The Key to Creating Visual Content That Your Students Will Love!

Course Graphic Design

It’s a well known fact that one of the primary learning styles is through visual learning. In fact, I myself am a visual learner. I learn best by watching videos, looking at drawings, graphs, maps, or any type of visual aide. While we absolutely feel it’s best to provide resources for various types of learning styles, in this article I want to focus on visual learning tips to help your students engage with your content more effectively.

I recently wrote an article titled “10 Things You Must Know About Creating Epic Video Content for Your Course” which focuses on creating video for your course. Today we’ll discuss some helpful ideas for creating strictly graphical elements.

A few things to remember…

Purposeful graphics – Make sure that your graphics have a purpose and are relevant to your course. Remember, the primary goal is training and teaching and you don’t want a graphic to be a distraction but rather a focal point.

Use Infographics – Information graphics are a great way to communicate information, data, or knowledge in a quick and efficient manner. They can be useful to your students in that they can relay information quickly by simply looking at the patterns and trends on the image. If you are looking for some inspiration for infographics, check out Daily Infographic. Not to mention, these are really fun to create!

Consistency – Make sure you are consistent with your graphics throughout your entire course. If you are outsourcing your graphic content, ensure that your contractor adheres to your style, feel, and overall theme. If you are using clip art or if you are using graphics that have a sepia tone, then use them throughout your course. Again, no matter your overall style the key here is to be consistent. Also, make sure that your graphics are high-quality which leads to the next point…

Quality vs. Quantity – It’s important to use graphics that have purpose but again, ensure that you’re using the highest quality graphics possible. Use the JPG or PNG file format for your graphics. Remember, JPG is a very high quality, however, it will not support transparent backgrounds. PNG on the other hand has pretty good quality and will support transparent backgrounds.

Make sure to size your images properly as well. Don’t create an image with a huge resolution, embed it, and then adjust the size using an inline style because this will lead to a slow page load time. Also, don’t take a small image and stretch it because it will get pixelated and blurry. Create the image for the exact size you need. If you need various sizes, simply alter the image size and upload multiple sizes of the image. The GIF file format is often used for animated images, however, be sure that these images fit the context of your course.

Where do I find images?

The web is full of graphics, including clicking the “Images” option within Google search which will render thousands of images. That said, it’s best to avoid copyright infringement at all costs. After all, you wouldn’t want someone distributing the course content you’ve worked so hard to create for free all around the web, right?

There are several resources online to purchase royalty free, or RF images. If you don’t know what royalty free images are, RF refers to the right to use copyrighted material or intellectual property and in this case allows you to use an image without the need to pay royalties or license fees for each use. Here are a few resources where you can obtain and purchase RF images. Some of these sites do offer free images.

123RF – 123RF sells RF images for about $4 per image. They use a credit system which equates to around $1 per credit, however, you are required to buy 40 credits to start. For a high resolution image, the cost is around 4 credits on average. For smaller images you will pay 2 – 3 credits. They have a great selection of photos and vectors.

Pixabay – All images found on Pixabay are “copyright free” under the standard license set forth by the Creative Commons non-profit organization. You can use them royalty free for anything, even commercially. Attribution is not required for the images either. Not a bad deal if you are on a budget!

Pond5 – You will find a wide variety of images and vectors along with other media types here. Pond5 does have some images that are public domain, but the selection is not always very wide-ranging. Many images can be found for a reasonable price, however, some images can get quite pricey.

Graphic River – This site is brought to you by the folks behind the Envato Market. They have a wide variety of graphics, vectors, logos, infographics, icons, and much more. The average cost of these graphics is around $10 which doesn’t break the bank. If you pay via PayPal you will incur a small handling fee, however, if you pre-purchase credits ($20) minimum, you will be able to purchase without a handling fee. As a side note, the Envato Market is a good place to find stock video and music for your course as well through VideoHive and AudioJungle.

ShutterStock – These guys have been around for a long time and have a good selection of graphics and vectors. Their pricing plans are built into packages. For example a 2 image package runs just under $30 and a 5 image package is just shy of $50.

If you use any of these resources, be sure to review the terms for each image to ensure that you are able to use the image for your intended purpose.

Outsource it!

One thing that I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that you can’t wear too many hats otherwise you’ll spend too much time working in your business and not on it. In some instances it’s not worth your time to do something that you don’t know how to do or don’t enjoy doing. Graphic design is not for everyone and it’s perfectly fine to hand off tasks like this to an expert. Outsourcing has become very easy and inexpensive with the current number of online services that curate contractors with great talent in any field you’re seeking. Here are a few online resources where you can get custom graphics created for a reasonable price:

FreeLancer – With FreeLancer, you basically post your project, allowing contractors to view your project scope. Then you have the ability to view and communicate with your prospects. Once you’ve made your decision, simply award the job. You do pay up front, however, the payment does not go to the contractor immediately. The funds will not be released until the job is completed and you receive your final product, in which you can then release funds.

