Six visual design tips for effective elearning

Andrew DeBell gives us some simple design ideas for great elearning.

Visual design is a must-have in modern elearning. Gone are the days of traditional elearning, notorious for being bland, stuffy, and flavourless. Today, visual design is essential for capturing attention and starting a learning experience on the right track.

Why is visual design important in elearning?

It makes a powerful first impression. And in digital communications, first impressions are 94% design related. This positive impression gives learners a comfortable welcoming to a new experience. It provides feelings of ease, comfort, and curiosity to continue learning.

Visual design in elearning can also improve the user navigational experience, boost learner engagement, improve knowledge retention, and increase course completion rates.

Images should be selected deliberately, for a purpose. They should support the content and add to the learning experience.

You don’t have to be an experienced graphic designer to create visually stunning elearning courses. You do, however, need to know the foundations. Let’s explore a few visual design tips to boost your elearning course to the next level.

  1. Keep the design minimal: Low visual complexity is important for learning. It helps keep learners focused, reducing both confusion and cognitive overload. The entire purpose of visual design is to help guide the learner’s focus, not distract them. Aim to reduce clutter and take a minimalist approach to visual design. That means keeping the design simple, modern, and distraction-free. Remove unnecessary images. Reduce the amount of text on screen. Use white space to your advantage. Make sure every visual element has a purpose and is adding to the learning experience
  2. Use design to guide learners: Start thinking of visual design as a tool to guide learners – both in the sense of course navigation and highlighting important content. For course navigation, use the principles of website user-experience design (UX) to ensure your course navigation is visually simple and easy to understand. Visual design should also be used to draw attention to the essential information your audience needs to learn. Use attention-grabbing tactics such as motion graphics, annotations, highlighting. And sometimes, the simplicity of open white space will do the trick.
  3. Only use a handful of colours: Colours are emotional triggers for humans. They can be used to deepen learning by setting a tone and mood that aligns with the learning topic. All you need is a handful of colours, between two and five for your course total. Choose a cohesive set of colours by using a free online colour palette generator. Or even better, use brand guidelines. Most companies will already have brand guidelines that provide approved colours and fonts to use. Treat these brand guidelines like gold and use them to drive the rest of your visual design.
  4. Choose the right fonts: Fonts are very personal and speak volumes about a brand. Select a simple font family that is readable and has a positive reputation. Safe fonts to use are Open Sans, Roboto and Calibri. They are modern, easy-to-read, and safe for the web. Avoid fonts like Papyrus, Comic Sans, and Impact. They carry a poor reputation amongst visual designers. Once your font is chosen, stay consistent about the size. Maintain one size for headings. And a different size for body copy. This improves the learner experience, making it easier for learners to recognise the type of information they are reviewing.
  5. Be thoughtful about image choices: Don’t add an image just because you see a blank space. Images should be selected deliberately, for a purpose. They should support the content and add to the learning experience. Each image should be thoughtfully selected and cropped to a specific size to fit the slide layout. Avoid images that are use clipart, are overused online, or feel old and outdated. Choose images that are visually compelling, match your company brand, and help tell a deeper story about the target learning content.
  6. Start with a template: Templates are a simple way to ensure good visual design. If you’re just starting off as an elearning developer, using a template is the way to go. They are often created by visual design experts and ensure your course maintains a consistent, professional feel. As you work with a template, take this opportunity as your own learning experience. Pay close attention to the layout, colours, positioning, graphics, and design. As you become more experienced as an elearning developer, you can use these elements you’ve learned to create your own template. To get started, there are many free templates available online, depending on your desired authoring software.

If you need to continue your development in visual design, brush up on the foundations of graphic design – balance, alignment, colour, space, typography, hierarchy, shapes, and texture. There are many free resources available online, including free full-length MOOC courses on Coursera and edX.

As an elearning developer, this is your chance to be creative and experiment. Test out ideas and see what works best to improve your end-user learning experience. With sleek, modern, visual design, your learners are sure to appreciate it.


About the author

Andrew DeBell is a training consultant and marketing strategist at Water Bear Learning.



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