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eLearning Stock Images
LizSheffieldBioLiz Sheffield is a freelance writer with a background in training and development. She specializes in writing about everything related to the human side of business. You can contact her via LinkedIn or Twitter.


I’ll be honest. When I search for stock images, I get overwhelmed. There are millions – maybe even bazillions?!? – of images to choose from.

After spending what feels like days fretting about which image to choose, I finally decided to keep one thing in mind when I’m looking for the perfect image: relevance. There are three key indicators I use to determine relevance: topic, audience, and engagement.

For example, if I were looking for images to include in an online module for doctors on the topic of communicating effectively with patients, I’d ask myself the questions below.

Does this photo relate to my topic?

The image you choose must be relevant to the topic. If you’re designing a course about how to communicate more effectively, you need to find images of people talking. Or images of the devices on which people talk. (What you don’t need are images of buildings or nature or motorcycles.)

In the case of a doctor learning how to communicate effectively with his or her patients, eLearning Brothers provides an extensive library of medically-relevant images. For the course on communication, you’ll find photos of medical environments (think hospital hallways, reception areas, labs and operating rooms) as well as cut-out people in scrubs, on crutches, and donning lab coats among others. These photos are definitely relevant to the topic.

Is this image appropriate for the audience?

The next question when it comes to relevance is whether or not your learner audience will relate to the images you’re including in the eLearning course. Before you select images, you need to be informed about what types of images will be most well-received by your learners. Learners need to be able to relate to the images, which is why it’s also important to be sure your course represents people of all shapes and sizes—people of color, people with disabilities, women and men, as well as large, small, tall, and short people.

With the example of the medical professionals, will the audience be more likely to relate to a course in which the images are photos of real people? Or would they relate better to an animated or cartoon image? I have a hunch, based on my interactions with doctors, but I’m not 100% sure what they’d prefer. That’s why it’s a good idea for eLearning designers to talk with subject matter experts or with members of a focus group to make sure that the images you use will resonate with the audience.

Will this stock image engage learners?

Finally, even if the image is appropriate for the topic, and it’s one to which the audience can relate, you need to be sure it’s engaging. In the example of a course about communication for doctors, you’ll need to find photos of several doctors – not just one doctor. Learners get bored if they see the same person over and over in a course! You’ll want to be sure that the people take different poses (standing, sitting, smiling, frowning) – rather than showing the same position or facial expression in every photo. (Again, learners get bored if people don’t “move” on the screen.)

With the amazing images available today, you can create realistic scenarios that play out more like a video and less like a cardboard cutout. As a designer, look for ways you can use a photo or animated image to engage your audience.

While the bazillion choices can be overwhelming, if you approach image selection by looking at the relevance in terms of the topic, the audience, and the ability to engage learners, you’re more likely to find just what you need when it comes to the best stock images for your eLearning course.

What things do you keep in mind as you try to hunt down the best stock images for your courses? Share with us in the comments!

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