Rapid prototype vs storyboard?

No Problem

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.

10 steps to create a digital story for learning


A digital story for learning needs to be more than just entertainment. It needs to have a learning purpose and link to learning outcomes. Here are 10 steps to use when planning a digital story to ensure it keeps it’s learning purpose:

1. Decide why you’re using a digital story

Are you using a story to emphasise why this topic is relevant for your audience? Are you using the story as a motivator to pull them into the other activities in the course? Do you want your audience to learn from other people’s experience, through their mistakes or success stories?

2.  Match the story solution to learning objectives

Does your story cover some or all of your learning objectives? Choosing the learning objectives the story relate to will help keep the direction and purpose of your story.

3. Plan the key messages or themes

What are the one or two things you want your audience to remember from the story? Is there a moral in your story?

4. Decide how learners will interact with the content

Will they be able to influence the outcome and path of the story (branching scenarios)? Will they apply the key messages from the story to a practice activity or job task? Will they be asked questions to reflect on the content?

5. Make a template for gathering content from your Subject Matter Expert (SME)

What characters will your story have e.g. customer, staff members? What environments does the story take place in? Use the 5W and H questions (who, what, where, when, why, how) at the different points in time to construct a template to gather content.

5. Write the script

Consider the tone and type of language used.  If writing a script seems overwhelming, you can break the story into separate scenes and write a script for each scene.

6. Decide what graphic style you’ll use

Will you use photos or illustrations? Design a consistent theme for your story. Consider how much time you have available to develop graphics and then choose a style that’s achievable in the timeframe.

7. Prototype a scene of the animations and graphics that will be used

It is much easier to show your SMEs what the story will look like rather than explaining how it will look. Share a scene prototype with your SMEs to get agreement before developing the rest of the story.

8. Develop the story in the tools

Once you’ve got agreement from your SMEs on the script and graphic style continue and develop the rest of the story scene by scene.

9. Review the story

Check with your SMEs that the content is accurate and the intended key messages of the story come across.

10. Include what’s next…

Usually a digital story is just part of a learning solution. Tell your learners what’s coming next. Are they going to apply principles from the story to another practice activity or job task? What else will they do that’s relevant to the story?

Following these 10 steps will help keep your digital story focused and adding value to your topic. What else do you find useful for planning a digital story?

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy these related posts:

Using digital stories in elearning

Why storytelling should be part of your elearning toolkit

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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Why use branching scenarios?

Design better looking branching scenarios

5 ways to design more engaging branching scenarios

5 ways to design more engaging branching scenarios

Use these tips to make your branching scenario more engaging, no matter what elearning tool you are using!

1.  Set the learner a challenge

By setting a challenge for the learner you can turn a simple branching scenario into something that is much more fun!! Make it memorable and exciting by turning choices into a mini game.

Imagine practicing customer complaint skills by playing a game. Below is an activity that does that. Can you help a customer with their complaint without exploding the situation? If you choose an aggravating response you will explode the situation. If you choose a not so good response the fuse will shorten bringing the situation closer and closer to exploding!

challenge    The choices   explode

2.  Put the learner in the situation

More powerful learning occurs when we can imagine ourselves in the real world situation making decisions. Some ways you can help the learner imagine themselves in the situation is to design your visuals and media to fit the audience and use “you” language. In the game above there was two types of audiences who dealt with complaints, one took complaints face-to-face and the other over the phone. The speech bubbles going off to the side meant that either audience could imagine themselves in the conversation.

3. Build emotion into the branching scenario

Like a story an essential ingredient in a branching scenario is building emotion. Incorporating emotion changes the elearning from being factual and distant to being personal and engaging. Incorporating emotion can be done in a variety of ways for example; through humor, using multimedia such as audio and video to create mood; developing characters through the branching scenario by giving them dialogue and actions to suit their personality; have characters show relevant (or exaggerated) facial expressions; and having elements of surprise.

4.  Connect with your Subject Matter Expert (SME)

Make the scenario as realistic as possible, that includes building in the mistakes people are likely to make. This is where your SME is invaluable, as they will have insight into potential and/or existing misunderstandings.  You can then build these into your branching scenario. This will give not only give your learners the opportunity to receive feedback and learn from their mistakes in a safe environment, it will also help them avoid making the same mistakes when applying the learning.

5.  Make the choices challenging, include the grey areas

It’s tempting to include responses that are easily identified as being right or wrong. However, if you include the grey areas – where the responses that have a mixture of right and wrong, you then motivate the learner to think more deeply about which action or response to take. Have you ever completed a course where you have just gone through the motions as it’s been too easy to identify the right and wrong responses? By including the grey areas you will not only make the branching scenario much more challenging, it will also engage your learners on a deeper cognitive level.

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on making more engaging branching scenarios.