An illustrated guide to illustrating elearning

Who doesn’t like cartoons? Illustrations are designed to break up large amounts of text, introducing fun and laughter into the process. More than any other type of television, I can still remember the cartoons that brought me so much joy as a child.

So it makes sense that illustration remains one of the major points of graphic design. Illustration itself pre-dates civilization – even cavemen were fans of drawing.

According to the dual-code theory, hypothesised by Allan Paivio in 1971, pictures are twice as memorable as text as they mean that the lesson imprints twice on the memory – once as a visual image, and again as a verbal association. As my childhood, cartoon-based memories will testify, illustrations really are a fun and memorable way to learn. They serve a real purpose, rather than just adding aesthetic value to a course. They also have a universal appeal that will ensure your lessons outlast page after page of instruction. Illustrations can simplify complex learning concepts as complicated ideas can be made in to tree diagrams, and charts, meaning that they’re easier for learners to understand, and, crucially, remember the lessons they’ve learnt.

There are so many ways to create illustration, I’ve used pen and pencils, as well as the more modern approaches involving digitally merging photos and drawings. I want to make sure that illustrations are so clear that the learner will be able to gain a large amount of knowledge in a short time.

When you first looked at this blog post, I’m sure your eye was drawn to the illustrations rather than the text itself. Illustration grabs the learner’s attention in a way that text can’t, and illustration can help to build the story-building process. Another benefit of illustration is that facial expressions it might be difficult to show in real life characters can be achieved very easily in illustrations. We can depict a vast range of expressions, as you can see below:

But how can drawings help to get learners engaged with an elearning course?


Using illustration is also good news for business, as well as learners. It’s a cost-effective solution, saving time and money that would otherwise be spent on expensive photo-shoots. There are ways to ensure that illustrations reflect branding by stylising the drawings and changing features such as the colour shapes and line-thickness.

When a client approaches me, there are a few steps I take to ensure that the end results will persuade any company of the value of illustration when it comes to elearning.

  • The first thing I do is to go through the storyboard with the client’s brand guidelines and topics. It’s important to ensure that the style is in line with branding. In the past, I’ve worked with clients who have been reluctant to use illustration, fearing that it will mark a drastic break away from their brand. However, that’s really not the case. Mixing photography and illustration is a great way to ensure that illustration benefits, rather than damages, brand recognition
  • Next, I try to put myself in learner’s shoes and read the content. For illustrations to be effective, they must start with real scenarios and real people. Once I’m sure that my designs will be compliant with branding guidelines, I start to look at the illustrations from the learner’s point of view. Is the target learner a teenager, middle aged or older? The severity of the subject matter is also important to bear in mind when creating illustrations for an elearning course, as it will affect the types of illustration required

Illustrations are one of the best ways to ensure that the lessons of your elearning course are straightforward and memorable. Including illustrations in elearning courses can be great for learners and brands alike.

About the author

Muddasar Bagwan - Designer
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