Images and Your L&D Work

Information to help keep you and your organization safe from liability due to improper use of others’ intellectual property.

You’re likely using more images in your learning content than ever before. Probably video, too. It is for this reason I wanted to provide the following information to help keep you and your organization safe from liability due to improper use of others’ intellectual property.

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

A brief word on reliable sources and resources for images: Just because you can “Google it” doesn’t mean it is completely OK to just grab an image from a Website. (This is true for both Google Search and Google Images) Sure, use it for inspiration and to brainstorm ideas. But don’t grab an image of someone else’s work that appears on the site. This is theft.

If you don’t have a budget to purchase images that are provided at best resolution sizes and both attribution and royalty free, then you’ll have a little more work to do. There are “free” sites, such as Pexels, FreePik, and Wikimedia Commons. Select your images and then carefully READ the use requirements. Every time. And follow them as requested by the contributor. Every time. This means following the attribution requirements, size and resolution constraints, and the Creative Commons license requirement(s), too.

Are the Images You Select Fully Inclusive?

Do the images you select represent the people in your organization well? If not, it is time to replace what is found in your learning content. Representation matters. Include them all. For example:

  • Clothing worn to do the work. This means business, business casual, uniform, coveralls, lab coat, scrubs, head covering, face covering—whatever represents the workforce accurately.
  • Ethnicity and nationality. When we recognize ourselves in something, we feel connected to it. Let’s do more than choose an array of images that seem generally to represent various “races” in the U.S. (You know the ones, those check boxes on various forms you regularly complete: American Indian, Black or African-American, Latinx, Asian, and White. Choose to be more specific and inclusive using ethnicity and nationality. Think of it this way… how many countries can you think of where a form of Spanish is their first language? How many indigenous groups are there just in the U.S., not to mention those who are indigenous in other countries? How many countries can you name that are considered Asian and Pacific Islander?
  • Wide range of ages. Be sure to include the top end of the age range. This group is one that is vastly underrepresented in images and video content.
  • Hair color, including the many colors of the rainbow popular right now, plus gray and white.
  • LGBTQ+. While these may not reflect you or your lifestyle, the people who identify as one or more of these deserve to be represented, too.
  • Body art and piercings. Again, others’ choices may not always align with your own. When one or both of these are present in your organization, and they don’t pose health risks on the job, it would be well to represent the people with the ink and piercings, too.

Move Past the Trite and Expected

Surprise your learners with something new. It’ll jolt them into continuing to discover what comes next. Think of it this way: How many times have you seen these images used adjacent to:

  • Teamwork: Handshake, several hands linked at wrists, puzzle pieces, high five, fist bump. Instead, feature the team actively engaged in helping each other to succeed together. Or the team celebrating success in some way.
  • Leadership: Usually a man in a suit at the top of a mountain, a person pulling people up the hill behind them, a compass. Instead, how about featuring someone engaged in doing volunteer work? Or a team working together at the volunteer gig and the leader is only obvious by a different colored T-shirt?
  • Stress and burnout: Person rubbing their forehead, person face-planted on their desktop, burnt kitchen match. Instead, why not feature self-care instead of focusing on the stress and potential burnout?
  • Challenge: Person facing hurdles, target with a bullseye, ladder, a steep climb uphill. Instead, consider a pastry chef with a large quantity of cupcakes to frost, the aftermath of a pet’s enjoyment of rolling the toilet tissue all over the place, a young person found in the middle of a seemingly unsurmountable kitchen mess.

A Word on AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) may or may not make finding and choosing images easier.

AI is everywhere right now. Sure, it can be a timesaver and, some say, a game changer. However, don’t fall down the proverbial rabbit hole of fully relying on the results you receive from your own search criteria, or the question you asked of the tool. You might be a legend in your own mind but… you might not be, too. Meaning your own search criteria could be flawed in some way, thereby skewing the results returned. And you still need to do the work with respect to determining whether what is provided through AI is legal to use as is or should be attributed to one or more sources as requested by the original artist, photographer, author, etc.

Go forth and craft better learning content through the use of more interesting and safely selected images and art!

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: