Colors in online training
Featured, Instructional Design, Teresa MacBain

Color Choices in Course Design

One thing I’ve learned about instructional designers is that we all want to create an environment for effective learning. With so many factors to consider in eLearning design, color choices may be overlooked. I have worked in communications and marketing in the past, so the psychology of color isn’t new to me; however, I didn’t realize the impact color can make on an eLearning experience.

Recently, I read a great article by Christopher Pappas on the eLearning Industry website. His article not only shares tips for using color in eLearning design, but backs up the tips with what I call “the big WHY”. For me, I want to know that the information I’m reading is credible and not just the latest fad.

Pappas begins by stating that color is “one of the most effective ways to boost learner’ engagement and helps them emotionally connect to your eLearning course.” As an online learner, I have experienced this first-hand. Marketing using the psychology of color to influence behaviors and decision-making. Companies like Coca-Cola use the color red for their branding. According the color psychology, red increases the appetite which is important for marketing food and drink. Green triggers feelings of health, freshness, and growth. It’s not surprising that companies like Starbucks and Whole Foods use green in their branding.


As I said earlier, I know the principles of color in product marketing, but never connected it to eLearning. An online course isn’t marketing soda, coffee, or organic foods; however, learning is tied to behavioral change. Richard E. Mayer defines learning as “the relatively permanent change in a person’s knowledge or behavior due to experience.” Color influences behavior. Makes sense to me.

Pappas provides a thorough description of each color and its application in course design. Here’s a short summary of his points for each color:

  • Red: Guide your learners to important information and boost their motivation
  • Orange: Make a dull or complicated content seem more relatable and upbeat
  • Yellow: Helps boost memory and stimulate mental function
  • Blue: Transform a complex subject into one that is easily absorbed
  • Green: Can help settle nervous learners before an exam
  • Purple: Encourages learner imagination
  • Brown: Helps balance out the overall mood of an eLearning course
Infographic source: Shift eLearning Blog

Take a few minutes and read through Pappas’ article. It’ll change the way you look at color choices in your eLearning design.

References

4 Tips to Use Color in eLearning Design, Christopher Pappas

Color Psychology in Marketing, Lindsey Kolowich

From Learning in Encyclopedia of Educational Research, Richard E. Mayer

Infographic: Shift eLearning Blog