eLearning StoryboardNot so long ago, in a nearby place, someone spent a lot of time leaving notes about the photos in an eLearning storyboard. It turned out that they were just placeholders. The final course was going to use a different set of stock photos.

At about the same time, in an equally close place, another frustrated reviewer tried to visualize a course based on only three columns of written descriptions: audio, onscreen visuals, and interactivity. The content was there, but they couldn’t picture how it was going to fit together.

It would be great if final images could be used during the storyboarding phase, but that’s rarely possible. So, are placeholders worthwhile or not? Actually no, that’s not the right question. Placeholder images help people visualize what a course is supposed to look like and how it’s laid out. That’s really valuable. But how can they hurt a project? That’s a better question. Here are some possibilities.

Placeholder Images Can Accidentally

  • Give the wrong impression of what a finished course will look like
  • Draw attention away from the rest of a storyboard’s content
  • Extend review time if someone forgets they’re temporary and leaves notes about them
  • Be used in a final course

At the same time, a complete lack of reference images has a couple of significant drawbacks.

Lack of Placeholder Images Can

  • Lead to confusion about the layout and visual design in general
  • Extend review time since people will have to read descriptions of visuals and their placement

So, here are some ideas for how to make the best of placeholders and minimize possible problems.


  • Using placeholders that are a different style than the final course will be
    • use hand-drawn placeholders for a photo-realistic course
    • Note: Remember to clearly communicate what the final visual style will be
  • Using basic shapes to represent images
    • have a circle on top of a rectangle represent a person in a dialogue scenario. Unlike a temporary stock image, it won’t misrepresent age, gender, race, facial expression, etc.
    • put a placeholder shape where an image is supposed to go and write a short description on the shape like, “Stethoscope image”

Whether placeholder images are more helpful or harmful will depend on many factors. But there are things you can do to avoid confusion. What has your experience with (or without) placeholder images in storyboards been like? Do you have any more suggestions for how they can be used?

If you’d like to learn about custom course creation from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.

If you’d like to read more about instructional design best practices, check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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