Archive for September, 2010

  • Storyboarding
  • Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 at 5:24 pm
  • Written by Lisa Brien

An interesting debate has begun in our office of late – to storyboard or not to storyboard? I can almost hear the collective intake of breath that I dared even ask this question, but here at Saffron we are all about challenging norms and finding new solutions to old problems, so I’m going to push forward regardless.
To even begin a debate on this topic, we have to consider why storyboards appeared in the e-learning space to begin with. Typically used in the film industry, storyboards are a tool designed to simulate flow and movement, mapping out a story scene by scene. It’s a case of being able to see individual trees in detail, but then being able to stand back and appreciate the whole forest. The concept of storyboards relies heavily on the visual aspect, and is particularly useful to demonstrate a sequence: mapping out how the cops get the bad guy, or how Bambi and his mother are happily reunited after the near-fatal shooting – ok, well that one is more wishful thinking than reality, but you get my point.

In e-learning, storyboards are primarily a tool to help articulate your vision to a client. With them, you can show your client how their ideas and content have been streamlined into a smooth-flowing, engaging and educational course. As learning professionals, we already know that not everyone learns in the same way, and this of course is also true of clients. Having a visual representation in front of you can help to focus a client’s attention, giving them a sense of how a project is developing while gently steering them away from an information dump and towards an instructionally sound course. It’s all too easy to feel you haven’t quite explained exactly how to insert pin A into slot F while simultaneously pushing buttons D & E – but when you have a nice clear diagram storyboarded in front of you with a punchy little explanation, it is all the more easier to just let go.

So, storyboards are great then, right? Well, the short answer is ‘not always’. Sometimes the process of storyboarding can just add extra hours (and therefore costs) to an otherwise simple project. Just how much time do you put into a storyboard, and how much detail do you include? I have worked on projects where developing storyboards becomes almost a project in itself – complete with graphics, animated transitions and branding already incorporated. The clients love it, but it doesn’t do your project timelines any favours when the inevitable changes are requested. It’s also terribly easy to deviate from an in-depth analysis of content, and instead get caught up in the look and feel.

Like so much else, the key to storyboarding is striking a balance. Good storyboarding is about creating flow and mapping out the journey ahead – whether it’s for yourself or your client; on a piece of paper or in your head. It is about the process more than the tools – if you can clearly articulate your vision without a storyboard (and your client trusts you enough that they don’t need to see one) then great – you’ve just bought yourself extra development time. But if you feel that you might lose track and say, inadvertently re-write a key defining moment in a certain small deer’s life – then perhaps you’d better stick with more tried and tested methods.

I don’t think we have a one-size-fits-all solution to this one, but I’m really looking forward to continuing the debate. Don’t let me steer you in any one direction – what are your thoughts? What works for you?

I hear that, day by day, the popularity of Moodle is spreading further. In Paraguay, doodling schoolchildren are building custom analogue model Moodles (think pulleys, index cards and paperclips) and there are rumours that in Poland the first Moodle-for-monks is being developed (on a completely silent server).

For enterprise Moodlers, the challenge remains to avoid being outshone by the creations of ordinary Joe Public-Sector. You can dominate your youngest son’s maths homework, so why should his teacher be able to build a more engaging Moodle than you can? Business high flyers know that, as alpha males and females, our role is to hoot the loudest, jump up and down the most and sport the shiniest fur. After all, if projects for enterprise don’t beat non-profit projects in every sense, what’s the point of capitalism?

This week, Saffron provide two tips about using language to ensure your enterprise Moodle isn’t left scratching itself in some forgotten part of the jungle.

1. Context my boy, context!

In conversation one rarely omits important contextual information, such as who said what or in what circumstances. If I announce that last week my brother muttered something about murdering my great aunt at the dinner table, it’s probably important that I mention that he is a bachelor and great hearted great aunt Bessy had set him up with yet another dowdy young lady as a potential spouse. Otherwise you’d probably assume it was something sinister to do with hospital beds, inheritances and frequently rewritten wills.

