How to create an effective instructional design storyboard

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A screenshot of learners on an online course.

A well-structured instructional design storyboard is the foundation of any successful online course or elearning project. It forms a blueprint that allows everyone involved in the project to understand the learning flow, offer contributions and then implement the design in your elearning authoring tool with ease.

In this guide, we'll share a complete process for creating effective elearning storyboards. We've included tips for the course design process and a heap of instructional design storyboard templates to help you optimize your elearning development process. Let's dive in.

What is an instructional design storyboard?

An instructional design storyboard serves as a design blueprint for an instructional design project or elearning course. This typically comes in the form of a slide deck or design document that outlines all details of the course including structure, content, interactions, assessments and more.

You’ll tend to have a single slide or block for every page of your course and include details for what should be on each page, how each page should function and what should happen next. 

Your elearning storyboard will effectively map out the learning journey from start to finish, showing the different kinds of interaction and content and demonstrating how the design will enable learning goals to be achieved. 

The exact level of detail and format of a storyboard depends on a few key factors.

  1. Who is it for?
  2. What is its purpose?
  3. What is the format of the course or project?

For example, in the event you are creating a storyboard for an elearning course that a developer or content designer will help you implement, your storyboard will include notes on what visuals to include, what animations and page styles will be used, the kind of interactions you’ll have and more. It’ll be a complete design brief that will make it easy for a developer to create the final course materials.

A simple instructional design storyboard template built in SessionLab. I’ll often begin with this and tailor it to the specific needs of the project at hand.

Another key consideration is the format of the project itself. A storyboard for a video and voiceover heavy course will likely differ from one that is a more gamified experience. A blended course design featuring live and async elements or using cohort learning will likely have a different format to an entirely self-serve course. 

In most storyboard formats, you’ll use one slide to represent one page of your elearning course. A simple two column elearning storyboard format like this one which includes space for: the slide title and number, voiceover script, on-page content (written and visuals), programming notes and animations/interactions is sufficient for most design storyboards. 

Tailor your storyboard to best serve your project and enable whoever is creating the finished course to easily understand what is expected and how the course should function.

Legibility is one of the most important aspects of an effective storyboard, and so keep this in mind when creating something to pass on to others. 

How is an instructional design storyboard used?

The format and use case for storyboards can vary based on the project. For a solo instructional designer, the storyboard might be solely used as a working document that helps you map your ideas and create an effective elearning prototype.

When working for clients, the storyboard might be used to show the flow of a proposed course or learning program in order to get feedback and approval from other team members.

Storyboards for elearning are also a vital part of the project management process and you’ll regularly pass them to elearning developers to actually implement the design.

Here’s some examples of how storyboards are used which might help you determine the role your storyboard will play.

Storyboarding for clients and stakeholders 

An elearning storyboard is a vital tool when working with clients and stakeholders. You’ll likely deliver a storyboard to clients to get feedback and receive input on what needs to be changed. In SessionLab, you can share your storyboard directly and receive comments on specific activities as well as the entire storyboard. This makes it easy to iterate on your storyboard whether async or in real-time. 

Effective elearning storyboards are those that clearly communicate how each element contributes to reaching your learning goals. SessionLab’s colour-categories and simple overview are useful tools here. They allow learning designers to quickly communicate and present material to stakeholders in an easy-to-understand, visual format. 

A completed elearning storyboard slide made in SessionLab with an image added and links to relevant voiceover materials.

Storyboarding for an elearning developer

For many instructional design teams, there comes a point when an approved storyboard is passed over to a developer or content expert to recreate the material in a content authoring tool or LMS.

In this case, the elearning storyboard is designed to make it easy for developers to create the elearning slides or pages of your course. You’ll include clear instructions for how animations or interactive elements should work and put all of your elearning content into a structured and legible flow. You’ll also include visual elements or descriptions of visuals you would like the content team to produce. 

It’s helpful to know what tool(s) will be used to develop or host the course content and factor that into your instructions. For example, if you’re adding an interactive game, you should propose something that meets with the feature set of the tool you’re using. Just as you factor these items into your course design, try and make it easy for developers to create your vision and be respectful of their time and expertise.  

Storyboarding for yourself 

Even for solo learning designers, the storyboard is an invaluable tool in the design and creation process. In my own practice, I think of the storyboard as a low-fidelity prototype that allows me to both create and go through my proposed learning flow. It makes it really easy to identify what works, what needs to be changed and see how everything hangs together.

Typically, I’ll first send a simple course outline to my clients to get approval. Next, I’ll turn that outline into a full storyboard in order to design an effective learning journey and either implement it in an LMS or course platform myself or pass it to a developer. 

Building a course in an elearning platform without a storyboard can lead to a ton of wasted time. I’ve made the mistake of creating slides and elearning content that I then didn’t need, or only realizing that the learning flow was all wrong after completing a full draft.

