Revealed: Shocking Secrets of a Storyboard Pro

kevin-thornIn this interview, Kevin Thorn of NuggetHead Studioz fame, reveals the shocking storyboarding secrets you’ve always wondered about but were afraid someone might answer. Read on to glimpse the inner workings of a storyboard master.

COACH: When you have a story concept, what’s the first thing you do to carry the idea through to see if it’s instructionally feasible?
I sketch. Literally, I carry a Moleskine with me wherever I go and when I get ideas I sketch them out in a storyboard fashion or visual narrative. Those concepts may or may not manifest into an elearning course, though.

COACH:What type of storyboard format do you recommend using for stories, scenarios and narratives?
I like PowerPoint mostly. Not only is it a versatile tool to build out a sequential flow, the latest versions (’07 and ’10) have really great graphics tools. Building out a flow you can “see” how the story is structured. Once its laid out, I do the writing in an equivalent Word document.

COACH:How do you first visualize the flow of a story? Do you start with the key frames and then add the in-between details later? Do you diagram it?
Yes! Keyframes. I’m an old school animation keyframer so I suppose I carry over those habits. Keyframing is really a great method and correlates nicely into storytelling and elearning. If you think of a typical story arc: opening, characters, environment, conflict, climax, resolution, conclusion, etc., each of those can be keyframes to help map out the whole concept of your story. Then go back and fill in the ‘in-betweens’.

COACH: What is your storyboarding process?
The process starts in some sort of sketch. Whether that’s in my Moleskine or on grid paper, more often than not I start every project with a pencil. No matter what digital tool you prefer, sketching with a pencil is fluid, portable, and quick to make changes (erase) and no one cares what it looks like at that point. Once it’s sketched out relative to what my mind’s eye is seeing I typically move to PowerPoint to build out the flow. From there I use that as my map for developing in any tool I want.

COACH: One problem people have with sketching, is distribution. Do you scan or photocopy your storyboards to distribute to clients and team members?
KEVIN:I don’t see distribution as a problem—at least not in today’s market of having access to several means of delivery. I’ve taken a photo of a pencil sketch in my Moleskine and emailed or even sent it as a text message to a client. It’s a concept at that point and that’s really what you’re trying to convey. Other methods include scanning in the pencil sketch and then using one of several graphic editing tools to ‘ink’ it.

COACH: How many iterations do you typically go through before you’re satisfied with the storyboard?
KEVIN: Great question! I’ve never counted. Several I suppose. The first sketch is never the final storyboard. Even if I rework the sketch several times, the final storyboard typically gets moved around once it starts to take shape. Attempting to answer this question I’d have to say at least a half dozen times.

COACH:How can people communicate their visual ideas when they think they can’t draw?
I LOVE this question! It’s not about drawing at all. It’s about using simple shapes and lines to visually communicate a concept. For example, if I wanted to convey the concept of time I would simply draw a circle, place a dot in the middle of that circle, add several dots around the inside perimeter of that circle, and two arrows pointing in somewhat opposite directions from the center dot. A clock. A watch. Anyone can do that! What helps separate the mind from “I can’t draw” is what Dave Gray refers to as a Visual Alphabet which is simply a collection of shapes, lines, and dots.

COACH: What are common mistakes beginners make when they first start storyboarding stories and narratives?
In my view the mistake is not about stumbling through their first storyboards rather not storyboarding at all and jumping right to development. How can you build a house without a blueprint? How can you build eLearning or a good narrative story without an outline—storyboard? Beginner mistakes made early on while storyboarding is not getting out of the linear thought process. Example:

See Spot run. Up the tree. To chase the cat.


  • See Felix the cat. A sly and cunning cat that likes to tease Spot.
  • Spot is a gullible neighborhood dog who pretends he’s king of the land with a bark louder than his bite.
  • Charleston the grand oak tree is known by all the neighborhood pets as Uncle Charlie. Just like any favorite uncle, he plays with all the young ones and lets them jump and crawl all over him yet he’s constantly protective.
  • Felix darts passed Spot as if to say, “Catch me if you can” and climbs to the top of Uncle Charlie. Spot chases after Felix as fast as he can but is too slow for the agile cat. Spot’s commanding bark suggests he’s ordering Felix out of the tree. Felix can wait longer than Spot can bark, and Uncle Charlie just enjoys the attention.

Not the best or even an eLearning example, but a demonstration that the first two sections introduce the main characters. The 3rd section introduces the supporting character and environment. While the last section presents the climax. If laid out in a storyboard keyframe each and work those paths a little deeper and then circle back around to the main objective.

COACH: Do you have any advice to help people improve how they visualize stories?
When in doubt, sketch. Doodle. Draw boxes and lines and dots. Stick figures are perfectly fine if all you’re doing is conveying a concept. All the great visual stories we’re all familiar with were developed by a team. Someone may have done the actual artwork, but someone else had to sketch out the story and storyboards for an artist to follow. The same goes with elearning where an Instructional Designer has to have a clear set of storyboards to pass on to the graphic artist(s) and/or developers.

