10 Overlooked Sources for E-Learning Design InspirationOne of the greatest joys of e-learning design and development is the creative aspect of the work. It can be incredibly fun and fulfilling to evolve an idea from a sketchy concept to a fully functional reality. But I’ve found that the more creative aspect of e-learning can also be a bit intimidating. You may have sweated: What if I run out of ideas? What if I can’t summon something really cool just when I need it? And how do I keep my designs feeling continuously fresh and relevant?

Don’t panic! The world is full of design inspiration you can translate to e-learning. Here’s a list of ten often overlooked sources for e-learning design inspiration as well as some links and downloads to explore.

  1. Marketing Campaigns: One thing marketing folks do really well is reframe their audience outreach as a campaign—an ongoing conversation with a series of defined, coordinated activities that may include video, curated articles, eye-catching posters, online advertising, mini-games … you name it.

    This more holistic approach to connecting with an audience is something that many training organizations struggle to do. Instead of thinking about the conversation we want to have with learners in terms of what we want to tell them, think about what they might want to know and learn. For ideas of things you can create that aren’t just another course, check out this article: 10 Things to Create Instead of an E-Learning Course.
  2. Museums (Interactive Exhibits): Gone are the days of cheesy, static museum dioramas. Today’s museums are all about hands-on, virtual interaction and engagement. And one of my favorite sources for design inspiration is this Pinterest board full of interactive exhibit examples from around the world.

    Another idea: pack up the kids and head to your local children’s museum. Childrens’ museums are full of hands-on exhibits that are enticing and educational … and a goldmine of design inspiration.
  3. Games: Whether you’re into board games or video games, playing games can be a great exploration of design thinking, particularly if you’re trying to come up with ways to “gamify” your e-learning. For instance, many games use simulated environments; complex, realistic scenarios; and game mechanics like scoring and badges to create a compelling experience that motivates and rewards players.

    For some great and practical ideas on gamification in e-learning, check out these articles: Gamification: How and Why Does It Relate to E-Learning? and Gamification Techniques: How to Apply Them to E-Learning.
  4. Restaurant Menus: When it comes to designing their menus, restaurants really have an interesting information-architecture problem: how to structure and group menu items so they’re easy to find and understand. To that end, some restaurants go with highly stylized layouts full of pictures and detailed descriptions, while others opt for a more minimalist approach. Is one better than the other? Not necessarily. But it sure is interesting to see how different designers tackle this challenge.

    For some interesting information and visual design inspiration, check out this fun Pinterest board. And to play around with a restaurant menu-inspired design, snag this free Storyline 2 download.
  5. Maps: Map designers also face the challenge of boiling down a lot of information into something that’s easier for folks to digest. Think about it: depending on their use, maps can communicate everything from topography to landmarks to transportation options. And like us, map designers are challenged with presenting this information in a way that’s easy for users to navigate and apply—only in their case, it’s quite literal!

    See some stunningly beautiful and functional design inspiration on this curated Pinterest board full of map designs. And don't miss out on this cool map-inspired example from Alexander Salas.
  6. Digital Magazines: Digital publications, especially magazines, have really come into their own in the past few years. Publishers such as National Geographic have embraced mobile-friendly platforms, peppering them with engaging interactive elements and eye-catching images.

    For some inspiring examples of digital magazine design applied to e-learning, check out these beautiful projects from the community in this weekly e-learning challenge, or this recent example I created in Articulate Storyline 360.
  7. Newspapers: Much like their digital magazine cousins, newspapers have stepped up their visual storytelling in recent years. Publications like the New York Times and USA Today have pushed the boundaries of storytelling using interactive sliders, labeled graphics, and other design strategies that overlap with the world of e-learning.

    For some visual storytelling inspiration, don’t miss this 2015 recap from the New York Times.
  8. Movies/TV: When it comes to engagement, one could easily argue that it’s hard to beat a great movie or an engrossing TV show. While not an interactive experience, movies and television often exert a lot of influence over visual design trends. For instance, I don’t think it’s any big coincidence that the use of comic-book-inspired e-learning layouts shares a popularity arc with comic-book-themed movies and TV.

    Looking for some movie-inspired examples of e-learning? Check out the awesome ideas shared in this playful round-up of Star Wars-themed projects. And don’t miss out on these easy-to-follow tips for adding cinematic flair to your Storyline projects.
  9. Mobile Apps: You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger source of design inspiration than mobile apps. Since we all started carrying the world around in our pockets, we’ve seen design trends shift from an approach that relied on everyone accessing content on large screens to “mobile-first” designs with simple, easy-to-use nested menus.

    When I’m on the hunt for some mobile app design inspiration, I like to check out Behance and Dribbble. And to help me translate the ideas I’m seeing into e-learning reality, I highly recommend this helpful article: 4 Ways to Give Your Storyline Course an App-Like Feel.
  10. Graphic / User Interface Design: Animation in user interface design is a hot trend right now—no doubt in large part due to the growth of mobile applications (see above). One way to keep tabs on all the latest trends and incorporate them into your design mix is by checking out sites like UI Movement. This curated collection of animated user interfaces is full of ideas for everything from subtle navigation prompts to sophisticated interactive forms.

To be fair, I couldn’t file E-Learning Heroes under “overlooked” sources since it’s a go-to resource for many of us (myself included!). But any list of sources would be incomplete without mentioning the Weekly E-Learning Challenges, our E-Learning Examples, and our Building Better Courses forum, where folks like you share design inspiration, daily.

Struggling to see how you’d translate real-world design ideas into e-learning? It pays to check out the How Do I Get the Right Look and Feel for This Course? series, where David Anderson shares the step-by-step approach he uses for tackling that challenge.

Which of these are inspiring to you? Where do you find inspiration? Share your insights and ideas with others by leaving us a comment.

Eager to try something you learned here, but haven’t got around to checking out Articulate software? Go ahead and sign-up for a free 60-day trial of Articulate 360. Remember to come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on the latest e-learning tips and tricks.

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Jack Quantrill