Your storyboard will help you identify any issues early and quickly iterate on your chosen content and learning flow. It’s so much easier to edit a PowerPoint slide or SessionLab session than it is to make edits to a course in an LMS or authoring tool.  

Using SessionLab to create a storyboard. During the design stage, the colour categories really help me design an engaging and balanced learning flow.

Storyboarding for subject matter experts and collaborators

Collaboration with subject matter experts (SMEs) can come in many forms. Sometimes, the learning designer will receive materials in bulk at the start of the project. Other times, it’s a back and forth dialogue where the instructional designer will work more closely with SMEs as they develop the learning design. 

In my own practice, I’ve often invited SMEs to my storyboards to add their insights and material directly or ideate on content with me.

If I’m particularly unfamiliar with the subject or course material, getting a sanity check on the learning flow from a content expert has been extremely helpful in moving things forward and reaching a deadline.  In SessionLab, I’ll assign a subject matter expert to a specific blocks where I want their opinion and invite them to attach PDFs and images to the learning flow too. 

You might also share your elearning storyboards with a graphic designer or other team members in your capacity as a project manager. As with your SMEs, it’s great to tag them and let them know what you need from them. I also tend to include a note at the top of the storyboard that outlines the project so they can get oriented easily.

What are the 9 steps in storyboarding for eLearning and instructional design? 

During my own research, I found a heap of different processes and suggestions for anyone who needs to create storyboards for elearning.

While every learning designer (and project) is different, the step by step process I’ve outlined below is one that encompasses what I’ve heard from learning designers who use SessionLab and my own experience of creating elearning projects.

The nine (and a half!) steps to create a storyboard are:

We’ll explore each of them in order below and include best practices, tips and examples for each. Let’s dig in!

1. Define the project

The first stage of any learning design project is to define a few key parameters so you can design intelligently. In simple terms, you’ll want to kick your project off by determining:

  • What are you creating? 
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What are the desired outcomes and learning objectives?
  • What tools and platforms will you be using? 

For many learning designers, you’ll be starting from scratch and as such create a needs assessment to determine your audience, their needs, and then create learning objectives and a project outline. 

In other scenarios, you might receive a design brief based on an assessment that has already been done. If this is you, be sure to check that the brief provides everything you need to correctly scope and move forward with the project. 

Whatever the scenario, the goal of this step is to answer all key questions relating to your elearning project so you can design it (and your storyboard) accordingly. Get this right and your workflow can be efficient and smooth. Get this wrong and you can end up designing a video based course for a client who actually wanted an interactive simulation to best engage their employees. 

Visual representation of the ADDIE cycle - Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate.
Using an instructional design model like ADDIE can help structure and project manage your entire process.

1.5 Identify your instructional design model and approach

At this stage, most learning designers will use an instructional design model to help guide and project manage the process. Popular models like Addie have a first step that includes analyzing the needs of your audience and determining the problems you seek to address. 

I’ve put this point as 1.5 in the flow because depending on your personal preference, choosing a suitable model might be the first thing you do.

In my experience, newer learning designers (myself included) benefit the most from starting with a model and using it to guide the entire process from start to finish. Expert learning designers sometimes choose to conduct a needs assessment before selecting what they feel is the most appropriate model. 

In any case, we highly recommend using a proven process such as those outlined in this post on instructional design models to help optimize your workflow and ensure nothing important is missed. 

In addition to a model, you’ll also want to choose a learning framework or approach for your project. Popular frameworks such as Robert Gagne’s 9 events of instruction effectively create a skeleton for an effective learning experience, whether a single training session or a complete elearning course.

Depending on the project, I’ll use Gagne’s framework as the structure for my first course outline or I might simply have the steps open in the next screen as a reminder of best practices. 

If this isn’t your first rodeo, your approach might be to start with a course or learning framework you used before. I’ll often use an existing storyboard template in SessionLab as the basis of the next, saving me time and ensuring I leverage previous hard work into this new project. 

2. Decide who the storyboard is for (and choose the format)

Now you have some project scaffolding in place, it’s time to turn your attention to the format and use case for your storyboard. 

Every project is different. As discussed above, there are various use cases and audiences for any elearning storyboard. The format and depth of your storyboard will differ depending on who it is for, so take steps to determine the role your storyboard will play in your project.

Is your storyboard going to be passed to developers who will implement the design in a content authoring tool? Or is it intended to be a simple outline to share with stakeholders? Perhaps it’s just to help you create an engaging and well-structured learning experience.

Once you’ve determined how the storyboard will be used and who will use it, you can then move towards selecting a format. 

For most projects, a simple two-column storyboard is sufficient. That said, you may wish to tailor your storyboard based on some of the details you ironed out while defining your project. 

