8 Must-Use Visual Design Elements For An Online Course

Teaching Online Teaching Trends and Best Practices

Visuals are stronger than the spoken and written content. More captivating and more influential. For people of all ages and backgrounds. So, well-chosen visual design elements speak volumes, without much efforts – even in eLearning environments. These boost engagement, spark communication and give a lot to ponder over.

But only if you include the right visuals.

Yes, the visual design elements shouldn’t only be pretty but also useful. A right one at the right place evokes the right emotion, creating real value in online learning environments. While every online course may call for its own unique aesthetic components, there are some that have a place in virtually every online course. Listed below are 8 must-include universal visual design elements that definitely deserve a place in your eLearning course. Are you using these?

1. Illustrations

Illustrations, such as those created by photo editing software or a graphic design program, can outline complex processes. These give your online learners a general overview of every step of a task.


When to Use:

  • Occasions when pictures simply cannot depict the intricacies of more detailed or complicated subject matter
  • Highlight every component of a machine and role of each of its parts

For example, if you need to show your learners the inner workings of a computer, you can use an illustration to show its components and how they are connected. 

2. Charts

When it comes to stats, trends, and identifying patterns, charts will be come across as an effective tool to show information.


When and How to Use:

  • Use bar graphs to show learners how something has grown over time or the rises and falls in a trend. They are ideal when trying to compare and contrast ideas that are normally difficult to explain using text alone.
  • Use bullet points and different columns for each sub-topic to highlight the characteristics or traits of a topic
  • Use a table to compare two or more components/products
  • Use a pie chart to illustrate numerical proportions
3. Navigation Icons

What would an eLearning course be without navigation icons to guide the way? Every eLearning course should have clear navigation buttons, images, or menus that point the learner in the right direction and let them know how they can access the next page or section of the eLearning course. When choosing icons, just make sure that they contrast with the background and stand out from the rest of the online content. You should avoid text-only navigation controls that blend in with the other text blocks on the page.


How to Use:

  • Use colored navigation signs to direct learners from one concept or one type of content to the next.
  • Use different signs to show different types of information. For example, a play sign for video, an arrow to turn the page, etc.
4. Screenshots

Screenshots are ideally suited for walk-throughs and tutorials that teach your learners how to use a program or complete a computer-based task. Rather than just explaining how to properly utilize an application, you can show them a screen capture that adds an all-important visual design element.


How to Use:

  • Share screenshots to instruct them on how to use all of the features of the LMS
  • Outline every stage of the checkout process by showing them screenshots of the POS system
  • Share screen captures of how to edit the assignments or add more information.
5. Infographics

For years infographics have been used on websites to visually represent statistics and trends. However, they also make great eLearning tools. Thanks to the fact that they are so versatile! Infographics can cover virtually any idea or topic if you get creative about how you display the subject matter.


How to Use:

  • Use them to outline a step-by-step walk-through
  • Make infographics for comparing and contrasting ideas
  • Convey an emotionally compelling story. 

The sky’s the limit when it comes to the uses of infographics in eLearning.

6. Character Images

Some eLearning experiences can get a bit lonely, especially asynchronous eLearning courses. These typically don’t involve live lectures and classes. However, if you add in characters, either in cartoon or stock image form, you can make your learners feel more connected and help them relate to the subject matter more effectively.


What to Do:

  • Guide them through the eLearning course by integrating a stock image character.
  • Use a cartoon animation to narrate your eLearning story. Your learners will appreciate the fact that there is an actual face attached to the eLearning experience, rather than just static text blocks. 

Keep in mind that you will want to choose characters that have that essential relatability factor. This can be achieved by conducting audience research beforehand to figure out the cultural, educational, and professional background of your online learners.

7. GIFs

You’ve probably seen GIFs scattered around the web. These are the animated snippets that often bring a smile to our face. Animated GIFs are also great visual design tools in eLearning, as they add a more light-hearted and relatable element to online courses. Above all else, these evoke emotion in your online learners.



  • These make your eLearning course more memorable.
  • Boost knowledge retention and absorption.

How to Use:

  • Select appropriate GIFs for your course content and theme.
  • Don’t deviate from the theme of the content.
  • When using GIFs make sure to ask the permission of the creator, if necessary, and include an attribution.
  • Avoid using a GIF just to up the shock factor.
  • Only include those that tie into your subject matter to some extent and are appropriate.
8. Stock Photos

Stock photos, especially high quality images, are a great addition to any eLearning course. They are easy to find online and have the power to create an emotional connection with your audience. Images can also stand in for text, particularly when they show a process or task in action. When choosing stock photos, opt for those that are royalty free. This will help avoid copyright infringement, or include an attribution so that you don’t run into any issues later on.

stock photo-300

How to Use:

  • Use images that don’t contain any cultural or region-specific markers, such as currency or words, as they will need to be removed when you localize your eLearning course.
  • Use appropriate images that suit the theme of your course.

Does your eLearning course have these visual design elements?

If not, consider integrating them into your visual design in order to increase the impact of your eLearning course and build an emotional connection with every member of your audience.

There is no doubt that creativity makes learning not only fun, but also meaningful. When you teach your learners how to be proactive through creativity, it is more likely they will also be interested in the eLearning material. Read the article 11 Multi-Media Lessons To Inspire Change to discover how to promote meaningful associations in eLearning through multimedia mindmapping and digital storytelling tools – comics, stories and polls, among others, so you can help your students to become confident learners by first becoming confident thinkers.

Christopher Pappas

Christopher Pappas is founder of The eLearning Industry’s Network, which is the largest online community of professionals involved in the eLearning Industry. Christopher holds an MBA, and an MEd (Learning Design) from BGSU. eLearning Blogger | EduTechpreneur | eLearning Analyst | Speaker | Social Media Addict

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