Finding Inspiration

There is more to crafting learning content than getting apps and tools to bend to your will. The work requires a significant investment in the creative side, too. Here are some suggestions for inspiration.

It is a new year! What will 2022 teach us that we may not have thought we would have to learn? Regarding the work, what will we learn this year? This month? This week? Today?

It bears mentioning that there is more to crafting learning content than getting apps and tools to bend to your will. The work requires a significant investment in the creative side, too. Without providing this in goodly measure, the work is only partly done. To this end, where do you find inspiration for doing familiar things in new ways? So many possibilities. So little time. Here are some place to consider for inspiration:

TV Programs and Movies

Why wouldn’t TV programs and movies be inspiring? There are so many streaming services to choose from. And they are all laid out in efficient card-style menus with images. Sometimes they feature color coding and can be arranged by various categories of interest. After reading the brief description, age rating, year of release, and the actors, just click to view.

  • Check out the visually interesting opening screens, how the opening credits sneak in mostly unobtrusively, and the way closing credits are done.
  • The “cold open” is a highly undervalued and underused method in learning content. We should use it far more often. In fact, it is a great method for moving past the more-than-tired combination of title slide + speaker bio + agenda or list of objectives.
  • Revel in the clever uses of lighting and shadows.
  • Music draws viewers into the action taking place onscreen, gives hints as to what is about to happen, adds to the action scenes, and settles down between more intense scenes.
  • The various genres provide plenty of variety for offering new and different learning content.
  • Dig into the interesting characters with layers and depth—protagonists to believe in and cheer for, villains to jeer, clever thinkers, fantastic heroes, people from the distant past and in the not-too-distant future.


There are so many ways to become inspired through books! Rich characters develop before your eyes, across the paragraphs and pages. Don’t forget about the illustrations, especially in children’s books. Art books are filled with large pictures intentionally placed to tell the story of the subject matter. So-called “how to” books offer great combinations of step-by-step instructions that often accompany labeled photos and illustrations.

Public Art

Often, when it comes to art, it is the unexpected that draws us more.

  • Sculpture gardens: These are fab in every way. And the pieces show up differently in different types of light, which is why they are placed where they are and oriented as they are, too.
  • Murals: Historically, murals were done to advertise. Today, you’ll see them on full display in cities and small towns alike. Google Art and Culture has chronicled many for all to enjoy.
  • Graffiti: Love it or hate it, graffiti is a form of expression, and some of it is interesting to look at. It gets the point across using color and shapes (admittedly, the messaging is likely to be menacing and territorial when examined by experts).

Less obvious but just as interesting: architecture, skylines, bridge design, and shop window displays.

Paintings and Photography

Put that high school or college art class to good use!

Imitate—don’t copy—the use of realism and surrealism, color, juxtaposition, light and shadows, the way objects are placed, composition, sizes and scale, where your eye travels, primary focal point, what tricks the eye and the brain, what your eye is drawn away from but matters, textures, the unexpected, what gives you joy, themes that surprise and delight. There is so much to learn!

Quick reminder: Take photos often. Then store them in your inspiration digital folder or scrapbook. And take your own photos for your work, whenever possible.

Magazines, Especially the High-Quality Print Ones

Why magazines?

  • Excellent photography that can teach us much about lighting, shadows, composition, taking risks, page layout, fontography, handling text in visually interesting ways, and writing.
  • Creative handling of the tables of content—which also can be used to inspire more interesting agendas and objectives.
  • Multi-column text presented in visually interesting ways intended to make them readable and easily scannable.
  • Color, including spot color used to highlight and to both unify and create separation.
  • Fonts, drop caps, interesting heading fonts, and type shaped around images.

UX/UI Design

This area of design has its origins in marketing and advertising. However, it has quickly grown and should inform all learning content design, especially eLearning.

UI (User Interface) and UX (User Experience) design is primarily applied to the way Web pages are handled. UX/UI design has to do with the location and placement of links, menus, buttons, and actions that take place when they are clicked or hovered over—in other words, how the eye travels the page, how efficiently, and how effectively when measured against the intended purpose(s).

Curate Resources in a Journal or Scrapbook

Doing this work requires both creativity and inspiration. But being a human being means there may be times when neither appears when needed most. To be ready to face that sort of challenge, choose to spend time curating resources as often as possible. Plan the time daily but be open to serendipity, too.

How? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Both Dropbox and Google Drive allow saving links directly. Curation sites such as are good for this, too.
  • Apps such as Google Keep and Evernote are great because they work across all platforms, ensuring you never miss a moment.
  • Screen grabs, making sure to include the source—because you’ll want it later.
  • A running list of ideas as they occur to you.
  • Sketch and draw. No one cares about how well you draw (chances are good those sketches will never be seen by others anyway). There is a sort of alchemy that takes place when you write, draw, and sketch by hand. Try it. Keep doing it until you feel more comfortable.
  • Experiment and refine prototypes continuously.
  • Make new and different things every day. Use PowerPoint or sites such as Adobe Spark and Canva. Just get the ideas out of your head and begin to work with them.

Just as important:

  • Take walks—urban and rural. Take note of all that nature displays. Notice hidden gems, such as murals and lovely architecture. Watch people at play and in repose. Pay attention to the effects of sunlight and shadows at various times of day.
  • Take photos. Lots of them. Look at them often.
  • To the many sounds and to the silence.
  • A lot. Especially books by creative thinkers. And the classics.
  • Go to the public library and sit for a while. Don’t forget to spend time in the children’s area—to find the books you loved and can love again. But especially, observe the wonder of it all.
  • Jump into the sidewalk puddles occasionally.
  • Look up.
  • Pay attention to the negative space that creates art—whether intentionally or unintended and just as beautiful.
  • Try new things.
  • Visit art galleries and museums.
  • Pay attention to textures and ponder how you’d explain them using the written word only. Likewise, colors, tastes, scents, and smells.
  • Walk or drive using a different and less familiar way.
  • Sketch often. Draw on big paper with fat-tip markers.
  • Play with clay or Play-Doh.
  • Ask yourself, “What if I did…instead?” often.

I hope these are helpful suggestions for you. Get out there and make 2022 the year of more inspiration and greater levels of creativity in your life and work!

Dawn J Mahoney, CPTD
Dawn J. Mahoney, CPTD, is the program content manager for Training magazine. She also owns Learning in The White Space LLC, a freelance talent development (“training”) and instructional design consultancy. She is passionate about developing people through better training, better instructional design, and better dialog. E-mail her at: