Imagine this: your boss comes to your desk one morning, shows you one of the most poorly designed e-learning courses you’ve ever seen (example below), and says, “I’d like you to republish this course for some new employees.”

Panic sets in. Your palms get sweaty. What do you do? The course is indeed atrocious. Is there anything you can do to quickly save it, or at least improve it?

There is. Next time you’re handed an e-learning course with bad graphic design, try following these six steps to quickly improve it.

Get Rid of Bad Images

Your first step is to chuck all low-quality, blurry, or just plain ugly images. No image is better than a bad image. This doesn’t apply to photos and graphics only; bad video and audio also distract learners and should be removed if not up to par. Get rid of images that look good but don’t work well with the subject matter.

In our example, we’re tackling a travel safety course for business professionals. The character on the slide doesn’t exactly scream “business traveler” with his casual golf shirt attire, so we switched him up with a more appropriately dressed character. We also got rid of the not-so-great graphics and replaced the background with a crisp photo of an airport. (Read more about choosing great graphics for your courses: Your Ultimate Guide to Choosing Graphics for E-Learning and How to Choose Backgrounds for E-Learning.) We’re only at step one, but already this is a huge improvement!

Streamline the Typography

There are so many fun, creative typefaces out there it can be tempting to use three or more fonts in one course. However, the inconsistency usually kills your visual cohesion. It’s a best practice to stick with only one or two fonts throughout your project. Additionally, you should choose font sizes and colors that make your text stand out and easy to read.

In this case example, we got rid of the Comic Sans (one of the most overused and therefore most despised fonts!) and opted for a bold, thick font for the title (Bebas) and a simple, easy-to-read font for the body text (Open Sans). We also formatted the text colors and font sizes to be more appropriate. (Read more about choosing fonts for e-learning: 5 Important Rules of Typography for E-Learning Designers and My 4 Favorite Free Fonts for E-Learning.)

Correct the Text

Nothing distracts readers more than spelling and grammar errors. Give your course’s text a run-through for both, and while you’re at it, prune your text to remove unnecessary words or sentences.

You should also keep an eye out for inconsistencies in terminology. In the example above, the text inconsistently refers to the e-learning project as an “e-learning module,” then a “course,” and then a “lesson.” The text also says to “Click the Next button when you’re ready to continue …”, however, the button says “Continue,” not “Next”—another inconsistency.

By refining the text and removing mistakes and inconsistencies, we’ve greatly improved the readability and appeal for learners. (Read more about how to improve your text content: How to Remove Redundant E-Learning Course Text and Top Writing Tips for E-Learning.)

Use Guides and Grids

Guides and grids help you get everything lined up evenly, and are a great way to make sure you have even white space—”breathing room”—around the items on your slide, making it appear less cluttered.

In our example, we applied a grid using guides to ensure items were aligned properly and spaced evenly. (Read more: Use Grids to Improve Your E-Learning Designs.)

Liven Up the Color Scheme

Changing your project’s color scheme is another easy way to adjust the look and feel of your slide or course. Colors set the mood and tone, and certain ones are a natural fit with different industries or subject matter. (Read more about choosing appropriate colors for e-learning: 5 Ways to Choose Color Palettes for E-Learning and The Color Effect: How Your Palette Affects Learners.)

In our example, we changed the background rectangle behind the text from white to light gray, with a transparent effect so you can still see through to the image in the background. We also added a pop of color by making the Continue button and the title bright red. Why red? It complements the slide’s existing color scheme and doesn’t clash with the character’s pink shirt.

Fix Broken Links

While you’re updating the look and feel of your course and the text content, remember to check all buttons and navigation items for broken links or hiccups. Click through every possible path and option in your course from start to finish to spot potential problems.

With these six fixes in place, your bad e-learning design will go from poor to acceptable (or heck, maybe even great!) in almost no time. Check out this before and after:



Do you have any tips or tricks of your own for improving a bad e-learning design? We’d love to hear your comments, or any tips that we forgot, so please leave a comment below.

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Ross Dewstow