Course design used to involve different roles—instructional designers who wrote and designed the course, media designers who created assets and visual designs for the course, and developers who programmed the course and managed it in the learning management system.
Today’s authoring apps make it easier than ever to develop online training. The challenge is that nowadays course designers are often responsible for everything: writing, designing, and building the course.
Whether you’re just starting out in e-learning or you’re looking to produce courses more efficiently, it’s helpful to identify types of graphics commonly used in e-learning courses as well as places where you can get them for free. Let’s take a closer look.
Common Types of Graphic Assets
One of the most common uses for photos in e-learning is as background images. Backgrounds can help create visual context for your course topics. And because they’re often the largest and most visible object on your slide, they’re one of the most important assets to get right.
Common course backgrounds include:
- Subtle textures, gradients, and patterns that add depth and richness without dominating the slides
- Themed backgrounds such as corkboards and chalkboards
- Photo backgrounds of offices, classrooms, and other industry-specific environments
- Scenario backgrounds that create context around a topic such as medical, safety, legal, and compliance
- If you want unique background images, consider creating your own. You don’t need to be a professional photographer to shoot decent-quality background photos. Most phones have a built-in camera that’s good enough to capture a professional-looking shot for your course. Take a look at our post on background images for some good tips and tricks.
Images are also great for illustrating key messages throughout your course. For example, if you’re creating a lesson on the four main food groups, you may want to include a photo to represent each group. Photos are not only more likely to catch your learners’ attention, studies show they can also help your learners remember and retrieve information.
Illustrations are another great way to set the scene and help learners grasp difficult concepts.
Common illustrations include:
- Folders, paper, tape, and notecards
- Projection screens, whiteboards, and flipcharts used for content holders
- Office objects and buildings
- Industry-specific objects
If you’re designing a lot of scenario-based training, you’ll probably need a diverse set of characters to work with. For your scenarios to be realistic—and therefore more effective—you need to find characters your learners can identify with.
For example, if you’re doing a course on hospital hygiene, you’ll want to make sure your characters are wearing scrubs or lab coats. If your scenarios take place in an office, you may want to choose characters wearing suits or other business attire. If your workplace is more casual, you should choose characters wearing something laid-back. The key is to choose characters who are believable in their roles.
And, of course, if you create e-learning courses for a variety of subjects and audiences, you’ll need a larger range of characters to choose from to depict your scenarios accurately.
Callouts (or Text Bubbles)
When designing scenarios, you might decide to use callouts or text bubbles to show dialogues between characters. Callouts come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles, so you can never have too many of these around.
Common formats include:
- Cartoon-style callouts with thick borders
- Sketchlike callouts that feature a more organic, hand-drawn border
- Flat or simple callouts that can be used across many course designs
Icons can be used as buttons to standardize your course navigation or to illustrate complex concepts.
Examples of icons that are commonly used as buttons in e-learning include:
- Arrows for Back and Next buttons
- A house for a menu or home screen
- A question mark to indicate a place where learners can get help or more information
- A folder or document for additional resources associated with the course
Whether you’re using icons as buttons or to illustrate ideas, make sure the icon’s meaning is clear and cannot be misinterpreted. If the icon is ambiguous, it can actually make things more confusing for your learners, instead of less. And when in doubt, spell it out instead of choosing an icon. Which brings us to our next asset type ...
Sometimes you need to create a button for which there is no obvious icon. For example, a Try Again button at the end of a quiz. Rather than using a cryptic icon and confusing your learners, why not use a button with text so your learners know exactly what the button’s purpose is?
Text buttons comes in all different shapes and sizes; for example:
- Rectangles (with square or rounded edges)
The key is to make sure your buttons look and feel similar, so your learners instinctively know they’re clickable.
Videos are great attention-grabbers, so it’s no surprise we’re seeing more and more of them in today’s e-learning courses. Here are some common types of videos:
- Filmed lectures or presentations
- Subject Matter Expert (SME) interviews
- Whiteboard videos
- Guided tour of an office or work site
- Stock videos
While it’s a good rule of thumb to never use more than two or three fonts in a course, you should have a good selection of fonts in your toolkit to help you meet any course’s design needs. Whether you’re downloading free fonts or purchasing custom fonts, there are some basic styles you’ll want to keep in your asset library.
Here’s what you’ll need for most e-learning projects:
- A font you can use primarily for headings, such as titles, subtitles, and inline headings. It should be larger, bolder, or heavier than your body text.
- A font you can use as your main body copy. Make sure it’s superlegible since it will represent the meatiest part of your course.
- A font you can reserve for callouts, captions, or labels. This font should contrast with your slide background so learners can easily see and read it. It should also be legible at smaller sizes.
Where to Find Graphic Assets
Now that you know what kinds of assets you’ll need, you’re probably wondering where you can find them. There are so many different options, it can be overwhelming. And that’s without taking into consideration usage rights. Can you say headache? Luckily for you, we’ve rounded up a list of pain-free options.
- The E-Learning Heroes Downloads Hub. In addition to all our free PowerPoint and Storyline templates, you’ll find free backgrounds, buttons, callouts, fonts, icons, and other graphics, like illustrations and images. Whether the assets are created by the Articulate team or a member of the community, you can use them any way you’d like without worrying about attribution.
- Content Library. With an Articulate 360 subscription, you get instant access to 1.5+ million photos, videos, illustrations, icons, and other images you can use without ever leaving Storyline, thanks to Content Library. Not to mention tons of great slide templates, including some prebuilt interactions. Talk about a timesaver!
- Stock Photo Sites. If you don’t find what you’re looking for on E-Learning Heroes or Content Library, try stock sites such as TheStocks.im and freeimages. You can also check out our blog post on free stock photo sites. However, when using images from these stock sites, be sure to read the attribution rules in order to ensure you’re not infringing on the usage rights.
- Free Font Websites. If you’re looking for a wide variety of free fonts, look no further than Google Fonts and FontSquirrel.
Obviously, there are many other places where you can find graphic assets, but these are great starting points! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave me a message in the comments section below.
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