How to master the visual design of your online course - Part 1

Your online course is not only about e-learning. The connection between you and your students is also extremely important. This is a great way to distinguish yourself as a teacher and to position your teaching style accordingly. Think about your course as a brand. What feelings do you want to evoke after it is over? Do you want to boost the learning potential of your students? If so, then you should pay close attention to the visual design tips that follow.

Consider your audience

Before you start creating your brilliant online course, you need to understand to whom you will be talking. High quality visual design plays a major role in learning. Effective graphics are known to provide a better learning experience and usually help students to understand and grasp knowledge easier.

Visual design is not just about being fancy and fun. Your educational task as an online teacher is to steer the attention of your students and to create a positive learning process, even though not everyone will notice it.

Think about your audience and make sure that you choose appropriate visuals for their age, nationality, and learning style. Be aware of the subject matter – some subjects will need more infographics and others will benefit more from GIFs or video content.

If possible, try and step outside of the box as you think about your audience and the visual design of your course. Once you have an answer to the questions of why you need visuals and who your audience is, the sky is the limit. Experiment with formats or contents and then test them out. You will quickly receive priceless feedback from your online students and then you can spend more time on those graphics that give the best results, whether they are emotional boosters, unusual points of view, before-and-after photographs, or behind-the-scenes visuals.

Step-by-step guide

Think about your content

Your graphic content should support your course content. Choose images that add value and increase understanding among your students. Think about the visual and textual parts as a whole. All of the little elements of each individual item should be relevant to the others. Do not consider your graphics as simply decoration; instead, try to guide the learners through the material with the help of your visuals. Your course can only be as effective as the content and imagery are coherent.

Take consistency seriously

Visual elements draw attention; however, sometimes we process the images subconsciously and store them in our memory. Knowing this can help you use images to direct the attention of the e-learners towards the important parts of the lesson and to retain knowledge for longer periods.

Keeping in mind that visuals are easily remembered, invest time in creating a visually consistent course. All of the components need to work together to suggest unity and to support one another. Choose a learning template that will work for you throughout the entire course and stick to its style uncompromisingly. Chaotic course design creates chaotic learners.

Make the most of colors

Let us start with the facts. Appropriate colors:

  • increase brand recognition by up to 80%
  • increase the number of readers by up to 40%
  • increase the level of understanding of the message by up to 73%

Colors affect the mood and evoke different emotions. Use appropriate colors that will lead you to the desired results of your course. Consider the brand image of your course and choose the colors accordingly, while keeping in mind your students as well as the subject of the course. Define the proper tone and voice of your teaching style and select colors that will correspond to them. However, do not overuse them. Select a major color scheme and stick to it by adding a maximum of one or two supporting colors. Here are some of the meanings behind some of the basic colors:

  • Warm colors – red, orange, green: connected with active emotions and physical activity
  • Blue: low anxiety levels, calm, and comfort
  • Black: incorporates modern styles, exclusivity, and increases attractiveness
  • Red: increases attractiveness and activity
  • Green: incorporates health, growth, and a natural feel
  • Black + red: colors of strength and confidence
  • White + gray: in some cases, weakness and passiveness

Do not forget the fonts

Both colors and fonts are important elements that drastically improve visual communication as a whole. Some fonts are better received than others. There are fonts that are more readable and, just like the colors, generate certain feelings. Use serif fonts when presenting larger amounts of text (Garamond, Times New Roman, Book Antiqua) and sans serif fonts for more informational and briefer styles (Verdana, Arial, Calibri).

Fonts have an impact on perception. They inspire ideas and tell stories. Fonts reflect the times in which they were created and were widely used.

There are hundreds of fonts to choose from, but skilled designers do not use more than 5 of them. Before choosing the appropriate font for your course, think again about your audience and the goal of your course. Here are 5 fonts that you cannot go wrong with:

  1. Helvetica: This is one of the most popular fonts. It transfers information easily, but is not preferred because of its standard voice and wide use.
  2. Garamond: This font has many variations. It is the second most widely used font after Helvetica and is used in book design, magazines, websites, and long text passages.
  3. Futura: This font is used for logo design and corporate identity in books that do not have much text. It suggests confidence because of its stable geometrical forms.
  4. Bodoni: This font is best for titles, decorative texts, and logos. It is a symbol of contrast, style, and aesthetics.
  5. Frutiger: This font is neither geometrical nor humanist. Due to its recognition, it is preferred for web pages or for the design of short texts and magazines.

Whichever font you end up choosing, make it large enough to be seen by your students and combine it with the emotions contained in your color palette.

Do not be afraid of white space

White space is not a symbol of a missing piece of information. It is actually a crucial element when it comes to visually presenting any kind of information. Do not overload a page with information. Divide the amount of text into paragraphs or boxes. Put one accent per page and organize the information logically. Use bullets, numbers, big titles, and shapes to box out content that needs to be distinguished.

White space is a natural way to make reading easier and to present content elegantly, simply, and nicely.

Follow visual hierarchy

The main idea behind visual hierarchy is to create a balanced look and to guide the readers’ attention where it is needed.
Following the logic of the reading pattern (from left to right in most cultures), select where you would like to arrange the different elements. Learners initially notice what is on the first page and pay attention to any visual surprises that may occur. So position the main points of your course at the top of the screen. Let the key point be visually different. Place the bulk of the information on the left and the engaging visuals on the right. This will guarantee that your online students will not skip any information that you are offering.
Test and try out different approaches while sticking to your overall course style and the balance rule.

Choose images wisely

Although visual design is not only about images, it is important that you selectively choose your images. They are strong tools that can help a lot during your online course. Here are some general tips to follow when choosing your images:

  • Connect your images with the general idea of your course
  • Incorporate questions or action words into your images
  • Go further and make the visual element more provoking to boost interest
  • Mix the image and the text accordingly to strengthen your messages

Finally, do not forget about copyright. Sure, you can find royalty-free generic images, but think about how they will correspond to your online course. If you strive for original content and a more honest, personal, and direct approach, then it would be best to invest some resources into buying or creating your own imagery.

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Tanya Ilieva has strong experience in journalism, advertising, creative copywriting and digital marketing. She has a PhD in Graphic design from Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication in Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”. Some of her creative works in advertising has been rewarded both in Bulgaria and abroad. Her fields of interest include: philosophy of language, semiotics, visual metaphors, linguistic.
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