Internet Explorer doesn’t work well with our website. We recommend using a different browser like Google Chrome.

Creating an online course not only helps to position yourself as an expert in your field, but also makes your knowledge accessible to anyone, anywhere.

Using the right colors in your online courses can improve the learning experience for your students, such as helping boost productivity, focus and concentration, and their moods.

While there’s been a significant rise in online learning (63 million Thinkific courses were taken in 2020 alone), the importance of having a well-designed course that stands out from competitors is becoming increasingly important. This is where color comes in; defined as part of the visible spectrum of light with electromagnetic wavelengths, color can play a huge role in impacting your students’ learning experience due to the way it not only affects psychological and physiological reactions, but also academic performance in students.

To help inform our advice, we interviewed Jill Morten, and Fiona Humberstone–course creators on Thinkific who shared their insights on color psychology and branding with us.

“We’re color-seeking animals,” says Color Psychologist and Founder of Colourcom, Jill Morten. “In other words, we are disrupted if we aren’t surrounded by some degree of color as it has the ability to influence our mood and change our mindset.”

While there are several factors involved, Morton explains that the main reason color stimulates learning is that 60 percent of our brain is dedicated to processing visual information. “Color is critically important to the power and presence of the visual neurons that are firing in the brain,” she says.

Not only can color influence your students’ learning environment, but it also helps to create brand recognition and loyalty – important factors for online course creators to take into account. “If your clients have bought a course from you, it’s because they love what you do and they love what you stand for,” says Creative Director, Brand Consultant, and Founder of The Brand Stylist, Fiona Humberstone. “Color helps you communicate that at a subconscious level. It’s powerful. Getting it right is important.”

In this blog, we’ll discuss all things color – from determining your brand’s colors before building your course, the best colors for learning, how to intentionally use color to create the best possible learning outcome for your students, and what mistakes to avoid.

Step 1: Determine your brand colors

Each brand has a unique personality, and much of this is communicated through color. While choosing the right colors to include in your online course is crucial to creating a positive learning environment, Humberstone stresses the importance of figuring out what your brand stands for before choosing which colors to use in your educational materials.

“Determine what your business is. Don’t be a million things to everyone; focus on a meaningful niche of people and then think about the impact you want to create,” she advises.

By helping to boost brand memorability and loyalty, convey emotion, and even lead to conversion in sales when used in a way that aligns with your learning outcome goals, crafting a cohesive brand identity can pay dividends in the future, according to Humberstone. She recommends that educators avoid changing their branding for their online course; rather, the course’s aesthetic should be a natural progression from the brand’s aesthetic. “As long as the fundamentals are in place, such as color, people will get the same feeling from your course as your brand,” she says. “What’s amazing about color and branding is that when you get it right, people come into your course and it feels natural. This massively mitigates that post-purchase feeling we call buyer’s remorse.”

When bridging your brand aesthetic with that of your course, Morton explains that brand continuity is an important factor to consider in order for your students to recognize your brand and stay in line with your values. “Let’s say your brand colors are red and blue,” she says. “The continuity of that could be to include a border on each slide with those colors.”

For more help in crafting your brand identity, try Humberstone’s free course.

Step 2: Use the best colors for learning

Now that you have considered your audience and have a better understanding of how to translate your brand into your course, we can move to step 3: choosing the colors for your course material.

You may be wondering, what are the best colors for learning? While some theorists say that there are certain colors that promote focus, colors that influence memory, and colors that stimulate learning, Morton says that the effect of each color is up to interpretation. Some studies propose that longer wavelength colors, like red, feel warm and uplifting, whereas shorter wavelength colors, like blue, feel relaxing or cool. However, Morton says that this is not always the case.

“There is no one-color-fits-all prescription,” she explains. “For example, if you always loved blue, but you were in a boating accident, the color blue may suddenly take on a different meaning to you. Part of your experience is going to depend on how you react to a color. The question is: Do we learn color associations, or are we hardwired to think that certain colors mean certain things?”

However, there is one rule, she explains: Bright colors are energizing, and muted colors are calming.

“What’s more powerful than color itself is the tone of the color,” echoes Humberstone. “So is it bright, clear, and cool or is it soft and warm? Is it delicate and muted or is it warm and intense? These factors will communicate a lot.”

For example, if you’re offering a course on meditation, using bright, intense accent colors may not fit the relaxing environment you’re trying to create. However, if your course is related to creativity, perhaps a brighter color fits your mission. Be intuitive in this process, and again consider your brand, audience, and overarching goals when determining appropriate color use.

While Morton and Humberstone stress that the meaning of color is up to interpretation, some sources say that certain colors do have specific impacts on our psychology and physiology. As you build your online course, you may be wondering: What color helps you focus? What color increases concentration? What color boosts productivity? Here are a few insights into the potential functions of each color:

Blue: Increases productivity

Research suggests that using blue can boost alertness and potentially even improve performance on projects that require increased attention. While some studies say that blue is correlated with feelings of trustworthiness, this cool color has the ability to increase productivity due to the way in which it can lower blood pressure and even body temperature, creating an overall calming effect.

