The Rapid Elearning Blog

The Rapid E-Learning Blog

Just got back from the Learning Solutions Conference in Orlando.  It was a great time.  By nature, I’m a little introverted, but I can tell you that I am truly energized when I get to meet the blog readers.  I love the excitement people have for what they’re doing and glad that we can help.  I also like hearing about the different projects and learning how people with limited resources get their jobs done.  So for all of you who attended the sessions or came by the booth, it was great meeting you and thanks for the encouragement.

One of the questions I get asked a lot is about graphics and visual design.  Most of the elearning developers I meet have to wear multiple hats.  So they’re doing all of the instructional design and graphic design, too.  And they have to work with limited resources. Which means if they can’t create it, it won’t get done.

Here’s what I shared with those who came by the booth and asked about improving their graphic design skills.  I also built a couple of mock ups.  I’ve included the PowerPoint templates for you to download and use as you wish.

Look for Inspiring Design Ideas

When I find something I like, I do a screen capture and save the image to a “design ideas” folder.  For example, I recently installed Skype and came across their welcome screen.  I liked the layout and colors.  There’s a lot on that screen that could be used in an elearning course template.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Skype inspired design

Recreate Good Design

The best way to learn about design is to recreate the design you like.  But your focus isn’t really on a literal recreation.  You don’t want to copy the design.  Instead, you want to think through what it is that you like about it and why.  Then try to use those things you identified and build out your own design.  Doing this has a few benefits:

  • You’ll become more fluent at different design ideas.  This is important because we tend to get good at something and use it over and over again.  Eventually all of our designs start to look the same.  To keep your work fresh you need to be exposed to different creative ideas.
  • Your production process becomes more efficient.  For example doing a few of these templates in PowerPoint will help you get faster using the drawing tools and master layouts.  That will help you in other areas of your elearning course development, as well.
  • Your designs will stay fresh.  A few years ago, bevels were all the rage.  But today, those courses look stale.  Then the Apple gel-look was hot.  Now, it seems like the hot thing is a flatter look.  By being inspired by fresh, new design you’ll always have a contemporary look.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - graphic design evolves


Create Your Own Interpretations of the Design Elements

Once you build out a prototype based on the original, feel free to play around with the colors and layouts.  I usually move the various elements around to create my own ideas.

For example, in the images of my prototype below you can see how the first image looked close to the original design.  Then I moved the icon circles around to create a different look.

 The Rapid E-Learning Blog - elearning derivatives

I created a quick screencast that walks through the process of how I built the prototype and some of my considerations when I work in PowerPoint.

Since I had time on the flight from Orlando to Seattle, I played around with the prototype template a bit more and came up with the design you see below.  I added some course content to it so you can see how it might work in a real course.

image Click here to view the demo.


Since this is a bit more complete of a design, I created a second screencast to walk through how it’s built and what you might need to do if you wanted to customize it yourself.  I’ve also included the PowerPoint templates for you to download.

Click here to view the PowerPoint template tutorial.


The reality for many who design elearning courses is that they have to wear multiple hats, and one of those is graphic designer.  It’s hard to be great at everything.  But by following the techniques above, you can develop skills that will be good enough.

You’ll have fresh designs, learn new production techniques, and approach your courses a different way each time.

If you want to download the templates, you can do so here.  If you use the template design and can share them, feel free to add a link to the comments section.  Or better yet, create your own template and share it with the rest of us via the comments link.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

46 responses to “Inspiring Designs to Keep Your E-Learning Courses Looking Fresh”

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This post was mentioned on Twitter by ciberajuda: Inspiring Designs to Keep Your E-Learning Courses Looking Fresh

Really interesting, especially the part about the evolution of design ideas.
Personally, one of my favorite inspiration is… watching the news. It provides a lot of good ideas: apparition effects, how to illustrate something when you do not have a lot of media, animated schemes,…

Thanks for all the useful tips.
I do something similar: I have a PPT presentation where I paste design ideas.
Your “bevel-gel-flat” comment is also interesting.
What is a good source for learning about design trends?

Tom, Great post. I find it’s so useful to keep track of interesting designs that you see out in realm of the internet! There is so much out there that you have to keep track of. One thing I like to use that’s built into Windows Vista/7 is the Snipping Tool to take a screenshot of what I’m looking at!

It was also a pleasure to meet you at the Advanced Articulate session with Ron at Learning Solutions 10! Keep ’em coming!

