5 Graphic Design Techniques to Improve Your eLearning Courses

Published: 8th September 2020

People are hardwired to process visual information at incredible speeds. In fact, MIT neuroscientists discovered that the human brain can identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds.

Our ability to make sense of visuals in the blink of an eye vastly helps our capacity for learning complex concepts. Visual explanations have been shown to make the understanding of mechanical and chemical systems much easier. Another study points to how visual aids help motivate students, clarify content, and avoid monotony in learning, among other positive outcomes.

There is simply no denying how much of a bonus visuals can be for learning, and this extends to improving the effectiveness of eLearning.

Why Graphic Design Matters in eLearning

To leave things as “visuals matter in eLearning” would be a gross oversimplification. It’s not enough that your eLearning courses have pictures. There has to be structure behind it. This is why it’s more appropriate to say “graphic design matters in eLearning,” as applying its principles results in the following:

• Stimulates learners

Coherent graphic design stimulates the imagination of learners. Their capacity to absorb, comprehend, and analyse new information can be pushed beyond their initial limits through the help of visuals.

There is also a link between the human brain being stimulated by visual information and making emotional responses. Striking images leave lasting impressions.

• Minimise cognitive overload

Trying to learn anything when it is only presented and explained through text in a short amount of time is challenging.

Our brains have to take the extra steps to process the language, highlight the most important parts, and attempt to unpack ideas inside our own heads. Visuals are shortcuts our minds can take to the ultimate goal of understanding.

• Help build mental models

Graphic design in eLearning can assist learners in visualising layered systems. Charts make it easier to grasp big organisational structures. Graphs connect items to show proportions and trends. Line diagrams illustrate steps and processes.

• Avoid overabundance of visuals

Following graphic design principles also means having restraint when it comes to using visuals. You should not be just bombarding your learners with picture after picture on every page of every training module.

You need to ask yourself and your course designers such questions as:

    • Are these visuals relevant to the lesson?
    • Are these visuals only tangentially related?
    • Do these visuals add anything new?
    • Are there too many visuals on the screen?

Graphic Design Techniques for Better eLearning Courses

With an appreciation for how graphic design can improve your eLearning programme, it’s time to get into the techniques you can apply to achieve such a goal. There are five fundamental aspects to focus your efforts on:

1. Layout


Graphic design does not just pertain to images. It also concerns how text is visually presented and organised in relation to graphical elements. This is why the layout is integral to how easy (or hard) it can be for learners to absorb information in an eLearning course.

Some of the best practices for an engaging layout include:

  • Make use of white or negative space. It is in the absence of any element—text or visual—that dictates where the learner’s attention should be directed.
  • Isolate a point to underscore its importance.
  • Use bulleted lists to highlight key principles.
  • Group and arrange similar elements together.
  • Position crucial info at the start and the end.
  • Use paragraphs when necessary, as there are concepts that you can’t boil down to a single sentence. Where possible, however, keep paragraphs brief to not overwhelm readers.

2. Typography


The font you use plays a significant role in how well learners take to your eLearning course. After all, they will be spending most of their time on your course reading.

Consider the font style, size, and colour, as these aspects all factor into the text’s readability and engagement with learners. Keep the following in mind:

  • Font style sets the tone for a text. If you want to convey a professional tone, stick to clean and crisp fonts.
  • Even if the course you are creating leans toward a fun and creative approach, you can’t go wrong with a sans-serif font such as Arial or Verdana.
  • You can use multiple font styles for contrast, but keep it to just two styles.
  • For font size, 14 and 16 are the standard point sizes for body text.

The ultimate objective for your font choice is ensuring legibility. Forego flashy fonts that distract and make reading any harder.

3. Colour


Colour can enhance your eLearning courses if used properly. Depending on the combination of colours you choose, you can make a course aesthetically exciting or a complete eyesore.

Fortunately, you don’t need an art degree to get a feel for what colour palette looks good for your course. There are plenty of free online resources that can provide complementary colour schemes for you to emulate, such as Colour Combinations Tester, Coolors, and Color Hunt.

A few pointers when picking your palette include:

  • Three colours should be more than enough to give an eL-earning course a distinct look without going overboard and confusing your learners.
  • Follow the 60-30-10 rule. The neutral colour should be used 60%, the complementary colour should be used 30%, and the remaining 10% should be for the accent colour.
  • Contrast is critical, especially for fonts. Fonts should never blend in with the background that they become hard to read.

4. Graphics


There are plenty of ways to implement visual media like illustrations, photographs, and animations to spice up your eLearning course. Here are techniques you can use without having extensive graphic design experience:

  • Crop stock photos — Stock photos generally have a professional quality to them, and they are useful for scene-setting. However, they are designed to be generic. You can make them more appropriate for your particular needs by cropping parts that don’t fit what you are going for.
  • Remove backgrounds in images — The same principle as cropping stock photos applies with this tip. You can take an attention-grabbing element from a generic image and use it in a different context or pair it with text or another graphic. You can use an online tool such as Clipping Magic or the remove background features of Microsoft Word or PowerPoint.
  • Add flair to basic charts and graphs — Simplistic visual representations of data have their place, but colourful and creative charts and graphs will be much more memorable for learners. Instead of solely relying on templates, you can add images and icons with a dash of colour to liven up boring old diagrams.

5. Navigation


Graphic design affects the ease at which learners can navigate your eLearning course. You know you did well with how you designed course navigation when learners can intuit their way through it.

  • The core tenets to improving navigation are simplicity and consistency. Keep labels short with phrases like “Next Page” or “Exit Course”. Place buttons and links in the same areas so learners don’t have to spend time looking for them for every page in your course.
  • Graphic elements like lines, arrows, and icons can communicate directions succinctly and lead a learner’s eyes through a page. Take advantage of visual shorthand symbols to streamline navigation and maintain a clutter-free look.
  • Include a progress bar that learners can easily view. A visual representation of how much content there is left in a course can help them manage expectations, act as a checklist for topics they have tackled, and pace their self-learning sessions better.

Integrate Graphic Design into eLearning

Visuals support the informational content in your eLearning courses by making the experience more engaging and digestible for learners. Graphic design principles, meanwhile, ensure visuals are presented with reason and relevance and avoid redundancy. Such principles are realised through proper layout, the right choice of typography and colour, creativity in employing and editing images, and straightforward navigation.

If you need expert guidance for integrating graphic design into your eLearning courses, Wahoo Learning has just the team of instructional designers for you. We are highly experienced in designing interactive and immersive courses with effective visual media baked into the process. Contact us today.

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The author - lloyd smith

The author - Lloyd Smith

Lloyd is the Managing Director of Wahoo Learning. He has a passion for the learning technology industry, particularly the latest innovations and technologies.

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