For example, an animation-heavy course has different needs to a solely text-based or gamified experience and so visual storyboards are often a better fit here. The purpose of your storyboard is to make it easy for people to understand and implement and it should be tailored as such. 

Running a blended learning or cohort based course? You’ll want a tailored blended course template in order to best organize and realize your project.

It’s possible that you won’t know the exact format for your elearning storyboard until after you’ve received content from subject matter experts and had a chance to ideate on how best to meet your learning objectives. That’s okay! So long as you know who it’s for and how it will be used, that’s enough to move to the next step of this process. 

Want to see a simple storyboard structure? Check out this free elearning storyboard template to get cracking. Prefer to see an example of a real-life elearning project? Check out this elearning storyboard for the first module of an elearning course I delivered for the National Centre for Writing.

Ensure you’ve scoped out and defined your elearning project before choosing your storyboard format. Something unclear? Chat to your SMEs, developers and stakeholders and clarify before moving forward.

3. Collect course content

In most cases, learning designers will source course content from subject matter experts (SMEs) and fashion that content into an engaging learning experience. This might look like making direct requests for content on a specific topic or training gap and then turning that raw material into quizzes, games and other learning content. 

In some cases, that raw material might come fully formed – like a presentation or video – or it can come in a Google Doc full of notes and links. It’s helpful to set expectations on both sides early in this process. Be explicit about what you need, ask questions and let SMEs know the desired outcomes of the course and each training block. 

Wherever possible, I’d also recommend conducting interviews or phone calls with your SMEs. There are countless times where I’ve learned more from a quick chat with an expert than dozens of articles, podcasts and books.

If you can, go further and encourage more collaboration by inviting them to review your storyboard and elearning content in SessionLab too. They’ll often be able to point out errors or inconsistencies in your tone or content and generally improve the learning experience. Where this isn’t possible, aim to gain some rudimentary knowledge of the subject area yourself in order to inform your design and copy, even if you aren’t a primary source of knowledge. 

In my experience, it feels so clear when a course has been written by someone with no understanding of the subject VS someone who does. Those courses where the language matches the subject and everything is delivered with some background knowledge of the topic are often more authoritative and engaging.
However you’re working with SMEs, it’s so important to be respectful of their time and to try and make things easier for them wherever possible. Be clear with deadlines and where possible, make it easy for them to collaborate. Sometimes, it can be easier to call a meeting and simply show them your course outline and ask for input then and there, rather than going back and forth over email. Check out some more tips for working with SMEs in this article on Forbes.

At this stage, it can also be helpful to start curating and organizing your course content into a flow in SessionLab. I tend to start by creating the absolute simplest course outline with blocks in SessionLab and then attach materials I receive to the relevant blocks in the flow.

This way, I can stay organized and also start to shape the learning experience – some content naturally flows from another, and I can start structuring the experience.

It’s also worth noting that content collection is often a process that will run in tandem with the rest of your project. In an ideal world, you’d receive most or all necessary content at this early stage, but in reality, SMEs can take time to respond and things take time to source and produce.

Initiate this process early and plan around what you have and expect to receive. 

In some cases, you might be the subject matter expert yourself! Kudos to you! When this happens to me, I often find that I’ll often use a combination of new, bespoke content and previously designed material and proven activities from my personal library.

In SessionLab, I’ll simply pull up the applicable content in my library and drag and drop it into my new learning flow. 

Throughout the storyboarding process, I’ll attach links, PDFs and raw content to my blocks in SessionLab to keep everything organized.

4. Determine instructional design methods and how you’ll present your content

Once you have a clear definition of your elearning project and you’ve started collecting your content, you’re ready to begin thinking about how to present the material. The aim here is to figure out how to best achieve your desired learning outcomes and engage your audience in a way that speaks to them. 

For me, this is one of the most fun parts of the process. By now, I know who my target audience is, I have a clear understanding of the needs of the course and I’ve received some or all of the material I need to build out the project. This is where I get to be creative and leverage my instructional design skills to take raw content and turn it into something special.   

Start by going back to the desired outcomes of the project. Is the aim to simply transfer knowledge or build specific, practical skills? Next, you’ll want to think about the best way to achieve those goals with the materials, platform and possibility space open to you. 

My advice here is to leverage your previous experience alongside a creative brainstorm to see what else might be possible. Every project is different and for some clients, you might simply be repeating what’s worked before. For me, this is a perfect time to consider everything I know so far and stretch myself in order to best engage and excite my audience in a way that’s perfect for them.

This is also a great place to use the instructional design approach you chose in step 1.5. For example, the first three events of Gagne’s 9 instructional design principles are Gain attention, State objectives and Stimulate recall of prior learning. Generally, I want to make sure I do those things in that order at the start of every learning experience. 