Likewise, you don’t feed a baby her babymush without murmuring things like “Here comes the aewopwane, here it cooomes!” (admittedly, this is a less popular metaphor post 9/11). Babies in the West have now come to expect this parent talk as a matter of course. Without it they’d be confused and upset. They’d probably think that Mummy was threatening them with some kind of tiny, soggy mace or club.

These contextual details make a vital difference to the way information is received, and the same applies to custom Moodles. Without decent amounts of contextual information outlining the story behind the content you are uploading, the reason for its existence, your enterprise Moodle will be a hard edged, unhappy place. Think about what you need to tell the learner to prepare him or her to begin an activity or use a resource and then create some customised html labels to include this information on the course pages.

With a little planning, adding context in this way is also a useful way to make sure that your enterprise Moodle speaks with the well honed, univocal diction of your brand. If your own tongue is prone to errant blabber and flannelling when it comes to this kind of thing, you should involve a colleague on the project who knows how to excel in written communication.

2. Customise your emails

Continuing the subject of language, an untamed Moodle can be worryingly informal when it comes to automated communiqués. As a default setting it sends messages that open with “Hi” and close with “cheers” – as if it were advertising some kind of pathetic suburban fox rehabilitation club at a church hall on Tuesday evenings.

The default emails say things like “Someone (hopefully you) has requested a new account” when this kind of dismal subjunctivity just doesn’t exist in the private sector. There’s no “hopefully” this or “hopefully” that. Powerful global brands don’t “hopefully” conquer this market or “hopefully” deliver improved performance in an entire division. They just conquer. They just deliver.

The problem is that uncustomised Moodles come into the world with a silly, naïve grin and an uncertain gait. Building a successful custom Moodle for enterprise means shearing off that grin and re-engineering it into a smooth, inscrutable smile; it means beating that foalish stumble into a leonine stride.

And it isn’t difficult. Moodles actually allow you to edit all language templates, including emails, without fiddling about on the server. From the home page admin menu, just select Language > Language editing > Edit words and phrases. Then choose moodle.php from the drop down menu and use find within page to track down any offending amateurish jibber jabber and edit it. Simply searching for “email” is a good way to run through all the possible emails that Moodle might send out.

Wondering how much more of this stuff there is that you don’t know yet? Don’t Moodle in the dark, try the Saffron touch today.

Dynamic… end to end… pro active… imagineer… synergy… innovate… synnovate. In the technology business, when you can justifiably use one (or all) of these words in a sentence you know you are doing a good job.

I’m going to be using a lot of them as I run through two of Saffron’s tips of the week to create Moodles that will make all the other companies in the corporate playground really jealous.

1. Moodle? What Moodle?

The problem with most Moodles, especially educational Moodles, is that they look too much like, well, Moodles. The same old list of courses; the same old set of little icons and names to link to your activities and resources, just like the rest of the oodles of Moodles floating around on the internet.

But the fact is that Moodle doesn’t have to look like Moodle. When creating an engaging and dynamic enterprise Moodle, use a combination of labels and hyperlinks to make navigation a truly sensuous, synergised experience. A label can feature any style of text, image or icon you want. They are really useful for building valuable context into your courses but they can also act as portals. Just slot all your activities and resources in a hidden topic at the end of the course then create hyperlinks in the labels and hey presto, you’ve rearranged your Moodle into a thing of beauty.

Let me exemplify it for you: we’re working with a client to imagineer a Moodle based on a sequence of video courses with accompanying activities. The activities, such as a forum, free text exercise and SCORM course are all accessible through funky little icons on a custom sidebar on the right hand column. The video remains the focus, and the activities look far more appealing.

2. Think about windows

When I talk about windows I don’t mean the ubiquitous glass panes keeping men with ladders and boys with binoculars alike in business. I mean what may possibly be the greatest invention of the greatest synnovator in modern history. Windows are what make Windows such a dynamic and engaging operating system, and you should think carefully about how you use them in your newly hyperlinked up Moodle.

Moodle lets you choose where links load, so choose the options that will help you create a well textured learning experience. Some activities, like writing in a Notebook module, deserve a small new window so they don’t detract from the information on the main course page that you want learners to focus on. Think in the same way about less bulky resources – isn’t a list of web links handier if it proactively pops up to one side?

