Colour Themes for e-Learning

For the first ever e-Learning course I designed, I chose the colours red and green as my primary colours. I had a lot to learn about colours and design, particularly with regard to designing for inclusiveness, aka colour blindness.

Colour is such an important part of visual processing and engagement, but how many of us truly understand how this works?

The Psychology of Colour

In this article on The Colours of e-Learning, Brother Andrew from e-Learning Brothers talks about the psychological effect each colour has on learning.

In this article on using psychology to design effective learning, Karla Gutierrez talks about colours being “powerful psychological triggers that help users learn better by changing their perception and evoking emotions”, but also goes on to say that excessive use of colour can lead to cognitive overload.

Of course, there are number of references to this topic in the Articulate e-Learning Heroes community, including this one on The Color Effect: How Your Palette Affects Learners that also has a pretty cool interactive infographic explaining the psychology of colour.

How do you select a colour theme?

Firstly, you need to have an understanding of how the colour wheel works. Here’s an informative article I came across on this topic by Kate Smith – Get to Know the Colour Wheel in which she goes into depth about the parts of the colour wheel – hue, tint, tone and shade. Alternatively, if you’re someone who would rather take in information in a visual and narrative format – I highly recommend the video below.

There are a number of resources and/or tools you can use to select a colour theme for your e-Learning course. Of course, consideration needs to be given to client preferences and style and often this is what dictates the colour theme from the very beginning. However, if you have no such constraints, where do you start?

I most often start with a relevant image that will set the tone for the entire course. Adobe Color CC is possibly one of the most widely-known tools for generating colour themes from an image, or from the colour wheel itself.

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Here’s an overview of this process.

Big Huge Labs – Colour Palette Generator is a serious contender in this field – it generates the HEX values and names of the colours, as well as a downloadable Adobe Swatch Exchange (ASE) format for Photoshop.

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One last resource I wanted to mention was Coolors which allows you to create, save and share colour palettes online by generating and modifying a random colour palette, or by exploring colour palettes shared by others.

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Other sources of inspiration

I seek inspiration from lots of other sources and have often based my colour theme on a website that inspires me. An example of this is this Course Starter Template I designed, the design and colour theme of which was initially inspired by the Alannah and Madeleine Foundation website (although I see that this website has changed somewhat since I designed this template).

Infographics is another source of inspiration I fall back on at times. I love infographics and have many of these pinned to my Infographics Pinterest board waiting for me to use as inspiration. Top of the list is this one by Isabel Avery, a section of which I’m going to show below with the colour palette generated in Adobe Color CC – isn’t this colour combination amazing?!

One thing you can generally do with these colour palette generators is choose your “colour mood”. This first image shows the “Bright” colour mood palette generated from this image. The other three colour moods shown below are “Dark”, “Muted” and “Colourful”, also generated from the same image.

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Lastly, seeking inspiration from sites like Design Seeds can be a rewarding exercise, although I find I get lost in the awesome amount of creativity that others possess and are willing to share, so keeping focused on the task at hand is a must!

More articles and resources on this topic

Popular Colour Schemes for e-Learning Design – Articulate e-Learning Heroes
4 Tips to Use Color in e-Learning – eLearning Industry (Christopher Pappas)
The e-Learning Color Guide: Evoking the Right Emotion: eLearning Industry (Christopher Pappas)
Find Color Schemes for your e-Learning Courses – The Rapid e-Learning Blog (Tom Kuhlmann)
The Complete Guide to Color Combinations in e-Learning – SHIFT e-Learning (Karla Gutierrez)
7 Tips to Choose the Right Color Scheme for your Online Training – Allen Interactions (Christopher Pappas)

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