Making your elearning theme come to life

Young man in suit looking astonished in laptop. Surfing the inte

To make your elearning theme come to life you need to build atmosphere and emotion into it. There are many ways in which you can do this to make a memorable elearning experience.

Consider all the elements of your course and make them fit your elearning theme e.g. learner goal/challenge, language style, type of interactions, graphics, fonts, animations, audio, and video. It’s like having a consistent overarching story running through the whole elearning experience, where everything looks like it belongs together.

I recently built a compliance course focused on on a futuristic theme. My clients wanted a positive focus in their compliance training by doing the right thing for the customer rather than focusing on avoiding breaching the legislation.

Having the right theme – futuristic – helped put the positive spin into this elearning course. Here’s how I built atmosphere and emotion into my theme.

Start with a learner challenge

It’s motivating to jump straight in and start with a learner challenge. This can be as simple as asking the learner a question. For my futuristic theme, I gave a couple of sentences describing the situation and then asked the question “what future will you create” with a two photos of the same customer, one with a happy expression and the other looking nervous.

Font to match the theme

Getting the right signature font to match your theme works well for creating atmosphere. For my theme I downloaded the “Back to the Future” font from and used it to match my theme…

In to the Future - da font

Background graphics to match the theme

This is where I thought about what graphics in the background could add value to building the theme and experience. With the futuristic theme certain things popped to mind like space, time travel, motion, black hole, speed. With a couple of well placed searches in stock sites I was able to locate the perfect background graphic for my theme:

Abstract Motion Background

Sound for scene setting

Using sound to set the scene can be a very effective way to develop the right emotion. For my theme I downloaded a futuristic sound woosh to match the fly from left entrance of the ‘In to the Future’ title.

Animation and motion

Use motion and animation to match your theme and build interest. Choose a couple of styles of animation and keep it simple so it doesn’t overwhelm the learner. In my theme I used two types of animation: in the initial slide I animated the ‘In to the future’ title and the three following statements to fly in from the left. At the beginning of each branching scenario I also added a spin to the slide transition.

Matching language

It’s important the language style matches your theme no matter whether it’s spoken audio or whether it’s in writing. To match my futuristic theme I needed to make sure the language I used was in future tense. I also keep my language conversation as this tone fitted my theme, topic and audience.


There are lots of other ways to build atmosphere and emotion in your elearning theme, such as developing characters and the overacrching story. An important thing to keep in mind is that the visual, audio, and interactive elements, as mentioned above – add to your theme, rather than detract from it.


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Elearning stock graphics, why subscribe?

It’s important to get your graphics right in elearning so they add value to learning. I often use photos to convey realistic conversations and evoke emotion.

If you are doing several elearning projects it is worth subscribing to a site that specialises in elearning stock graphics. Here are a few reasons why investing in elearning stock graphics are worth it and make developing elearning easier.

Time saving

Using stock graphics that are tailored for elearning saves a lot of time. Here’s how they can save you time:

  1. People graphics come already cut out so there is no need for you to clear cut them in Photoshop or other image editing tools. This could save you as much as 10 minutes per graphic. My last project used about 20 different people images, using elearning stock gave me a saving of approximately 200 minutes of photo editing time.
  2. You’ll have a huge reduction of search time looking for the right characters that also have multiple poses and expressions. Elearning stock characters already come with a large variety of poses and expressions, you no longer need to accept that cheesy grin pose. Subscribing to an elearning stock site will give you a wide choice of characters with different ages, ethnic backgrounds and dress (casual, business, industrial, medical). You can pick people images that will relate to your audience without having to extensively search for the right images on a standard stock site.

Convey character emotions better

As already mentioned elearning stock people come with a range of expressions and poses. Using expressions makes it much easier to get emotion and reality into your elearning stories and scenarios.

Here’s a small sample of different expressions that one character uses:

many expressions

Use conversation templates for inspiration

Some elearning stock graphic sites have conversation templates that you can download. The advantage of the conversation templates is that you can borrow ideas for how to build a realistic looking conversation by using different character angles and background images.

Other useful stuff

Subscribing to an elearning stock graphic site often gives you access to lots other useful stuff. Two of my favourite elearning stock sites are Elearningbrothers and Elearningart. Both of these sites have a huge variety of cutout people, background images, speech bubbles and downloadable elearning templates.

As well as the above Elearning Art has some cool isometric characters, hand written fonts and office objects. Whereas Elearning Brothers has downloadable game and activity templates, elearning sounds (e.g. correct and incorrect feedback sounds), and character videos.

Using elearning stock graphics won’t eliminate the need for the occasional standard stock image but it will reduce time and energy spent on getting the right characters and emotion into your elearning.


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No-one likes a cheat!


I recently saw a disgrunted tweet from a big elearning company because another smaller elearning company had blantantly copied a significant amount of their blog word by word then posted it in their own blog the next day. Needless to say they were taken back that another company had copied their hard work without even acknowledging the source! The sad fact is that this sort of behaviour is not uncommon… I’ve come across this kind of cheating frequently where people pass off others work as their own. For example, I worked for one agency where an instructional designer created course content directly from the web by copying and pasting the text from different websites to create their “own” content for their training guides.

This kind of cheating is wrong and unnecessary. Especially when we can create original content easily and without having to start from scratch or reinvent the wheel. Here are a couple of ways in which you can use what already exists without cheating.

Acknowledge your source

The first most obvious way to avoid cheating or plagiarising is to acknowledge your source (University 101). If someone has a good idea paraphrase them or directly quote while acknowledging the source. It is perfectly acceptable to do this as you are illustrating how you are using someone else’s idea to build your own.

