Getting the Assets You Need for Your Online Course

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. Nowadays, the challenge is that instructional designers are often responsible for everything: writing, designing, and building the course.

Whether you’re just starting out in e-learning or if you’re looking to produce courses more efficiently, it’s helpful to identify types of assets commonly used in e-learning courses as well as places where you can find them for free. Let’s take a closer look.

Common Types of Graphic Assets


A common use for photos in e-learning is as background images. Backgrounds help create the visual context for your course topics. And because they’re often the largest object on your slide, they’re one of the most important assets to get right.

People typically use photos as backgrounds to:

  • Add depth without dominating the slides by incorporating subtle textures, gradients, and patterns
  • Give learners the impression that the content is displayed on a real-life object like a computer, a corkboard, or a chalkboard
  • Create context for the content by portraying the environment where it’s used such as an office, a classroom, or another industry-specific environment

If you want unique background images, consider making your own. Take a look at our article on background images for some tips and tricks.



Illustrations are another great way to set the scene and can help learners grasp difficult concepts.

Common illustrations include:

  • Folders, paper, tape, and notecards
  • Computer monitors, projection screens, whiteboards, and flipcharts used for content holders
  • Office objects and buildings
  • Industry-specific objects

Illustrations are also great for highlighting key messages throughout your course. For example, if you’re creating a lesson on the four main food groups, you may include illustrations representing each group.



If you’re designing a lot of scenario-based training, you’ll need a wide range of characters. For example, if you’re doing a course on hospital hygiene, you’ll want to use characters wearing scrubs or lab coats. If your scenarios take place in an office, choose characters wearing suits or other business attire. The key is to choose characters who are believable in their roles.

You’ll also need a diverse set of characters to choose from so your course is inclusive and uses characters of different ages, genders, and races. For your scenarios to be relatable and effective, you need to find characters your learners can identify with. Read this article for some helpful ideas: 5 Tips to Help You Choose Characters for E-Learning.


Callouts (or Text Bubbles)

When designing scenarios, you might decide to use callouts or text bubbles to show dialogues between characters. Callouts come in various shapes, sizes, and styles.

Common formats include:

  • Cartoon-style callouts with thick borders
  • Sketchlike callouts that feature a more organic, hand-drawn border
  • Flat design callouts



Icons can be used as buttons to standardize your course navigation or to illustrate complex concepts.

Examples of icons to use 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 where learners can get help 
  • 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 easy to interpret. If the icon is ambiguous, it can make things more confusing for your learners instead of less. And when in doubt, spell it out instead of (or in addition to) choosing an icon. This 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 an unfamiliar icon and confusing your learners, use a button with text so your learners know exactly what the button’s purpose is.

Text buttons come in all different shapes and sizes; for example:

  • Rectangles (with square or rounded edges)
  • Squares
  • Circles

The key is to make sure your buttons look and feel similar, so your learners instinctively know they’re clickable. For help, check out this article: Tips for Designing Buttons That Scream “Click Me!”



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:

  • Screencasts
  • Tutorials
  • Filmed lectures or presentations
  • Subject Matter Expert (SME) interviews
  • Guided tour of an office or worksite
  • Interactive videos



While it’s best to stick to two or three fonts in a course, it’s also a good idea to have a wide 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.

For most e-learning projects, you’ll need a font for:

  • Headings—such as titles, subtitles, and inline headings. It should be larger, bolder, or heavier than your body text.
  • Primary body copy—Make sure it’s legible since it will represent the meatiest part of your course.
  • 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 in smaller sizes.

Of course, when you’re choosing fonts it’s important to ask yourself the right questions to ensure all your learners can read it easily. Here are some resources that will help you do that:

Where to Find Graphic Assets

Now that you know what kinds of assets you’ll need, you’re probably wondering where to find them. There are so many different options, it can be overwhelming. Luckily for you, we’ve rounded up a list of excellent options.

More Resources

 Want more course asset tips and tricks? Check out these articles:

What are your top tips for finding and using course assets? Share your recommendations in a comment below.

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