Knowing my audience, my tool and my content, what’s the best way to achieve each step of the learning flow? Would it be most effective to have an authoritative, knowledgeable SME state the objectives for this course, or have participants first reflect on their own objectives? Should I stimulate prior learning for this cohort with a simulation game that helps me also determine their skill level, or is a short quiz more suitable?

In this stage, you’ll also start thinking about interactivity and multimedia types. Some learning content may be best transmitted visually or with an instructive video. Other learning content might be best engaged with experientially, in the form of a simulation or exercise.

Variation is a key element of creating engaging learning experiences, and here’s a great time to start thinking about how you’ll create variation that also helps learners to engage with and retain the information you provide. 

All that said, it’s easy to get carried away. Keep your available resources, time, authoring tool and elearning platform in mind when starting to brainstorm around how to present your content. Branching scenarios and complex interactive simulations are great, but only if your tool supports them and you have the expertise to create them in time. 

This is also a great time to consider any feedback you received from previous elearning courses you created. While we all hopefully go through a process of learning from experience, I find it useful to pull up a previous storyboard in a second window with any engagement statistics while creating one that’s similar.

Seeing that people loved the short quizzes and interactive games but found video instructions unnecessary or the formal assessment quiz format confusing can help inform how I present the content I’m designing now. 

Using SessionLab’s overview features makes it easy to see the overall structure and flow of an entire elearning course or training program.

5. Create a course outline 

It’s starting to get real now! At this stage, you should have everything you need to create a high level overview of your course structure in the form of a course outline. In many ways, this can be considered a simplified version of the storyboard you’ll create in the next step and a rough skeleton for your completed course.

The detail and format of your course outline will differ based on your project and who you’ll be sharing your outline and storyboard with. If it’s just for you, you can use whatever format works best for you. Notes, Word Doc or a visual course outline in Twine – your choice! This is intended to help you visualize your learning flow and provide the foundation for your forthcoming storyboarding. 

If your outline is needed to get approval from your client or stakeholders, you’ll likely want to use a simple but legible format that makes it easy to demonstrate your vision to others. This can be as simple as a Google document with a bullet point list, project intro or brief and a short explanation of how you’ll be achieving the desired learning outcomes.

For me, I’ll export a simple PDF of my SessionLab outline with colour-coding as a PDF to share with stakeholders. The color-coding can really help tell the story of the course and make it easy for them to parse. 

Exporting a simple view of the course structure as a PDF is a fast way to tell the story of your storyboard before diving into specifics. Note the use of color-coding to show the activity type of each block in the storyboard.

In many cases, some form of outline may already exist before you reach this stage – whether that’s as a note on your phone or a bullet point document. For me, the course outline starts to take shape as soon as I start the project or receive a brief. What begins as a few blocks with simple titles in SessionLab will grow as I start collecting content, better understand my audience and shape the format of the course. 

In my case, I start building the course outline in SessionLab as soon as the project has begun and then once I reach this step, I’ll finalize that into a form that’s ready to show to others. I’ll then duplicate my SessionLab course outline and begin turning that into a storyboard while keeping a copy of the original course outline. This helps me save time while also keeping a record of my design process. 

An alternative approach is to use a standard course outline format, such as this template inspired by Robert Gagne’s events of learning.

You might also have your own template that you use for all your elearning courses and simply fill in with your newest project. In this case, I’d recommend turning your best outline formats into a SessionLab template so you can reuse it as many times as needed. 

When you’re done, it’s helpful to review your outline with fresh eyes, consider the learning journey it implies and whether it will successfully achieve your desired learning outcomes. This is a good time to catch anything that’s missing or could be improved. After reflection and iteration, you can then share this with the necessary stakeholders to get approval to move forward with your design. Great work!  

6. Finalize your storyboard template and format 

Once your outline has been approved (either by your own internal quality board or key stakeholders), you’re almost ready to create your elearning storyboard!

First, you’ll want to finalize your choice of storyboard template and format. While it’s quite common to have some idea of this much earlier in the project, now that your overarching course design is approved, you can lock this in. 

Based on the course format, content and who the storyboard is for, you can choose the storyboard template that will best help you and your team make it a reality. As mentioned previously, a simple two-column written storyboard is the best bet for most projects while a visual storyboard that contains a mock-up of your course page designs might work best for others. 

So how do you choose between a written or visual elearning storyboard? First, consider the content and format of your course. If it’s includes a large audio narration script or is mainly text based, that’s a good candidate for a written storyboard. If its highly visual in nature and a mock-up of the design will be useful for everyone involved, perhaps a visual storyboard template is better.

Next, consider your collaborators and their needs. Are you handing over to a graphic designer who needs very little direction or to a developer who benefits from a simple mock-up in order to create a course that matches your vision? 

It’s also worth knowing yourself and how you work best. For some learning designers I know, things don’t really come to life until they have a low-fidelity prototype in front of them. In this case, a visual storyboard is helpful to their design process.