Also, when using someone else’s web content, such as a Youtube video, you can link directly to the external content from within your elearning course. This way the learner can see who produced the video as it hasn’t been embedded (and potentially changed) in your course.

Use stock sites

Looking for free images can often be a false economy with the extra time spent searching for the right image that doesn’t have copyright restrictions. Graphic images, sounds and music are often heavily copyrighted and rightfully so. For this reason it makes sense to put aside a budget in each elearning project to purchase images and/or music off a stock site. Purchasing off a stock site means that you don’t have to worry about copyright. Also stock items are high quality and relatively cheap in comparison to the effort of initially creating.

Here’s some stock sites I frequently use:

In short you don’t have to cheat to produce a low budget elearning course (or blog for that fact). What strategies do you use to avoid cheating while still working smart?

Putting personality back into text

woman peeking out, cartoon comics speech bubble, vector drawing

When using text in elearning you can use the standard fonts in your program or you can choose to inject personality into your text by using other more original fonts. Fonts are much more than just text on a screen they are an important graphic element of your design. Using fonts effectively is a powerful way to create atmosphere and personality in your elearning course. Oh-la-la just wouldn’t have the same effect in a standard Arial or Calibri font.

With downloaded fonts you can create emotion in your text and give characters and conversations personality. Comic fonts are often good for creating realistic conversation voices. The example below shows the different between using a standard font and a downloaded comic font:

comic font conversations

When designing a handwritten note the standard fonts from within a program don’t give realistic examples of handwritten text also the few standard options of handwritten font are so overused they become familiar and boring. You will have much more options of making the writing look realistic by downloading other handwritten fonts.

handwritten font

You can also use fonts to help build up a setting or environment by matching the type of font to the type of environment. For example, what sort of settings or environments do you think the below fonts suit?

horror font

army font

retro font

Free fonts

Using fonts outside of your rapid elearning tool is not only effective, quick and easy to do, you can also do it for free!!

Here are a couple of my favourite sites for downloading free fonts:

Here’s another great post from one of my guru’s, Tom Kulhman. It illustrates the process in selecting fonts and why they are important in your elearning course:

What tips/thoughts do you have for using fonts in elearning? Please feel free to share in the comment section.

How to design elearning templates to fit a company’s brand


When a company is new to elearning one of their top priorities is to get the look and feel of any elearning consistent. This means all their learning products will look like they’ve been produced by the same people or place. Unless the company is outsourcing the look and feel to an external graphic designer this job often falls into the elearning instructional designers basket.

Most elearning instructional designers didn’t start off as graphic designers, so here are some tips on how to design elearning templates to fit a company’s brand when you’re not a graphic design expert.

Use what exists already

It’s likely the company you’re working for all ready has some look and feel styles with their internal and external communications. Look at the templates the company already uses e.g. standard Powerpoint templates, facilitated training templates. It’s also a good idea to look at the company’s external and internal websites. If elearning will be designed for internal staff the staff intranet is often a good starting point.

What features to include in the template?

Colours: by looking at the company’s internet and intranet pages you’ll be able to see what colours brand the company. Use the same colours in your elearning templates so they look like they belong to the same company and brand.

Company logo: From looking at the websites you should be able to identify the company logo or image that can be incorporated into your elearning templates.

Graphic features: Look to see what type of graphical features you could borrow from the company’s websites to incorporate into your elearning templates. This can include the type of imagery whether they use photos, animations, or clipart to get their message across.

Navigation features: You could also navigational features of their website to inspire the navigation features in your elearning template, for example, the buttons or menus on their website.

Here’s an example of a quick mock-up on a NZ bank company (done for demonstration only).

The company’s website

Internet site

 Example elearning template to fit company’s brand

co-op elearning template

It can also be useful to talk to the marketing or communications department to check there is no planned rebranding coming up that will effect your elearning templates.

What else you consider when developing an elearning template?

Design better looking branching scenarios

There are endless possibilities for designing branching scenarios that look creative and innovative. Here’s a few ways to make branching scenarios look even more engaging and memorable:

1.  Ditch the multi-choice layout

Branching scenarios are always much more interesting than reading a page of information. However, when presented in a multiple choice style, with question text, and then an a, b, c or d response, they become predictable and not overly engaging. It also makes them look like a test which can be a big turn-off!

2.  Create an environment

Design images and media that look the environment where the learning will be applied. Look at your learning outcomes and imagine the learners applying them in the real world. What does it look like? Where will the learning be put into practice? Is this in an office, a factory, outdoors? Who will be there? What objects are likely to be in the environment and how will these be arranged? Below is an example of creating an environment by using graphics:


3.  Visually mimic how choices would be made in the real world

How will the learning be put into practice? Do learners need to choose between different objects, conversation responses, or actions? In the example above, the learners have to first find the hazards in the scene, then make choices on how to minimise them. This design is engaging as it makes it easy for the learner to imagine themselves in the real situation.

4.  Use more visuals and minimise text

“A picture is worth a thousand words”. Use visuals and multimedia to convey key messages. It is much quicker and more memorable for a learner to source key information from visuals rather than reading paragraphs of text. Let’s face it we’re in a world where people want access to information fast, this includes their learning!

5.  Consistency in presentation

Design a theme for your branching scenario. Choose the type of graphics you will use, photos, illustrations or a blend of both. Choose fonts that reflect your topic and match the graphics. Choose a colour scheme and use this consistently. Designing a theme will give you consistency and will make everything look like it belongs together. Think of your branching scenario as telling a story. For example, in a children’s story book the illustration style remains consistent. It doesn’t suddenly change half way through.

There are many more ways in which to design better looking branching scenarios.

What are your thoughts?