COACH: Kevin has kindly donated storyboard templates and other templates related to Articulate Presenter at the Storyboard Depot page on this site.

Thanks for a great interview, Kevin. Check out Kevin’s website at LearnNuggets and connect on Twitter: @LearnNuggets.

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Writing Learning Objectives: Part 3

fun-learning-objectivesLearning Objectives for the Audience

In case you were asleep, the previous two articles in this series discussed how to write learning objectives for your internal eLearning team. Part 1 demonstrated how to write classic three-part learning objectives and Part 2 discussed how to make them measurable. Now let’s see how to write exciting and fun learning objectives for your eLearning audience that will cause them to react as in the photo shown here.

All of this implies that the learning objectives you write for the audience should differ from the technical, inflexible, three-part learning objectives you write for developing training products. Believe me, no audience member wants to see a long list of instructional objectives preceded by “” Only instructional designers find those lists exciting.

Advance Organizers

Cognitive psychology tells us that as part of an overall instructional strategy, learning objectives can act as an advance organizer for the learner. In the right context, presenting audience members with learning objectives can help them organize new information by connecting it to information that they already know. This should ready the mind for learning and make it easier to understand new content. Presenting a vanilla list of learning objectives without context, however, will probably not achieve this goal. In fact, most people probably skip the “learning objectives screen” anyway.

Are You Guilty?

Let’s admit to the fact that we have all been guilty of presenting an audience with a long list of learning objectives. But it’s because someone made us do it, right? The problem is, not only do we miss a chance to facilitate learning, a plain list of instructional objectives at the start of a course doesn’t make sense to the learner without context. Plus this might be de-motivating and motivation is an important component of learning.


So what is an instructional designer to do? There are several approaches outlined here. And many more to come in future articles. David Ausbel, who developed the theory of Advance Organizers, suggested they should bridge the gap between what the learner knows and what the learner needs to know.

1. Real World Scenarios

One approach that works well is to start a course with a short scenario. The scenario should be realistic and present a problem for which most audience members probably don’t know the solution. At the end of the scenario, add a statement such as, “Would you know what to do?” Then lead into a related statement about what they will be learning.

2. How It Will Help The Learner

Another approach involves seeing things from the learner’s perspective. How will your course help the audience members? Will it help them save a life, become a better leader, repair a computer or use accounting software? Tell them how the course will benefit them and bury your objectives in those statements. Example: “As a manager, you may find it tough to not only organize projects but to lead the way as well. This lesson will teach you how to be a better leader, by practicing how to analyze given information to make sound decisions.”

3. Speak to the Emotions

It’s a well-known fact that speaking to the emotions is one way to motivate people. It also creates context—a way to connect previous knowledge with what one will be learning. Example: “In a hospital environment, patients are dependent on us during emergency situations. This module will help you quickly implement the fire emergency plan for your building to ensure our patients can be evacuated safely.”

Not Really The End

You’ve been given three possible ways to put learning objectives into a broader learning context and to make them more motivating. But this is really just the beginning of an important discussion. So please share your successful ways of introducing eLearning learning objectives to an audience. Write your comments below.

How To Be Effective At Persuasion For Learnin


persuasion-and-learningDo you ever need to persuade an audience during a learning experience? Although the persuasion may be subtle, I’m guessing the answer is yes. Designers often embed persuasive messages into a learning experience  because the need for training and support often results from a change or transition in the workplace.

For example, when you need to teach or provide performance support for new software, new regulations or new procedures, the learning experience requires persuasion. The reason? Most people don’t want their old ways of doing things to change. In an attempt to convince the audience that the new way is the best way, persuasion becomes part of the subtle underlying message.

When the purpose of the learning experience is to change habits and attitudes, your persuasion may be more explicit. It can even be part of an organization’s larger internal marketing campaign. Learning why one should make smart lifestyle choices, volunteer for a charity event or use hand sanitizer after seeing patients are examples of explicit persuasion.

Persuasion is an important element of instructional design, but we don’t know enough about it. What exactly is persuasion? What works? And how are people persuaded?

Persuasion Defined

Persuasion can be defined as “an interactive process through which a given message alters an individual’s perspective by changing the knowledge, beliefs, or interests that underlie that perspective (Miller, 1980).” In plain terms, persuasion is a communication that tries to get other people to change a belief, attitude or behavior.

Scholars think of persuasion as a continuum of change that is part of a gradual process rather than a change that happens immediately. Persuasion is ongoing as a person re-examines his or her values and beliefs in light of gaining new knowledge. Researchers point out that although the communicator (you) provides the information, in reality, people persuade themselves.

The Central Route to Persuasion

An influential model of persuasion was introduced in 1986 by Petty and Cacioppo. Known as the Elaboration Likelihood Method (ELM), it describes two routes of information processing that might occur in a recipient: the central route and the peripheral route. It assumes that an individual’s ability to process messages and motivation are important factors in success.

The central route to persuasion focuses on the quality of the argument as compared with an individual’s prior knowledge, which results in an acceptance or rejection of the content. This route is based on an individual’s cognitive ability, interest and motivation to process a persuasive message. According to the model, this route results in a more stable and persistent change.

