Rapid prototype vs storyboard?

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Traditionally elearning courses have been storyboarded so the instructional designer can plan the content and activities and get feedback before starting to build the course. Storyboarding allows you to check your design is on target with expectations before investing time in developing.

However, sometimes it makes even more sense to rapid prototype rather than storyboard. Rapid prototyping is where all or some parts of an elearning course or activity are roughly built i.e. it’s a working model that’s not in the finished polished state. Rapid prototyping shows what you intend to do – whereas storyboarding tells what you intend to do.

So when does it make more sense to rapid prototype rather than storyboard. Put simply – when it is more useful to show how it works rather than tell how it will work. Here are some situations when I choose to rapid prototype rather than storyboard:

Working with SMEs or clients new to elearning

If I’m working with clients that have little or no prior experience of elearning I will prototype parts of elearning interactions (or show them a similar elearning interaction) so they can see exactly what a drag and drop, system demo, contextual feedback, or a branching scenario looks like.

When look and feel is important

Look and feel is always important but sometimes you might need to show rather than tell look and feel. This could be an advantage when a client’s preferences are to see how it works. It could also be wise to prototype part of a course if you are investing a lot of time and energy into the look and feel of a theme, or if you’re a developing a series of modules that will all have the same look and feel. Better to have solid agreement at the beginning rather than developing 10 modules, only for the client to ask you to change the look and feel afterwards!

When rapid prototyping will save or not add any more time

Sometimes I’ve actually found it quicker to skip the storyboard stage altogether and go straight into rapid prototyping an elearning interaction. For example, I usually go straight to prototyping for software simulations. I do this as I find it more useful/quicker/easier to get feedback from a prototype (working model) than from a storyboard presented on paper. Even though it may take slightly longer to rapid prototype it saves me time as it’s part drafted in the tool already and it results in a clearer vision of what the final product will be.

For a complicated interaction

If the interaction is complicated it can be useful to roughly prototype and get feedback from stakeholders before investing the extra time in perfecting the interaction and graphics. It’s also useful when it’s difficult to explain a type of interaction. For example, I’m currently prototyping an interaction in Articulate Storyline where the learner will receive individualised feedback based on their previous choices. It’s hard to explain what I’m doing in text, but I’ll show you the rapid prototype once I’m done – push the follow button to subscribe and get notified of when this is ready for you to view.

What do you think about rapid prototyping? Are there times when you choose to rapid prototype rather than storyboard? I’d love to hear your thoughts – follow me to hear more of mine.

Finding Subject Matter Experts


Your subject matter experts (SMEs) are invaluable in helping you design a well thought out and targeted learning solution. So how do you identify who your subject matter experts are?

Here are some things to consider when finding your Subject Matter Experts.

How many SMEs do I need?

The amount of Subject Matter Experts you need in a project is dependent on the range of behaviour change required and how many audiences this relates to. A small behaviour change for just one audience may only require one SME. However a large behaviour change project going across several business units will require several SMEs.

What sort of Subject Matter Experts do you need?

Does the project or learning solution you’re working on cross several areas? A learning solution that covers multiple areas will get better results by utilising a Subject Matter Expert from each area. For example, if a learning solution involves implementing a new software system, a change in customer service approach, and a shift in leadership focus – find a SME for each of these areas. This way you will have access to expert advice for each area.

Do you have the target audience represented?

Always include a high performer from the target audience as a Subject Matter Expert. Even if all they only do is a reality check of your learning resources at review time. A SME from your target audience can also be useful for sourcing realistic scenarios to incorporate into your elearning activities.

Do you have a SME representing each of your target audiences?

If your learning solution is designed for several audiences, have a Subject Matter Expert representative from each group. This will help you build your design strategy to incorporate all of the audiences needs. From discussion with these SMEs you will be able to identify which parts of the learning solution can be generalised to everyone, and which parts of the learning solution will need to be specialised to particular audiences.

Are they willing to help and do they have time to help?

Once you have found your Subject Matter Experts you need to find out if they are first willing to help, and secondly if they have time to help. If the answer is no to either of these questions, you will need to source another SME who is more accessible.

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Your most important resource

Your most important resource


Instructional designers are not usually experts on the topic they are designing learning for. Instead they are specialised in applying learning theory to solve problems and improve performance. This is why it is so important for Instructional Designers to work in partnership with Subject Matter Experts (SME), who are the experts in the learning topic.

When developing choices and consequences in a branching scenario, utilising your SME’s expertise will make the difference between a good branching scenario, and a great branching scenario!

Here are a few tips on how to make the most out of working with your SME:

Tip 1: Explain what a branching scenario is

If your SME can visualise what you are going to do, they will find it much easier to provide you with useful content. You can show what a branching scenario is by drawing a diagram on the board, show an example of a branching scenario you have done for another client/customer, or send them a good you tube or blog link that explains a branching scenario.

Tip 2: Get role clarity

Brief your SME on what you need from them. This helps prevent any role confusion and makes it easier for both you and your SME.

You’ll need your SME’s help to identify the specific behaviours the learner will need to perform to achieve the learning outcome. Help to source what potential mistakes the learner could make at each decision point. An understanding of the environment that the learner works i.e. where they will put the learnt behaviours into practice

It is not your SME’s role to do any design of the branching scenario, though suggestions and ideas from your SME should always be gratefully accepted. It is also not their role to spend time on wording or the flow of the scenario. It’s the Instructional Designer’s role to translate the content sourced from the SME into learning activities.

Tip 3: Workshop the branching scenario with your SME

I’ve found it useful and time effective to workshop branching scenario content verbally with the SME (whether by meeting in the same location, over the phone, or video conference) rather than asking the SME to provide the scenario content in writing. This takes the pressure off your SME; after all they are sacrificing their valuable time to help you! It also gives you more opportunity to ask questions and get clarity from your SME.

Tip 4: Plan questions to ask your SME

If you use your time wisely it takes very little time to gather content from your SME for a branching scenario. Plan the questions you will ask your SME to source all the scenario content you need. Here’s a few questions I use over and over again for different projects:


Tip 5: Make sure your SME is involved in reviewing

To check for accurate content and a realistic branching scenario make sure your SME is involved in reviewing at multiple stages, including the storyboard, draft and final stages.

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