Thoughts on backgrounds for storyline projects

I have 60 or so slides for a project.  I have a collogue that likes the continuity of a background throughout, but I am more of a risk taker.  I would appreciate the  thoughts from the e-learning community on whether to stick with one theme, diversify, or is there a rule of thumb for instructional design that should be followed for effective e-learning.

Thank you.

10 Replies
Laurel Schulert

Sometimes I'll use the same background on every slide (use the Slide Master tool for this if you're not already). I love these blurred backgrounds, since they're colorful yet simple enough they aren't distracting when you use them repeatedly: You could also use several of these backgrounds in the same course if they're in the same color family.

In other courses I will switch up the backgrounds. Sometimes I'll group slides/scenes into topics, and the background color will indicate a topic change. In one course, the content was one background color, and the quiz slides were another color (to indicate which questions were for review and which questions were graded).

In short - it depends on the course. I think as long as it looks like all of the backgrounds "belong" together, then it's usually ok to use more than one in a course.

Bob S

Hi Glen,

So I guess I define "continuity" a  bit differently than your colleague...  I strongly believe the best e-learnings and presentations have a unifying theme that ties them together; and that theme should have continuity throughout.  It does not mean that every slide has to be identical.

For example, if you have a Formulae 1 racing theme for your motor oil client, use the same color palette, typography, selection of background images and styles, throughout. Even create several related background images that can be used as sections/chapters if needed  (ie  front spoiler close up for all slides in chapter one, rear tire close up for another chapter, etc). 

The reasons for this go beyond the visual appeal factor. If the audience is being jarred by constantly changing themes, it distracts them from the content and messaging.  This is the beauty of a well designed theme..... It allows some level of variety where really needed (eg summary slides, quizzes, chapters, etc) but overall makes the course feel cohesive and non-distracting.

As someone much smarter than myself once said "You know you've done it right when the Slide/Screen formats make themselves invisible to the learner after being introduced."  I think that's pretty close to right.

David Anderson

One of the things we share in our design workshops is around visual strategies for signaling changes in content direction. I do this in the context of larger courses with significantly different content sections. This can be anything from using different characters across modules (Atsumi goes in Chapter 1, Christy in Chapter 2, etc.) or something more subtle like a change in color for each module.

A course on Six Sigma's belts is an example where each module or lesson could be colored to represent one of the belts. Book publishers do this all the time.

For example, the Chronicles of Narnia series is replete with loose and strict visual changes across book covers. The books (seven) all roll up into a single series (course) yet each book has its own story. Here's an example of a strict and loose approach to visual changes in the covers:

Using a different visual theme (color, shape, graphics, and design) signals a change in content structure or identity and makes it easy for learners to distinguish the changes.

Imagine if all road signs were red octagons:

Glen Meyer

My thanks for the members of the E-Learning Community who have provided great insight for me and other designers utilizing project visual strategies; not confusing the learner by having a unifying theme; and great background color scheme ideas. We all benefit through sharing ideas.  

Dennis Hall

I don't see any issue with changing slide backgrounds as long as the background supports the content, does not add to "clutter" and helps the learners cognitive learning in the process.

If you're switching subjects in a course (example: presenting the steps for something) then need to demonstrate the result of those steps when completed, it may serve to change the background image (especially if the result takes place in a completely different location or environment). Another situation would be in simulation training where you may demonstrate a process, then need to reset an image (background) and have the user reproduce the steps.

So as long as the background image supports what you are trying to accomplish, while also enhancing what you are trying to do, it may be of benefit.

I created a storyline template (SL1 and SL2) that changes background images (post publish) and made it available for free at if you want to see / download it (no promo. plug here - it's free no stings attached). package provides the advantage of letting you place your course interactions inside a "bigger picture" scenario so you can hide the player and place interactive objects at key locations in a full screen background image.

Hope this adds some insight.

Ulises Musseb

My two cents, it's a combination of the style you are using to present the material, its content and length. Number of slides normally doesn't really tell the length of the course.

I have used different background styles throughout a course to differentiate between similar, yet different topics. Sometimes a different background is necessary for the kind of slides that may require a lot of slide real estate, or that contains unique graphics.

The only rule that I follow is consistency in the sense of giving learners a way of following the flow of the learning experience and not create unnecessary distractions. It is about adding educational value.

Walt Hamilton

I hear a lot of people saying it here, but never fall for "I gotta change something, so I won't be bored, or to show off my creativity."

Rule of thumb: everything that can't be shown to improve learner achievement has to be killed. (Except, of course for those few bits of magic that are necessary to convince the higher-ups that you are wonderful.)

Dennis Hall

Great that you mention this.

All too often, I've witnessed IDS's adding "junk" to scenes just to try to impress their bosses (who usually are not Learning Professionals).

It's usually pretty easy to pick out who is incompetent in our field by the amount of "junk" they fill the screen with.

By junk, of course, I mean objects, animations, graphics, interactions that have no learning value.