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Using stock photos on eLearning modules

Right from the start, I will say the challenge is on the eye of the programmer (kind of like the idiom that says “Beauty is in the eye of he beholder”). But, why is that?

Let’s explore a few different factors that may let us easily decide whether to use stock photos on our eLearning module.

Client requirements

First and foremost, it is very important to clarify at the beginning of the project, before programming the eLearning module, if the client is okay with us using stock photos on the project.

I have had clients that don’t mind what we use as a graphical representation of the content that is being displayed onscreen, but I have also had clients that provide their own stock photos, since they want to make the eLearning module a bit closer to the audience.

But as I said, first let’s define WITH the client if they agree with the usage of this type of images, some of them may say the rather use cartoons or faceless 3D characters, to avoid making the eLearning module targeted to a specific audience.

So, if the client wants to include stock photos, it’s worth the time to consider the next few factors.


Sometimes, we will get to a point where we need to use stock photos that include people. I usually recommend against using this type of photos (with people) on eLearning modules, to avoid targeting a specific audience, but if it comes down to that, I recommend using images where diversity is visible.

Especially in Canada, a country that is constantly being built by people immigrating from other parts of the world, we must be extremely conscious of this and aim to make everyone feel included even in products like these eLearning modules.

Just keep in mind that diversity doesn’t only include different races, but genders, ages, even religion, and all those aspects that can be displayed in a picture.


It is also important to know WHEN to use photos, or images in general. Before using them on our eLearning module, let’s ask ourselves some questions like the following:

  • Can images be applied to this piece of content?

  • If so, what kind of image? Stock photo or vector?

  • Is it difficult to recreate the image we have in mind?

  • Can it be done in house or does it have to be purchased?

Feel free to add any other questions that you believe will help you identify if graphical representation is relevant for the piece of content you are looking at.


This is another very important aspect to keep in mind. Depending on how your company is billing the client, the budget may or may not be sufficient to add stock photos to the eLearning module. There are lots of websites out there that go from very low cost per image, to very expensive monthly subscriptions. So, before choosing images, define what budget is available for this task and select the repository that better suits your needs.

Here are few sites that might be worth considering:

  • Shutterstock

  • iStock

  • Adobe Stock Photos

  • Stock Photo Secrets

Final Remarks

Remember that usually, graphical assets, if you know how to use them correctly, can signify for your client the difference between a top-notch eLearning module and a basic product home-made.

And finally, don’t be afraid to use abstract shapes for layout backgrounds, title bars and GUI in general, you will see how small elements like these, can make the difference between night and day on your eLearning modules.

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