Visual Design Tips: How to Create an E-Learning Scene

No… I don’t mean a “scene” like when you’re at the supermarket and your toddler decides to throw a temper tantrum right in the middle of the cereal aisle because they really wanted cocoa pops.

I’m talking about creating a scene in your e-learning courses.

Imagine you are learning about workplace safety and there are two online modules you can choose from. The first contains a list of safety hazards for you to read and remember. The second, on the other hand, contains an image of the workplace and shows you the same safety hazards with relevant text, if needed. Which one do you think would be more engaging? And which one do you think would be more effective?

Visually re-creating the environment in which the learning will be applied makes for more engaging and more effective learning. It is much easier for the learner to then go and apply the learning in the real world.

So I know what you might be thinking: “Creating realistic environments sounds great, but I’m not a graphic designer. How do I create something compelling with limited resources and time?” In this article, I’ll show you how I use stock images and PowerPoint to create realistic scenes.

How I Created This E-Learning Scene Example: C.S.I. Demo

I recently built a demo where the learner is a C.S.I (Crime Scene Investigator). To grab learners’ attention,  they are placed in a gritty crime scene and guided through the tasks they need to undertake to catch the murderer. 

I really wanted this demo to look as realistic as possible. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Use Google to find reference imagesI had a vague idea of some of the elements I should include in my scene, but I needed some extra help. I visited Google Images and typed in ‘crime scene investigation’. Whatever your topic is, type in a few different search terms so you get a good variety of results. The point of this exercise to learn about where your topic or activity takes place, what objects are used, what sorts of things form the environment in which the activity happens.


  1. Choose the objects you’ll use to set the sceneThere were pages and pages of results, but you can’t use everything you find or you’ll have a cluttered look. I recommend picking 5-10 items (depending on their size and distribution) that will help you set the right feel without creating too many distractions.

    I chose the objects I thought would work best: a knife, a blood spatter, a footprint, a wallet, some ID and credit cards, a Polaroid picture, and an investigator badge.
  2. Source imagery that you can use to create the sceneNow that I’d decided what objects to use, I sourced some images I could actually use. I subscribe to a few stock sites, but you can find plenty of free image sites too. I use Pixabay a lot. Don’t forget to also look for assets in the community download page—they have a ton of great stuff you are free to use. Aside from my chosen objects for the scene, I also sourced a manila folder and a piece of notebook paper.
  3. Prepare the scene: Now that you’ve selected your imagery, the next step is assembling all your assets. I created this scene in PowerPoint. Here’s how:

a. I used the 3D rotation tools to create the background image of the crime scene. I used a grungy ground texture and a brick texture to create the alleyway where the crime occurred.

b. I added blood to the knife and also to some of the other objects.

c. I created C.S.I badges, one female and one male.

d. I also created an index card and a ziplock bag (you know, for bagging evidence).

Here’s a quick video I put together on how I created some of these objects in PowerPoint.


Once all my objects were ready in PowerPoint, I saved them as images and inserted them into my Storyline project. 

F:\Google Drive\01 Storyline Developer BIZ\05 Images\portfolio images\CSI_04.PNG

Other Immersive E-Learning Scene Examples

Putting your learner in an environment that is as close as possible to the real thing increases engagement and makes the learning more meaningful.

Our community members constantly amaze me with their creativity. Here are just a few examples I’d like to highlight for having created great scenes:

Pre-Flight Safety Demo, by Dianne Hope

I love this demo Dianne put together—it places you right where you need to be to learn all about pre-flight safety.

Energy Savings, by Lyn Lucovsky

I like this simple interaction—instead of a list of boring bullet points, Lyn created a perfect scene in which to show us how to save on your energy bill, and the environment.

Kitchen Master, by Tania Vercoelen

Totally dig this demo! Tania created a gorgeous kitchen so you can release your inner chef.

The Case of the Fraudulent Pharmacist, by Kate Atkinson

This Guru Honorable Mention 2015 winner is one of my favorite demos ever! It creates such a realistic scene and is extremely well-executed.

Now It’s Your Turn to Give It a Try

While it may take a bit more effort to create a visual scene for your course to live in, it’s well worth the reward of higher learner engagement and improved learning outcomes.

Have you created some great scenes for your courses? Do you have any ideas you’d like to share? Feel free to post your comments below.

Veronica Budnikas is an e-learning developer with a passion for clean and simple designs, facilitating comprehension, and enhancing learning. Veronica has a Masters of Online Education and years of rich experience in instructional design, training, content management, and more. Discovering that online education allowed her to make the best of her training experience and instructional design skills, she's been focused on the tech-side ever since. See more of her work on her website and follow her on Twitter at @verobudnikas.

Dianne  Hope

Great article Veronica! I love how each of the examples you've chosen is very different and illustrates beautifully how e-Learning design can be so diverse and how versatile Articulate Storyline is. I follow a very similar process to you. Gotta love Google images as a starting point! But then I go one step further with some projects that are particularly visual and start a Pinterest board to collect my ideas in one place - here's a link to my Skeuomorphism board (which actually has your Crime Scene demo on it!): and here's a link to my post on Skeuomorphism on my e-Portfolio. You've inspired me to add more to my post covering how I designed the elements for scenes in this design, and maybe even to finish the development of this... Expand