For me, I work best in text and the extra effort it takes to create visual elements for my storyboard feel unnecessary. That said, when working on a client brief where the client needed extra direction, I made quick mock-ups in InDesign as this made it easy for them to envision what I wanted the final product to look like and kept the project on schedule.    

In any case, know your own limits and where your expertise is best utilized. I’m not a visual designer, so taking the time to create a detailed mock-up for an interactive simulation isn’t the best use of my skills, especially when I have a great designer I can trust to turn my written content into beautiful visuals in half the time.

Consider the needs of all your collaborators when choosing the format and style of your storyboard.

7. Draft your storyboard

Drafting the storyboard is when you finally add meat to the bones of the course outline you created earlier. This is when your final course truly begins to take shape.

As outlined in the intro, your storyboard will take the form of a series of slides that will each represent a page of your online course. You’ll finalize your sequence of activities and pages, add your elearning content and include all the instructions needed to turn the storyboard into your completed course. 

One effective way to begin is to use your own storyboard template from a previous project or to use one of our free storyboard templates to kick-start your process.

I tend to start by building out an existing course outline. I tend to think of this as the underlying foundation which I’ll build around and on top of as I go. 

In practice, this looks like opening up the SessionLab course outline and adding additional blocks under each key section to represent each page of the elearning course.

On particularly big courses, I’ll spin out separate modules into separate days in SessionLab to make it easier to parse and overview each one. As I go, I’ll attach new course content to the relevant block as it comes in and begin to turn the raw course content into an engaging storyboard. 

This is why it’s useful to have started curating your content and building an outline in SessionLab. Everything you need is already organized in the right place and you can save time instead of repeating busy-work. 

I’ll use colour coding to help me organize my content and easily visualize my learning flow. With some courses reaching the 100+ slide count, it really helps to be able to see what the goal, interaction style or learning stage of my blocks are at a glance. I’ll switch between a single module view to a complete overview of the course to see the balance and help make informed decisions about what to amend. 

I also tend to customize my colour-coding based on the project. In this online reading and writing course where almost every slide contained a practical exercise, I found it most effective to show the format of the exercise.

This helped me ensure I had a varied flow that would help engage different learners and keep things fresh throughout. I could easily see where I should add more interactivity, encourage reflection and also ensure a good balance between reading exercises (getting new ideas and fresh perspectives) with writing (creative expression and output.) 

While I’ll already have a sequence in mind at the outline stage, the exact sequence tends to change during the drafting process. In SessionLab, this is as easy as dragging and dropping a block to a new place in the sequence. I can even move items between separate modules and courses if I need to.

Remember that your goal of elearning storyboarding is to make it easy for whoever comes next to successfully implement the course design. This means being thorough, exact and explicit. You’ll want to include every bit of information you want included on each course page and detail exactly how you’d like any animations, interactions and transitions to work. 

To this end, it’s also worth attaching any visuals, handouts, PDFs and more to your specific blocks in SessionLab. Whether you’re using these to inform your course design or they’re intended for developers to include in the final course, having everything in the right spot here is a massive time-saver. 

Organizing a storyboard into modules in SessionLab. Note the use of Merill’s learning principles as a categorization and design aid.

8. Get feedback, review and edit your storyboard 

After you’ve created a first draft of your storyboard, the first step is probably to take a walk and get some air! Great work! Next, you’ll likely want to get some feedback from relevant parties, review your material with a critical eye and make some edits to turn your storyboard into the final version, ready to move to the next step. 

The purpose of this storyboarding phase is to give yourself and key involved parties the opportunity to check for accuracy, provide feedback on the content and learning flow and ensure that your course design is well positioned to meet learning needs. Getting feedback now means that you’ll iron out any kinks before you actually create the course and save time overall. 

When sharing your storyboard, you may wish to tailor the format based on your audience. When sharing with direct collaborators and SMEs, I’ll invite them directly to the storyboard in SessionLab. Often, they’ll leave comments for me to work on later though with some projects, we’ll edit together in real-time. 

With clients and stakeholders, I’ll often share a PDF or PowerPoint export of the storyboard based on their needs. With some clients, I’ll sometimes omit some of the deeper details and columns to give them a general overview that can be easily visualized without getting bogged down in the details. 

However you share, it’s often useful to include a brief summary or introduction to the storyboard and the project at large. Sometimes, you might be sharing the storyboard with a fellow instructional designer who would benefit from an overview of the project or a developer who would benefit from some additional context or some examples of what you might like the project to look like.

This stage of the storyboarding process is also a great time to reflect critically on your work. It’s not uncommon to be so deep in the project that you’ve lost sight of certain elements and how each part corresponds to your learning objectives. 

