Why You Need an E-Learning Style Guide

Many e-learning developers work in teams, which can create tons of unique challenges. One challenge that’s always popping up for teams is creating courses with a consistent look, even when many folks worked to bring it together. Planning your team’s approach to development is essential to ensuring your e-learning course has a unified feel. The last thing you want to do is confuse the pants off your client when they see different styles within the same project!

That’s why you need an established style guide. A style guide is a document that outlines the overall look and feel of the e-learning course, dictating design elements, such as font, line spacing, theme, screen styles, and color palettes to ensure a consistent output regardless of who is developing the course.

In the field of e-learning, style guides are also a great place to specify instructional design best practices to help maintain a consistent design approach. For example, if you’ll have assessments throughout different sections of a course, you might include guidelines for what type of questions you’ll ask, how you’ll format questions, and anything else that can help the assessments feel familiar to learners.

Deciding on a consistent approach for design and instructional design at the beginning helps you:

  1. Present yourself, your team, and your work professionally to your clients, whether you’re an in-house development team or a consultancy);   
  2. Get the course right the first time, so you don’t have to revise completed courses with a different look and feel; and
  3. Avoid wasted time when different members of your team are taking a different approach to different aspects of the project.

What You Should Include in a Style Guide

First things first: style guides should be developed in close discussion with your client. It’s their style you want to get right, after all! The goal is to ensure that your team sticks to your clients’ branding guidelines and media standards.

The perfect style guide is just like Goldilocks’ porridge—it’s juuuuuust right. Not too stringent that you find your hands tied when you get to development, and not so flexible that it leads to inconsistencies, especially when working with larger teams.

Here are some things you should consider including in a style guide:

  • Logos and supporting images
  • Swatches and precise color info for any required color schemes
  • Fonts that are part of your clients’ brand style
  • Copy for any required brand descriptions
  • Details about the preferred screen size and resolution
  • Specifications for the type of navigation you’ll use in the course
  • Info on what screen layouts you’ll use
  • Stock photos and/or characters you’ll use throughout the course (or specifications for acceptable photos and characters)
  • Details about any instructional design best practices you’ll use throughout the course, such as assessment formats

Depending on the project, you might have more wiggle room in terms of customizing a style guide. Some organizations may only dictate the color palette and logo requirements, giving you free rein to choose appropriate fonts, screen styles, and assessment strategies. However, other organizations may have very strict design requirements. Both of these situations can be fun though – in one situation, you get to flex your creative muscles, and in another situation, you can relinquish responsibility and save some time!

Again, the main goal of the style guide is to establish a consistent look and feel and establish best practices amongst e-learning developers. Flexibility is always great, but there are some situations wherein a dictated format is necessary.

If you have experience developing and working with style guides, we’d love to hear about it! Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Judy Hext
Mohammad  Hassam
Allison Nederveld
Todd Kasenberg

Your guidance is very helpful, and would have benefited me greatly 4 years ago, when I embarked as primary developer for a massive learning course for a client. I fumbled my way into a style sheet, which evolved and grew over the course of its use. We were particularly fastidious about a variety of things - precise placement locations for "deep dive information" callouts and hyperlinks (along with styles and icons), precision on titles (exact text) that were repetitive module after module, approaches to table appearances, and even language use (British English - global programme). The program's source was PowerPoint (converted to Articulate Presenter) - so we even defined where slide guides would be placed to support precise placement. It all seems second nature now - but like I said, your... Expand

Jennifer Ritter