If your audience is likely to process the message through the central route, use rational messages that are relevant to the audiences’ experiences in the workplace. Tout the benefits of a new approach. Demonstrate increased efficiency and productivity. For instance, show how new regulations will make the environment better or safer; demonstrate how you can use the new enterprise software on your phone, etc.

The Peripheral Route to Persuasion

On the other hand, the peripheral route to persuasion is based more on non-cognitive factors that surround the message. This could be the emotional impact of the communication, the credibility and characteristics of the sender, the visual design and even the length of the message. People who are influenced through the peripheral route do not care as much about the quality of a rational argument. This is often the approach you will find in commercials and advertisements. The peripheral route is considered somewhat weak and unstable in terms of influencing lasting change.

If your audience is likely to process the message through the peripheral route, you can tell persuasive stories that arouse emotions. Humor may also work, when appropriate. Another approach is to find influential leaders or well-liked employees who will demonstrate and model new approaches.

Note that even audiences who are persuaded through cognitive arguments can be motivated and influenced through a peripheral route.

Factors Affecting Persuasion in Learning

Before you design your next persuasive message, consider these factors that have been shown to influence attitude, value or behavioral change:

  • Characteristics of the learner: prior knowledge and relevant beliefs influence persuasion.
  • Ability to process a message: stronger comprehension skills result in deeper processing of the message, which makes it more convincing.
  • Ability to retrieve relevant beliefs: this makes it more likely the person will process the message and be persuaded.
  • Characteristics of the message: the strength of the communication and the content itself affect persuasiveness. In general, presenting both sides of an argument and then refuting one is an effective approach. Also, generating an emotional reaction can improve the effectiveness of a message.
  • Interest in the topic: as a person’s interest in a topic increases, his or her beliefs are more likely to be modified (probably because the person will be more reflective). You can increase interest by providing related content prior to an event and also by making the topic relevant to the learner’s world.
  • Continuous messaging: It takes time to persuade, so it must occur in multiple steps. Similar to acquiring knowledge and skills, a single message will not be enough. You will need to help the audience appreciate the value or behavior you want to instill.
  • Emotional component: Rational decisions are at least partially based on emotions. Appeal to the cognitive and affective aspects of the audience.

What are the most effective persuasion techniques that you use? Answer in the Comments below.


  1. Miller, G. R. On being persuaded: Some basic distinctions. In M. Roloff, & G. R. Miller (Eds.), Persuasion: New directions in theory and research, 11–28, 1980. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
  2. Morris, J.D., Woo, C.M., & Singh, A.J. Elaboration likelihood model: A missing intrinsic emotional implication. Journal of Targeting, Measurement and Analysis for Marketing, 14, 79–98, 2005.
  3. Murphy, P.K. & Alexander, P.A. Persuasion As a Dynamic, Multidimensional Process: An Investigation of Individual and Intraindividual Differences. American Educational Research Journal: 41.2: 337-363, 2004.
  4. Seel, N.M. Persuasion and Learning in Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, 2600-2604, 2012.

The Agile Learner

The Agile Learner

agile-learningMarshall Goldsmith, prolific author of management and business books, states that successful leaders of the future will needlearning agility. This is an ability to be flexible in what one learns and how one learns.

Learning agility is important no matter what a person pursues in life because we are immersed in an information-rich environment. The capability to be interested in and understand content in diverse fields is simply a requirement for effective living.

This is one of the advantages of well-designed digital learning. Digital formats tend to parse information into reasonable chunks, making it easy to get involved, learn what is needed, exit when convenient and return later for another visit. This type of accessibility is not only attuned to a busy lifestyle, it is attuned to how we learn. Learning in small bits makes it easier to absorb and retain information than marathon learning sessions. Thus, learning through digital media can help support learning agility.

Learner Personas for E-Learning

One thing we can learn from the field of User Experience design is how to create user personas, better known as learner personas in the world of eLearning. Personas are well-developed profiles of audience member groups for whom we are designing a course.

These audience groups are prototypes of learners in your target audience that share common characteristics, such as their training goals, job responsibilities, educational background or skill level. Every course has at least one audience group and most courses have several. Lire la suite

Realistic E-Learning: Better Than Reality TV


Although we’re overflowing with reality TV, do we have sufficient doses of realism in eLearning?

The purpose of eLearning in the workplace is to improve and enhance job performance. So workplace learning should include the type of real-world content that prepares an audience for the varied situations that arise during work. Lire la suite

The future of learning design

future-learning If you are intrigued by the future of learning design, you won’t want to miss the second half of this interview with Karl Kapp. 

Coach: What types of challenges do newer technol
ogies, such as mobile and podcast, present to the instructional designer?

Karl: The biggest problem is that in the learning field we sometimes get seduced by the technology and forget the underlying learning need and, even more importantly, the underlying business need. Organizations invest in learning initiatives because they have a business need; sell more product, keep employees safe to reduce liability, increase market share.

Learning initiatives are not altruistic for companies. So, first Lire la suite