I tend to review the storyboard with a few key questions in mind:

  • Does the course design successfully meet the desired learning outcomes?
  • Is the elearning experience engaging and varied? 
  • Does this course work for all possible experience levels?
  • Can I easily visualize the final course based on what’s present in the storyboard? 
  • Am I confident that all the material present is accurate and strong? 

After receiving that feedback and looking at your storyboard with fresh eyes, you’ll want to iterate and make changes. In lots of tools, this can be a painful manual process, though in SessionLab, I’ve found it much easier to keep track of pending tasks, comments and make quick changes to the learning flow. 

Learning designers at Vlerick Business School use SessionLab to design storyboards for their assortment of learning programs. See how they do it in this case study.

9. Prototyping and implementation 

Once you have a completed and approved eLearning storyboard that everyone is happy with, you’re ready to move into the realms of course development and implementation.

In some projects, you and your developer may create a prototype of your course design in your choice of content authoring tool, LMS or prototyping software. This can be as simple as creating a (usually barebones) wireframe prototype that is designed primarily to test interactions and overview the learning flow. 

In other cases, you and your content team may create a visual prototype that helps demonstrate the style of the course and ensure everyone is aligned on the presentation and aesthetic elements of the course. 

At the greatest level of effort and fidelity, you might create a functional prototype in your content authoring software or LMS that showcases the final experience for your stakeholders. In this case, you might create a vertical slice that demonstrates the different activity types you’ll use throughout the course or create a near final version of the first section of your course. 

In other cases, it’s enough for you to pass your storyboard on to the development team or start to create your online courses yourself. The storyboard you created will serve to guide any involved parties in creating the final course and provide everything needed to make it a reality. 

In SessionLab, you can invite your collaborators directly to the storyboard or export it as a Word Doc, PDF, or PowerPoint. I tend to invite developers directly to SessionLab though set them to viewers without editing rights, just so the final design is locked and won’t be accidentally changed or broken in some way

If you have a storyboarding format you’re happy with and will likely reuse in the future, this is also a great time to consider making it into your own storyboard template. With SessionLab, you can make any session or storyboard into a reusable template that you can share with other instructional designers on your team too! 

What do you need to include in an eLearning storyboard?

So while this is largely dependent on your project, there are common elements which should ideally be included in every storyboard in order for it to be legible to others and provide all the information needed to move forward and implement the design.

While you’ll likely tailor the headings and format slightly for your own storyboard templates, you’ll almost certainly find these items present in some form. You can see some examples of these in on our free elearning storyboard template or this example of an elearning storyboard for an online course. 

Slide titles and numbers/intended sequence

Most eLearning storyboards are designed to provide a screen-by-screen breakdown of your course content in a (mostly) linear fashion. As such, you’ll want to make it easy for yourself and others to easily follow the intended structure of the course. Label all your slides/blocks and number them too. Not only does this make it easier to follow, but it’s then easy to reference certain slides throughout the development process. 

In branching structures, you may want to follow a tailored numbering scheme to make it easier for developers to follow what should come next in a given flow. If in doubt, talk to your development team and choose a number convention that works for you both. 

Clear headings, consistent styling and text formatting can really help ensure your storyboard is legible to all involved.

On-screen text

Almost every online course contains text of some description. In video heavy courses, this might only be page titles and summary text, while in other courses, the text forms the bulk of your delivered material. 

Include all the text you’d like included on the page, alongside formatting instructions where needed. For me, I find it best to work on the understanding that everything under this heading on a slide should be presented as is, retaining the general structure and any rich text formatting. In other cases, I’ve worked with designers who will take whatever I write and turn it into an engaging format based on their own expertise and the tool being used. 

Be sure to also include any text you’d like included in pop-up windows or as feedback messages for your users. In some cases, I’ll include this in the body of the text though for quizzes or multiple choice questions, I have a separate slide format to make this easier for everyone to follow. In this example storyboard, there’s a consequence set for each possible user choice, with green denoting a successful action and red an unsuccessful one. 

Voiceover or audio narration script

For online courses that include narration or a voiceover, you’ll want to include a script or direct link of what the learner will hear during each slide. 

In some projects, I’ll include the written script of the entire voiceover to pass to a voiceover artist though in others, I’ll simply include a link to the completed audio file. It really depends on whether this is already done, whether it needs to be approved and passed over, or whether the written script is something I also want input on. 

Early in the project, I’ll often have a simple description of what will be there and build out the script as I go. If I’m recording it myself, I’ll then record the voiceover and attach a link directly to the block in SessionLab so that anyone reviewing or implementing the storyboard can find it easily.


Where applicable include either links to any visual elements you want included, or a written description of any desired graphic elements you’d like your content team to create/source.

In some cases, an instructional designer might include a simple mock-up or screenshots to demonstrate what they’d like the course page to look like. In my experience, it’s worth having a conversation with whoever is implementing the storyboard to determine what is best for you both and what’s possible for your project. 