Other activity links should appear in the same window navigating the learner away from the page they’re on. A SCORM course launch page should always be the main focus because you probably don’t want the learner to attempt anything else until they’ve completed it. Social activities like forums should also usually appear in the same window. That’s because they are (hopefully) frequently updated, and a conversation could get messy if threads are vegetating in forgotten windows until they get picked up again rather than freshly refreshed at each usage.

There may be more Moodles in New York State than noodles in central Bradford, but enterprise Moodles need to lead the way, so take control of your look and feel today.

We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve been shortlisted for the 2010 E-Learning Award for Excellence in the Production of Learning Content – Private Sector.

You can find out more about the awards on the E-Learning Awards website – and watch this space!


Western fonts and typefaces fall into one of two identifiable categories; either they have small features at the end of strokes to distinguish each character, or they don’t. Serif fonts (or “Roman” fonts) are the ones with the swishes, and sans serif typefaces are the ones that don’t. Put simply, Times New Roman is a serif font; Arial is sans serif.

Sans serif fonts (also known as “gothic” script) have become the acceptable standard. At Saffron, we use a sans serif font for this blog, our website, our courses, even our internal communications. Am I complaining? No way. I would pick using a sans serif font to write an email ten out of ten times. Why? I think for me the main reason has to be that it looks cleaner – the text sits on the page nicely and doesn’t look like it might err off course into the empty spaces and escape from the page.

It’s not just me that prefers sans serif. A quick sweep of the office shows that everyone else is of the same mind. “I think it’s more accessible” and “the space between characters makes Arial easier to read” were two of the replies I had. But the remark I found most intriguing was “I would pick Arial to write an email, but when I was younger I used to love Lucida Handwriting”.

I hate Lucida Handwriting. A scrawling monstrosity, it renders even the most fluid prose completely illegible. To be honest, in that aspect it probably reminds me too much of my own handwriting, which is so lacking in definition that a friend once said it was like “the heartbeat of a dying man”.

So why would anybody pick a serif font designed to mimic handwriting when writing something? I think the answer was hinted at when the colleague admitted that she was “younger” when she liked to use it. It makes communication seem more personal and identifiable, even if in a really rudimentary way. It’s probably also why publishers prefer to use serif fonts for classic fiction. We get a sense of history with the antiquated script of the characters, but also feel like a singular, personal voice is trying to speak to us.

That’s why we avoid serif fonts in e-learning. Text needs to be open, accessible, and, frankly, anonymous. The same reason we avoid serif fonts is the same reason we avoid the use of “I” in our instructional text. “We are going to look at” and “I am going to show you” make the same point, but notice the impact.

We often try to foster a sense of community in our instructional writing for business, encouraging the employee (the learner) to identify with the business (the teacher). Companies have been making the progressive effort to change their language to homogenise and simplify their communications, which is great for everyone. Fewer words + user friendly language = happy customers = profitable business.

But if we want to be indentified by our writing, why use the same font? I’m not taking about simply making all our communications Arial-based. Everyone uses Arial. I’m advocating companies developing their own, branded sans serif font that they can use in communication. Not just focusing on logos and headings, but adopting a typeface that is identifiable, a kind of corporate handwriting. It carries all the weighting of the brand and its core values but, unlike a static logo, can adopt. Employees identify with and get used to using the “voice” of the business because they can begin to visual recognise the business voice constructions in communications, and know when they should be using appropriate language for the business because the separation from their personal communication is evident in the typography. lf business communication attains a greater degree of homogeneity, then the knock-on benefit for elearning is that instructional designers will be able to replicate the business “voice” of the client with greater success, maximising the effectiveness of their courses.

Thinking about it, I might go and trawl the internet to find a font and adapt it for my own. Why not? There isn’t just one sans serif font out there, so why restrict yourself? Discover a new handwriting.

What are your thoughts on e-learning and business typography? Think the design of one of your courses would have looked better in another font? Perhaps you’ve even used serif fonts to build courses – let us know why you prefer them in the comments box below.

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