Fiverr – As the name implies, all gigs (jobs) cost $5. Basically you search the marketplace for a “gig”, purchase it, communicate with the seller, and get your final product. You do have the opportunity to give special instructions to the seller. For $5, what do you have to lose? Just keep in mind, you do get what you pay for…but this is great if you don’t have deep pockets.

Guru – Guru allows you to search through 1.5 million contractors, affectionately referred to as “Gurus”. Once you find a Guru that offers the service you are interested in, you can communicate with them to determine the project scope. Much like FreeLancer, your payment is safe until the final product is delivered.

99 Designs – I love what 99 Designs does! They allow you to hold a “design contest” in which dozens of graphic designers will design your graphic based on a description you provide. You will then be presented with all the various designs and then you get to pick the ones you like. You do have to commit a budget, but the cool thing is that you have complete control over who you award with your final payment. And although you’re committed to paying the final designer, you usually have the opportunity to have a couple of revisions made if necessary.

UpWork – UpWork, formerly known as Odesk is a great alternative to FreeLancer. You simply post your job and allow contractors to bid, whether it’s hourly or per job. In no time your inbox will be filled with applications. Then you simply review them, even setting up interviews if necessary. They also have a built-in time tracking and screen capture system so you can ensure that you’re not being charged for time spent on Facebook. Again you will pay upfront, however, funds will not be released until the job is completed and you are satisfied.

[BONUS TIP] – Remember to check any contractor’s reviews when using sites that allow contractors to bid. Also, don’t be afraid to have to them do a small “test job” to make sure their skills are legit. Most contractors are pretty used to this practice. Lastly, make sure that their communication skills are adequate to ensure that your task requirements can be met effectively and efficiently.

DIY graphics

I know I mentioned that it’s not a good idea to wear too many hats, but for some reason I’ve always loved playing with graphics and I tend to create my own very often. For some, creating graphics from scratch can be a bit intimidating for a few different reasons. However, one of the primary reasons is because using a feature rich application like PhotoShop can be totally overwhelming. The price of PhotoShop has decreased over the years due to several reasons, including the release of many freemium tools.

Before I was a Mac user, I used to use two free Windows applications for creating graphics, and Gimp. I had tried Photoshop, but as mentioned before the features were overwhelming and too much for what I wanted to do. When I moved to Mac I found Photoshop Elements, which is a lightweight version of Photoshop. It’s not as feature rich, but it has helped me to create many awesome graphics over the years.

One trend that has hit the internet is graphic SaaS tools like PicMonkey or Gravit. They are both really cool!

Photoshop Elements – Photoshop Elements is a great tool from Adobe. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that Photoshop CC comes with, but in reality most people that use Photoshop CC don’t even scratch the surface with its capabilities. Adobe Photoshop Elements runs around $99, which isn’t bad. The downfall is that you lock yourself into the version you purchase. For example, I purchased Photoshop Elements 10 several years ago and still use it, however, I have to pay to upgrade.

PicMonkey – PicMonkey is becoming pretty popular. It’s basically a browser-based graphic editor. How cool is that? It comes with tons of effects, fonts, backgrounds, etc. You can sign up for free and get the basic functionality, or you can upgrade for about $33/year and have access to all the really cool features. This is great when you want to put a quick graphic together. – This was one of my favorite Windows applications when I was a Windows user. It’s a great lightweight alternative to Photoshop. It may not have all the advanced features, but the best part about is that it’s free. Yep, that’s right!

Gravit – I recently just learned about this browser-based graphic tool. It’s actually pretty robust and can do some really cool things like layering which PicMonkey can’t do. PicMonkey can layer objects, but if you have a full stack of objects it’s really hard to move between them because they aren’t actual layers. However, Gravit doesn’t have quite the feature set of PicMonkey. On the positive side, Gravit is also free! Why not sign up for an account and just tinker?

Sketch – Although I’ve not used Sketch, I’ve heard a ton of great things about it. Sketch is exclusively for Mac and runs about $130, but you only pay once and you get updates/support for the life of the product which is a fabulous deal. There is also a 14 day free trial in case you just want to take it for a test run.

Do you have any e-learning graphic tips or tools you’d like to share? If so leave us a comment below!


  1. Karen M McCamy on May 20, 2016 at 9:25 am

    I use Pablo by Buffer (completely free still) and Canva (much of it is free, but prices are really low if you need to buy and image from them).

    Both of these are SaaS and in both services you can upload your own backgrounds. Canva lets you save all of your work in your account, while Pablo is strictly “create-and-download” one graphic at a time… Pablo saves every graphic as a PNG…

    I find that Pablo is waaaay quicker for me, since Canva offers “so many choices!” It’s eye-candy for me and I get very easily distracted…

    I have no formal graphic design training (which is probably why I get so distracted!). Canva’s website also offers free Design tutorials…

    • Nate Johnson on May 20, 2016 at 10:39 am

      Hi Karen,

      Thanks for the suggestions! I have used Canva before and it’s a great tool, but I’ll have to take a look at Pablo.

  2. Khuman on January 25, 2020 at 9:39 am

    Hello Ben, The article is awesome!

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