In the example eLearning storyboard, I had an understanding with the client that the visual format of the pages was already set, and so the only visual elements I needed to attach were any images I’d like included on the pre-formatted page. 

Multimedia and visual elements are a key element of an engaging online course. Where possible, include these in your storyboard to help demonstrate what your finished course will look like.

Programming notes

This is where you’ll put any technical instructions for the person implementing the storyboard. Often, this person is a developer or content producer who only needs some brief direction on how you’d like any interactivity, page transitions or other technical elements to function. Often, this will be as simple as letting them know the navigation buttons you want on the page and where to send learners after they complete an action or slide. 

For some interactive projects with complex user interaction, you might have certain text only show after a correct answer, or have a help pop-up show if a person appears stuck on a simulation after 15 seconds. Include any such technical instructions here, with simple and clear directions for how you’d like things to work. 

However simple or complex your project, it really helps to have a shared language with your developer so that you can use shorthand to let them know what you want efficiently. Either have an explainer or brief guide attached to your storyboard or have a quick call with your developer before you get started. As with everything else in the storyboarding process, it pays to be clear and simple.

I often use bespoke elearning storyboard formats dependant on the content of the course. Here’s an example of a quiz-style storyboard I use again and again for interactive elearning elements.


Elearning courses that include a voiceover or have audio or video elements will often contain a series of simple animations to accompany the content. This might be as simple as images or text appearing at certain points in the voiceover or use simple graphics to demonstrate certain concepts.

Not every project will have complicated animations but it’s worth being clear as to what you want to happen when. Even something as simple as having text appear at a contextually relevant time can really help improve the learning experience. A simple series of explicit text instructions often works best here. 

Optional elements of an eLearning storyboard

Every elearning design and training course is different. It’s highly likely you’ll need to add bespoke headings depending on your tool, storyboard content and personal style.

In my experience, the following storyboard elements have been useful during the design, development and review process and you may wish to include them in your elearning storyboard templates too.

Intended Duration

While activity duration is an absolute must for instructor-led training and workshop activities, it’s generally considered an optional item to include on an eLearning storyboard. Participants will often engage with your material in a self-paced manner and while some folks might speed through a quiz page, others might read all the tips and pop-ups carefully.

Personally, I find that understanding how long I’d like and expect participants to spend on each activity and module is really helpful for improving the learning experience. For example, if I can see that I have an hour’s worth of content without any interactivity, that’s a clear sign I need to include some. The expected course duration is also something I’ll typically add to the intro for each module and any marketing materials.  

In SessionLab, I’ll add the expected duration of each storyboard block and as a result, I’ll get an automatically calculated length for each module. 

Setting an intended duration for each activity in a module helps me report on how long learners will typically need to spend on the course while also helping me design my learning flow.

Color-coded categorization

Whatever the format of your storyboard, we recommend adding color coding to your slides in order to better organize and overview your materials. 

The taxonomy you use is best chosen based on your needs and the needs of the course. Learning designers using SessionLab typically categorize in one of the following ways:

  1. By activity type format 
    1. (i.e. quiz, simulation, presentation, video, summary page, etc.)
  2. Applicable learning objective 
    • So this is highly dependent on your project, but as an example, I had multiple learning objectives and desired outcomes for an eLearning course which included:
      1. Engage and improve participants’ critical reading abilities 
      2. Improve participants’ general writing ability
      3. Develop participants’ creative confidence  
      4. Encourage participants to engage with concepts of mental wellness
Setting custom categories based on primary learning objectives in SessionLab

While many slides in my storyboard would aim to have an impact on multiple learning objectives, it can useful to show the primary learning objective each slide aims to engage with. This can help ensure these objectives stay front of mind. It’s also a practical way to show stakeholders how the desired outcomes of the project will be achieved.

  1. Stage in the instructional design process. 
    • For example, if you’re using Merill’s instructional design principles, you might have color-categorization for problem centred activities, activation activities, demonstrative activities, application activities and integration activities. By marking your storyboard pages with these, you can ensure that your content flows sensibly and that you engage all the principles of effective learning in your eLearning course. 

SessionLab’s color-coding is flexible and customizable so you can choose whatever categorization works best for you. In this real-world example of an eLearning storyboard, you’ll see that I’ve used a bespoke activity type categorization to show whether it’s a reading exercise, written exercise and more.

This helped me see the balance between various activities at a glance and design accordingly. It also really helped for telling the story of the course to my client and easily guiding them through the storyboard overview in a visual manner. 

Goal or learning objective

I’ve often found a simple statement of the goal of each slide in my storyboard is helpful for both shaping and reviewing an eLearning course. This might be a single sentence for what each storyboard slide is hoping to achieve as part of the learning flow or a note for which learning objective is being touched on.

