons of new ideas, inspiration…they all seemed a bit too contrived, but it’s all an iterative process isn’t it?  I probably should follow Tom Kuhlmann’s advice though…pare it down a little.

Once I have the concept, then I can decide storyboard or prototype or something else. But, without the pitch (think The Player, as in the movie), then I find it hard for the client or SME to get it and agree that this the kind of experience you are going to build together.

I’m curious to know: how do you approach elearning design?