Thanks Tom. Your screenshot idea is a reminder for me. I used to write down or draw a picture when I see something interesting,instead of saving it. Sometime later, I will forget. Right now, I will start to save the ideas or inspirations.

March 30th, 2010

I think what youi have been doing with multilpe templates to keep the backgrounds dynamic yet consistent have had a nice visual impact. I look forward to using them in my next production and sharing them.

A thrill to meet you last week


I have to say you constantly give out solid information and it’s appreciated. Thanks for all the help.

Personally I use sites like and for inspiration and instruction.

Best of all the tutorials are free.

Anyway, keep up the good work!

@Alessandra: You can find good ideas from CSS and web template sites. They tend to evolve with what’s fresh. John’s recommendations in the comments section are goods, too.

March 30th, 2010

to much interesting, evolution of design ideas and more…I’ll try it. EJRibeiro – RJ-BR

March 30th, 2010

The posts are a great help, but I’m stumped about how you link the two arrows to turn the pages.

Learning from other designers is key. Great technique with the screenshots. That’s a good habit to get into. Too often I try to “remember” what sites I like, but don’t document them.

One place I go for both design and interactivity inspiration is:

Also, I saw that Janet Clarey recently launched a site to show examples of instructional design. It’ pretty new, but as this gets more posts I think it will be a great resource

@BMWCharlie: to link the arrows, go to the master slides and add previous and next slide hyperlinks to them

March 30th, 2010

Wow, thanks so much for all of the valuable tips. At my agency we have to load all of our courses onto Evolution LMS and then the courses are accessed through a virtual learning center (vlc). The vlc manages the way the courses is viewed. I would love to be able to use some of the navigation ideas you present, but my programmers and I have yet to figure out how. Thanks again.

Nice post, Tom! Like you, I have an “ideas” folder on my hard drive. Plus, I have a PPT “ideas library” PPTX where I save my draft recreations of the ideas I discover.

@Alessandra – You can also find design ideas by attending an AIGA meeting in your area; if there isn’t a local chapter, visit their Web site:

In addition, visit the Web sites of design colleges. One that is near me is Laguna College of Art and Design:

I also like to get ideas from the HOW Design conference Web site:

And, from the Webby Awards (my personal favorite):

Last but not least, once a year I find out what the Pantone colors are for the next four seasons:

No special reason; I’m married to a graphic artist, and he introduced me to the Pantone color palette awhile ago.

@jenisecook on Twitter.

Please–please proof the finals! Atomic click?

That little “surface error” has cost people their jobs when we lost the client.

Although, I am prepping to use Articulate Presenter for a grad course project, so looking forward to your instruction throughout this very rich blog.

So far, this is the only “readable” blog I’ve found, i.e., we’re not talking theory here– this is the stuff on the road.

Thanx and keep up the teaching so I can learn, then I can teach so someone else can learn, and so on, and so on,…

@Bill Allen: yeah, that’s what happens when you edit on a cramped airplane. It’s just a prototype, so I’m hoping to keep my job. 🙂 Thanks for the kind feedback regarding the blog.

Really enjoyed the conference. I’ve been looking around here for the rapid development theory you were discussing. Can you point me in the right direction, or possibly email me your ideas. I’d like to pitch both you and Dave’s ideas, it could really speed up our process.

Hey Tom, this is my first time here but I’m already liking your stuffs! There’s a lot of great information here and I really love the idea of designing an e-learning course that actually looks good. Thumbs up!

P.S. Just tweeted and followed you on Twitter 🙂

Hi Tom, What tools do you use for creating these good looking designs. Is it just powerpoint? or some other tools as well. Thanks for teaching.

March 30th, 2010


Your blog is one of my favorites. I am an aspiring instructional designer looking for the right opportunity to put my ideas and skills to work. I graduated not to long ago in Instructional Design and Technology and landed a job as an Educational Technologist at a local university. Have not had an opportunity to use or practice my design skills, but still like to read up and stay informed on the latest in this profession. Just waiting until I can find a good fit. Anyway, I want ask you where are what you are using to do the voice overs in your prototype? Do you recommend any text to speech softwares that can be used for this? Is this what you used? Thanks for your advice!! -jenn

[…] maandelijkse nieuwsbrief met daarin een mooi voorbeeld van hoe je PowerPoint kunt inzetten om een heldere basis te maken voor schermen. Tom Kuhlman heeft er met Screenr een video van […]

@Jennifer: I do my own voiceovers (for good or bad). I know that there are many who do use text to speech software for the prototypes. I can’t say I have a solid recommendation at this time. Perhaps one of the blog readers has better experience with this.