For stakeholders, it can be useful to understand the purpose of each page, especially in cases where I’ve been especially creative or am experimenting with my format or approach. It can really help the story of the course come across clearly and prevent any undue friction or misunderstandings.

I’ve also found that including a goal for each slide or section useful when working collaboratively with other learning designers or developers. It can help make my thinking legible to others, prevent misunderstandings and also provide a critical focus for any reviewers. Does this slide and activity meet the intended goal? How can we break down the overall learning objectives into small chunks? 

Background material and references

Whether you’re including them for learners or not, it can be helpful to collect all your background materials and references in one-place. I’ll often add these items to each block as a link or written reference. In the review process, an SME will likely take a peek or add additional suggestions too.

Designated subject matter experts 

On complex projects with many collaborators, I’ve found it helpful to assign specific SMEs and collaborators to blocks in the storyboard. This is often to show which items they are responsible for reviewing or which they should be consulted on for accuracy. In SessionLab, you can assign and tag collaborators to help improve your workflow too.

What tools can you use to create storyboards for elearning?

In the instructional design world, there are a few tools that are regularly used to create learning designs and which fit well into any development project. Here are some of the common tools used by learning designers and instructional design professionals to design a storyboard for elearning.


SessionLab is a powerful and flexible storyboarding tool that makes it easy to design course outlines, elearning storyboards and full training programs. 

In SessionLab, start by creating the basic blocks of your storyboard and include the information you need in each block. Quickly add detailed instructions for your developers and attach images, handouts and other resources to each block so you can easily find what you need for each slide of your course. 

If you need to rearrange your slides and learning materials, simply drag and drop them into place. Add colour-coded categories to easily see a visual breakdown of your interaction type or learning objective.

When you’re done with an initial draft, invite stakeholders or subject matter experts to collaborate on your storyboard in realtime. 

SessionLab also makes it easy to refine and optimize your instructional design workflow. When you’ve built a storyboard that works for you, make it into reusable storyboard template. Save common block types to your team library for quick use and save time throughout the elearning development process.

Want to hear more about using SessionLab to create engaging elearning? Explore how Vlerick Business School has saved time and improved organizational efficiency by using SessionLab to design and host storyboards for their entire school. 

You can also get started quickly with a free elearning storyboard template you can customize to your needs.

Microsoft PowerPoint

Whether you’re creating a written or visual storyboard, PowerPoint can be a cost effective, simple to use tool for creating basic storyboards.

In my experience, isn’t always easy to get a sense of your learning flow or to quickly overview how each slide contributes to learner objectives in PowerPoint. That said, if you want to simulate the experience and build a very simple prototype at speed, PowerPoint is easy to get started with.

Microsoft Word

Like PowerPoint, word processing tools like Google Docs or Microsoft Word can be a simple entry point for creating elearning storyboards and course outlines.

While getting started is as simple as just typing, creating and editing complex tables in Word can quickly become a pain. I’ve also found that storyboards and course materials hosted in Word can be difficult to navigate and oversee. All that said, if you and your collaborators need a low detail storyboard and are most comfortable with a word processing tool, Microsoft Word can still get the job done.

Articulate Storyline 

Articulate Storyline is perhaps best described as PowerPoint plus. On first look, it’s very similar to Microsoft’s tool, though it has a heap of bells and whistles that makes the work of designing a storyboard easier.

Storyline is a powerful and widely used instructional design tool that you’ll hear about from many instructional design professionals. Sadly, it’s only available on Windows and is quite expensive to boot, coming as part of the Articulate 360 suite at $1,399 per user. 

If you’re looking for an entire Enterprise level stack that covers the entire flow from content creation to LMS, it’s worth considering. If you’re looking for a tool to create a storyboard, PowerPoint or SessionLab are much more cost effective options.  


Twine is a free tool for designing interactive and non-linear stories. Twine is perhaps the most niche tool on this list, but for instructional designers creating highly gamified courses with branching or conditional structures, it can be a really intuitive solution. Projects built in Twine can effectively function as low fidelity elearning prototypes. 

Let’s say you want to create a course where participants took different routes and saw different learning material based on their answers to certain questions.

Plotting out a design with multiple branches and then prototyping it would be very time consuming. In Twine, it’s easy to create simple pages that take different paths based on user input and simple conditional logic. Twine isn’t going to be for every instructional designer, but for the right project, it’s an absolute life saver. Plus, it’s free!

For most learning designers, the storyboarding tool is one piece of a bigger software stack including content authoring software, an LMS, and more. Check out this guide to explore other instructional design software you might use in your everyday work. 

Next steps 

We hope you’ve found this guide to creating effective elearning storyboards helpful! Whether you’re creating visual storyboards or a more traditional storyboard to outline your elearning experience, the step-by-step process above will help you make it a cinch.

Want to continue learning? Here are some more resources to check out!


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