When designing an eLearning course, it’s easy to get lost in the gallery of pictures you’ve collected, or sizing the logo just perfect in the corner. Sometimes you need to take a step back and remember the golden rule—Form Follows Function. This is an old saying taught to me by one of my college professors, and one that is older than him. It actually stems from an old architectural phrase coined by American architect Louis Henry Sullivan meaning that the shape of a building should be based around its intended function, its purpose, and its reason to exist. So before we start coloring our buttons in varying shades of blue, let’s take a look at ways we can ensure that the shape of our eLearning course is based around its intended function, and not sure made to look pretty.


The most effective form of function in eLearning is to give your learners navigation tools to explore your course with. From the most basic “previous” and “next” navigation tools, to a complicated flowchart, the way your learners navigate your course is the primary way they will interact with it. This also means putting buttons and options to navigate to outside resources as well. This is not the time to select the perfect color or font to use, but to make sure that it works properly first. Add your logic, test to ensure it works as intended, and then go back afterwards with the paintbrush.


Another way your learners will learn from your course is to use any interactivity you have built. Now, sometimes we have to design things in order for them to work properly (shapes, etc…) – which is fine. But we need to remember that the actual interaction is what matters. When the learner presses your button that says “Read Definition”, the definition of the word should come up, and this should be the first thing you need to do when designing that interaction. This is sometimes easy to forget when the designer in us wants to take over and find the best color/font scheme for that clickable.

Global Usage

When I say global, no I don’t mean the entire Earth. I mean the global use of your eLearning course. What are the global interactions, variables, or designs that will be seen or needed for every slide? Designing these up front before you do anything can save you a lot of time. Let’s say you need to design a page counter (4 out of 50 slides). It’s a lot easier to tackle that slide by slide as you’re building the course out, than to try and fit it in somewhere at the end of your course. This could also mess up any creative designs you had in mind. Making sure everything has its own dedicated place before filling your course with pictures and colors can save you a lot of time!

The Towson University Center for Professional Studies (CPS) develops customized workforce training programs, including customized eLearning tools, for clients within the government and corporate sectors.