@Amit: yes, for the most part, I use PowerPoint. There are times where I might use a graphics tool like Fireworks or, but in most cases I try to stick with PowerPoint to show others that they have the tools already.

@Ken: welcome to the blog.

Thanks for the practical advise, I often go to, it’s my ‘one stop’ design inspiration area.

March 31st, 2010

I use Evernote to grab ideas that I stumble on from Websites. The software allows you to save pages or just content and to categorize them or add keywords. It is free and really great tool.

[…] Tom Werner on March 31, 2010 Wonderful post by Tom Kuhlmann about graphic design in e-learning […]

@Patrick: you can download the handouts from the Learning Solutions site. I’ll be doing a series of posts on the presentation soon.

April 2nd, 2010

Tom, you often encourage paying attention to good web design. I also started paying attention to print layout as well. I know it transfers differently, but if i see a layout that I like, I just rip it out and file it away (well, after I buy the magazine).

April 3rd, 2010

I also look at media shows for how they present info. I really love how ‘Hungry Beast’ present their info and the graphic design of the overall show.

Check out these two videos:

Drug usage in Australia

History of Cane Toads

Thanks for the great tips. We are using some of these ideas for a few modules we are building! I look forward to sharing them when we are finished.

Question: Where did you get those graphics of the instructor, business man, tool man, etc? Thanks!

@Shannon: those graphics are from the clip art in PowerPoint. Do a search for avatar or icon.

May 16th, 2010

At the company I work for all courses are presented via the eCollege LMS, which creates considerable constraints on design. The overall look can feel uninspiring, and flexibility to make changes is wanting. To counter this, we try to make engaging media content (video, interactive, podcasts, audio, PowerPoints) that can be embedded within the individual content/assignment pages of the course (though it does not change how the navigation bars and other elements look). A potpourri of styles can then result when a flashy media player appears inside a very Web 1.0-looking course, but it goes a long way toward engaging students.

I hope that if we continue to use eCollege, the upgrade to the .NExT version of their platform will enhance our ability to create inspiring designs. It is my understanding that this new version allows for more choice in visual templates and flexibility for style sheets. It also has enhanced features for uploading and displaying packages of files (like zipped Flash files) directly in the course, without dealing with complicated file managers or code. Lastly, I think it offers data-mining capabilities so that analytical reports can be run on individual students, courses, or instructors. (The last point does not directly relate to design, I realize, but might indirectly through the feedback received on courses.) Hopefully those of us who are feeling hamstrung by our LMSs will get some design relief soon!

[…] Inspiring Designs to Keep Your E-Learning Courses Looking Fresh […]

June 9th, 2010

Great stuff Tom! Is there any chance that you would be able to create a screenr showing how to build and use Master Slides from scratch? I’m not sure of the proper method of doing it. Thank you!

June 11th, 2010

Quick question for you, I feel like I’ve seen this in you blog before but can’t recall where. If you choose to use the navigation arrows and put in your master slide template…then how do you navigate in the presentation? Do you have to manually insert hyperlink for every arrow to go forward or backward one slide? If so, wow that’s a lot of work and secondly, I can’t figure out how to do it unless you take it out of the master slide and insert onto each slide.

@DTA Lady: you can put navigation arrows on the master slides. I do that all the time. What version of PPT are using you using?

Thanks for all the useful tips tom..
Are you using handwrite font or you use tablet to write in your hand 🙂

@Betty: it depends. Sometimes I use a handwritten font and sometimes I write the slide with the tablet. Most of the times I use a font.

[…] Inspiring Designs to Keep Your E-Learning Courses Looking Fresh […]

[…] Inspiring Designs to Keep Your E-Learning Courses Looking Fresh […]

You’ve inspired my recent Twitter presentation:
I developed it myself to look like the old Twitter interface.

@Leah: nice job.

[…] control over how they gather information. Inspired by the course design that Tom Kuhlmann shared in this blog post, Russ went with a clean slide-only view in his Articulate Presenter player, and he incorporated all […]

March 9th, 2013

Undubtedly, that is a great lesson I found in my life. I think, It will remain as a best tutor in my life. Thanks at all.