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Color Theory for eLearning_

We had a great webinar last week on designing visual hierarchy. Our senior designer, Stacey Wilhelmsen, touched on some elements of color while discussing visual hierarchy principles. It sparked a great discussion and many more questions about color from the audience, so today I’m going to talk a little bit more about various ways to use color in eLearning.

A study titled “Impact of color on marketing” revealed that up to 90% of snap judgments made about products can be based on color alone. In our situation, the product is the eLearning course and those judging it are the learners. So you want to make good color choices!

Know Your Audience

Different cultures affix different meanings to colors. For example, in Asian cultures red symbolizes good luck, joy, prosperity, etc. However, in countries like Russia it can be associated with communism and revolution. In the classic American novel “The Scarlet Letter,” red symbolized sin. Studies indicate that red carries the strongest reaction of any color, which is why it’s often used as a warning sign—or the color for “sorry, that’s incorrect” feedback in eLearning!


Color psychologists say that orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, and success. Around here, orange is definitely our favorite color!


A very stimulating color, yellow invokes optimism and happiness. Be careful not to overdo it though.

Overall, warm colors like red, orange, and yellow are great for stimulating and attracting attention to important facts or rules.


Green is a very restful, balanced color. This is a great alternative to blue or black if you want a neutral color scheme for your eLearning that is a little different from the norm. Our Shamrock style does green really well.


Purple is associated with royalty in many cultures. It can also lend a mystical or celestial feel to designs—good for courses that are inspirational in nature.


A favorite of corporate eLearning and many big brand logos, blue is seen as calm, trustworthy, and clear.

To sum those up, cool colors like green, purple, and blue are calming and can help learners focus.


Also common in corporate eLearning, black can come across very formal or elegant, but also boring. However, as our designer Stacey pointed out in her webinar, starting off with a dark background allows you to choose really fun accent colors for designs that pop.

Now, once you pick your main color, you also have to pick your accent colors! That’s always tough for me. Luckily, there are lots of great online resources for discovering great color palettes:

Adobe’s Color Wheel (formerly Kuler) allows you to create your own color palette or explore popular palette’s created by others. The Adobe Color Wheel even gives you the option to save your color palettes and directly upload them as swatches to your other Creative Cloud programs.

Coolors is another website similar to the Adobe Color Wheel site where you can generate color schemes, save, and export them. With the Chrome extensio,n you can pick a color from any webpage and save it to your collection or generate a palette automatically from that color.

Pinterest—if you have an hour to fall into a Pinterest black hole—yields tons of color schemes and design inspiration.

If you need an excuse to get out of the office or the house, take a trip to your local home improvement store. The paint swatch section is full of color inspiration. Most of the displays will have some already grouped color schemes or booklets with suggested paint pairings that can easily carry over into eLearning development.

color theory paint inspiration

Great color scheme inspiration from the paint store!

I hope this post helped and inspired you to branch out and try some new color schemes in your next eLearning project! Another great place for color inspiration—or already created color schemes if you’re in a hurry—is the eLearning Brothers Template Library. Our design team picks out great color combos so you don’t have to!


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