Marketing Techniques to Steal for Stellar E-Learning Course Design

Your e-learning course might have the most pertinent of information and might be the holy grail of training content, but if it doesn’t sell itself, the potential goes to waste. You want your course to be studied, not skimmed; memorable, not forgotten.

Let’s talk about e-learning course design and what is holding your content back from actualizing its fullest potential. Your course might have the most pertinent of information and might be the holy grail of training content, but if it doesn’t sell itself, the potential goes to waste. You want your course to be studied, not skimmed; memorable, not forgotten.

Over the years, marketers have perfected the art of creating memorable content that their audience connects with, respects, and wants to act on. They understand fully that presentation is almost as important as content or value. We need to study and adopt marketing techniques, so we can create courses that are memorable masterpieces.

Here are some marketing techniques we can start applying today for better course design:

1. Keep content simple and relevant

With your learning content, you want to connect with and maintain your connection with your learners. We’re living in an age of instant gratification and shorter attention spans. Condensed and straight-to-the-point content is your friends. Simplicity in design also works hand-in-hand with concise information.

Assess your fonts and graphics and eliminate what is unnecessary. There is such a thing as going overboard with these helpful elements, creating clutter and distraction. Include only what is relevant and pertinent to your training goal and remove “nice to know” information. Resist the urge to share a truckload of information all at once. Less is more when it comes to course design to avoid cognitive load.

2. Utilize contrast

Using contrast means having clearly apparent differences among the design elements that come together in your learning asset. These include contrasting colors, shapes, fonts, sizes of text, and graphics. A high degree of contrast helps create dramatic interest and draws the viewer’s eye to specific areas of your page.

Also, use contrast to concentrate on the learning asset’s usability and efficiency. Make objects and options visible. For e-learning, this means the key buttons are clearly labeled and easily visible. Learners will get frustrated when answering a quiz if there’s a hidden “Submit” button not easily visible on the page.   

3. Make the design predictable

You’re probably not going to be standing over your learners, telling them what to click to access aspects of your course. To get the utmost engagement from your learners, you need to enhance the user experience of your digital course.

Simple navigation is key in designing a digital course. Navigation elements such as buttons and menu structures should have similar locations and the same look. The call-to-action text on the buttons should be triggering enough to elicit action and should explicitly state where the button will take a learner.

4. Pay attention to formatting

The three-second rule highlights the average time a visitor—or in this case, your learner—will use to scan your page to get a sense of what it’s about and what he or she is expected to do. You want the formatting of your context to pass this test and keep his or her attention.

Pay attention to the spatial relationships between elements. For example, captions should be kept close to photos and subheadings should be kept closer to their text than the text above them. Make sure spacing is consistent throughout your content.

Use white space or negative space where you can to draw more attention to your main message and reduce clutter. These areas should not be seen as opportunities for added information.

5. Know what type of font best suits your content

For e-learning course design, it’s important to know and understand how and when to use and how to combine different fonts. Provided it fits with your company’s brand guidelines, use serif and sans serif fonts—preferably combined as using just one type produces bland content.

Serifs are the little decorative strokes attached to the letters that help the reader’s eyes flow from letter to letter; sans-serifs fonts are without these decorative strokes. As a general rule, serifs are better for short text such as headlines, subheadings, and captions. They comparably take more time to read because of their little extensions and, as such, bring more attention to each new word or concept. Popular examples of serif fonts include Courier, New Century Schoolbook, Palatino, and Times New Roman.

Sans-serif fonts shine in the digital world. They appear more clearly on the screen and have a slightly increased readability compared to the serifs. As such, they are good for when you have a large amount of text. Popular examples of sans-serif fonts include Arial, Avant Garde, Geneva, and Helvetica.

6. Make your content learner-focused

The entire design should focus on learners and their habits, just like marketers focus their design on their customer. Your content has to connect with your learners in order for engagement and effective training to take place.

Who are your learners? Where can you find them? What platforms do they use frequently? What drives or motivates them? This is where learner personas come in handy. The user experience of your platform, the tone, language, and delivery of your content should be tailored to your learners if you’re going to reach them.

Even if your learning course has the most elite content, if the design does not “market” itself, your learning conversion rates will be less than stellar. Applying these techniques that marketers have perfected to your digital course design will ensure increased training success rates.

Danielle Wallace is the chief learning strategist at Beyond the Sky, a provider of custom learning solutions. Previously, as a marketing executive with Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo, she learned strategic marketing principles, which she applies to learning and development to create learning that sticks. Wallace is also a certified training and development professional (CTDP) and her thought leadership, free checklists, and monthly infographics can be found at



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