By Vidyuth Singh
We engage with color every day. The preferences we apply to procure our things, the signs we follow to maneuver our cars, or the clothes we don to convey our moods – they have everything to do with color. We may not always be conscious of it, but color plays a surprisingly significant part in our daily lives.
So, how important is color in the eLearning world? Tremendously.
Offhand color schemes can disconnect a course from its business organization and muddle the learner’s mind. An intelligent use of color, on the other hand, can lend the course a strong and relevant visual identity. Further, it can instinctively benefit the learner by eliciting the right psychological responses, enabling intuition and enhancing retention.
Simply put, colors can either make or break a course. Read on for some hailed practices on using color in eLearning courses.
Using branding colors
Most courses you create will be for organizations that promote themselves as brands. Ensure you obtain and use branding colors. For a brand, color is crucial. It is vital to its identity in all expressions and executions, like logos, websites, packaging, products, environments and all forms of marketing communication.
Hence, using the branding colors of an organization within courses designed for its workforce is essential to retain brand identity. For learners (i.e. the workforce), this ties their learning experience with their organization’s presence in the world, and in their lives. It instills a sense of belonging and responsibility towards the knowledge being imparted to them in the course. Such a sense is bound to impact learning positively.
Using branding colors is ideally the foremost guideline to follow when designing eLearning courses. In fact, in case of conflict, maintaining the brand identity can trump aesthetic preferences as well.
Selecting colors economically
Once you have a palette of colors to use, proceed cautiously. If the palette contains, say, 9 colors, it does not mean you use all 9 of them in the course. Too many colors will overwhelm the learner. Borrow a basic color or two from the palette, create your own scheme of 2 or 3 colors from that, and stick to it throughout the course. This way, you remain faithful to the original palette and also build a coherent look for the entire course.
Creating a systematic scheme
But how do you exactly go about creating that scheme of 2 or 3 colors?
The colors for a scheme are picked based on theories of what works visually and what does not. While these theories can be wisely bent or broken when needed, they are a great reference. They provide the basics for exploring combinations of colors that ultimately become your schemes.
A color wheel shows the relationship among the colors red, yellow and blue (primary colors) and their various blends (secondary and tertiary colors). Here are a few examples of schemes based on this wheel:
Do not stop at these combinations. Based on your color sense, match the colors on the wheel in different ways to make schemes that help create structured and seamless designs in courses.
Paying attention to the subject
Colors can either reinforce or soften aspects of a subject and influence learner attitudes. As such, the subject of a course may demand the use of certain colors as well. Some cases in point:
For courses dealing with grave matters like crime, fraud or bribery, consider dark color schemes to convey the seriousness of the subject.
Money laundering and legal issues explained over serious-looking, dark backgrounds
For employee onboarding and soft skills courses, consider light and fresh colors to help set a welcoming mood.
Onboarding subjects of team building and product introduction depicted in light and fresh hues
Compliance courses are often enforced onto employees and are generally perceived to be dull and overbearing. For these courses, consider fresh and high contrast colors to lessen the burden on learners and help keep them going.
Policy-based pages like data protection and design principles using fresh and contrasting colors
Considering the audience
Give ample thought to the audience of a course when picking colors for it. Attributes of learners like age, culture, religion, educational background, etc. have a direct impact upon their psychological responses, preferences and interpretations to certain colors.
Further, while being mindful of the subject, use colors to evoke the right emotions and associations in the learners.
Visual communicator Sol Pandiella-McLeod’s website has exhaustive information on the emotional associations, meanings and symbolism of basic colors. Do not miss multimedia developer and graphic designer Maria Claudia Cortés’s MFA thesis “Color in Motion” to experience an interactive spectacle on color symbolism.
Your designs will not be truly complete and inclusive unless you consider dispositions of learners with low vision and color blindness. Look up the applicable legal guidelines and accessibility checklists, to ensure the course has sufficient color contrast and textual equivalents.
The U.S. administration’s 508 Accessibility Checklist is a great example.
Once you have a color scheme, be consistent in its use. Follow a pattern – have the same color for the same elements (or information) on each page. If you use a pink-colored box to highlight an important tip on one page, use the same box for all important tips. If you have a green “Next” button on one page, have the same color for all the “Next” buttons in the course. If direct instructions are in purple at one place, ensure they are in purple at all places.
But why is consistency in color so important? Is it just because it gives a coherent look to a course? There’s another reason – it makes the course intuitive.
We know what intuition is, don’t we? We know to stop our car when we see a red light on the street because of… intuition. Intuition within eLearning is a helpful faculty that makes things smooth and easy for the learner. On recognizing the pattern of color running through the course, learners remember what different colors signify. They instantly know how to categorize information, or what action to perform when. This instinct also ties into the behaviorist theory of learning that relies on the repetition of an individual’s behavior until it becomes automatic.
See for yourself how consistent colors make cohesive and intuitive eLearning courses:
Leaving white space
Colors are great, but you wouldn’t want to drown the learner in them, would you? Excessive use of color leads to cognitive overload and becomes counter-productive. This is where “white space” – the plain, unmarked portion of a page – comes in.
When using colors in a course, divide your page space diligently. Allot areas to margins, text and other graphics while keeping their colors in mind. Consider maintaining a balance between the contrast and the harmony that all the colors bring to a page. Most importantly, leave sufficient white space on it so learners get to relax their eyes. The balance between the colored and the blank (or white) spaces is key to aesthetic composition.
Beware though – excessive use of white space may make your page appear incomplete!
These practices may at times seem overwhelming or in conflict with each other, but their intelligent use is sure to produce favorable results. At their least, the practices can serve as an ideal starting point for understanding colors. At their most, they can fill you with an informed sense for creating that perfect color scheme for a course.
Go on, color your way to powerful eLearning!