Green: Boosts focus and concentration

Similar to the effects felt when you’re out in nature, forest-mimicking green is said to increase relaxation and overall well-being. If you’re wondering what color helps you focus, it’s this one; studies show that the color green can reduce a person’s heart rate and produce a calming effect. Plus, green generally produces a positive feeling due to its association with nature and is said to create enhanced cognitive outcomes, such as improved focus and concentration.

Orange: Lifts moods

For those needing a boost in creativity, inspiration, and overall mood, use orange. This color can increase feelings of excitement, warmth, and enthusiasm, and it’s a great color to use when calling attention to something specific. While differing for each person, orange is said to produce positive associations and create a visceral reaction.

When using each color in your learning material, it’s helpful to learn the dos and don’ts, which leads us to our next step:

Step 3: The dos and don’ts of color

Morton explains that there are specific ways that you can use color to stimulate learning, and with that, certain mistakes to avoid. She says it’s less about what colors you use than how you use them. Simply adding color can help increase readership of your material, she says. In fact, Morton explains that when advertisements use color, they’re read 42 per cent more than those in black and white. Further study findings suggest that to increase retention of information, it’s wise to use color sparingly and consistently with user expectations. Here, we’ll discuss the dos and don’ts of using color to inspire learning:

  • Increase variety
  • Ensure brand continuity
  • Draw inspiration from the seasons
  • Use low-contrasting colors
  • Only use colors you like


Do: Increase variety

If your goal is to use color to increase focus, she advises highlighting text with colors to draw the eye to certain points. “The more you can help break up the monotony in your course material, you help to address the human need for variety,” she explains. “For example, if you have three slides and you’re going to talk for three minutes on each, one slide might be a sage green, the next might be a warm gray, and the next might be a dusty, light blue. By giving your students variety, it will increase their focus and satisfy the need for color.”

Don’t: Use low-contrasting colors

Equally as important as color usage is contrast. Referring to the difference in brightness of two colors, research shows that the eye focuses most sharply when two objects have different colors and brightness. Therefore, choosing a background color that opposes the text in the foreground will increase readability and make the information easier to retain.

“One of the biggest crimes against learning is poor contrast between the font and the background,” Morton says. “All too often you see somebody who uses a lovely light turquoise on a white background and you can’t read the text.”

Examples demonstrating good and bad contrast
Image Credit: Jill Morton


Do: Ensure brand continuity

When bridging your brand aesthetic with that of your course, Morton explains that brand continuity is an important factor to consider in order for your students to recognize your brand and stay in line with your values. “Let’s say your brand colors are red and blue,” she says. “The continuity of that could be to include a border on each slide with those colors.”

When you employ brand continuity, you’re using color in a way that is consistent with your students’ expectations, helping to increase brand recognition, loyalty, and trust. 

Don’t: Only use colors you like

When it comes to refining the aesthetic of your brand and course, it’s important to separate yourself from your business. For example, you may love the color yellow, however, it may not align with what you’re trying to convey in your material. “In the spirit of your teaching, it’s not about you and including your favorite color into your material, it’s about what you’re giving your students,” says Morton.

Humberstone echoes Morton’s thoughts, saying that “There are things about me that are not relevant to my business. You need to take an objective approach and focus on what’s right for your business; your own taste can come in later. You either pick colors that are going to support your message and help you communicate with authenticity, or you take a chance with whether people are going to respond in the way you want them to.”

When choosing the best color for learning, Morton says it’s important to consider the demographics of your audience. Age, gender, religion, and someone’s geographic religion are all factors to consider when choosing colors that inspire learning. “For example, green is a holy color of Islam. And orange is the color of Buddhist robes. It’s important to think about who your students are when determining which colors you will use in your course,” she says.

Comparing the differences in high and low contrast on "Exit" signs
Image Credit: Jill Morton


Do: Draw inspiration from the seasons

While ensuring that you use colors that encourage brand continuity and that factor in your student demographics, Humberstone says you can draw color inspiration from the seasons, too. She says she thinks about color in terms of warmth, tone, and intensity, and then categorizes them into seasonal palettes. While the true meaning of each color and what it represents is up to interpretation, she provides a rough guideline here:

  • Summer. Humberstone describes summer colors as romantic, graceful, and elegant; colors that represent quality, style and tastefulness and that are cool, delicate, and muted in hue
  • Spring. She says that spring colors are bursting with life, energy, and creativity; they are light, bright, clear colors
  • Autumn. A more robust palette is autumn, which has earthy, organic colors with a rustic feel; these colors are warm, intense, muted, and are often found in educational institutions to represent learning
  • Winter. The most extreme of the four, these colors are bright, dramatic, stark, and include black and white shades; many people who want to represent expertise use a winter palette

“What you will notice in my courses is that the colors of the flowers change in each,” says Humberstone. “In Brand Clarity, I use blue and white because the lessons were about clarity. In Brand Vision, I use orange and coral because it’s a creative, uplifting course. However, what remains the same is that my brand always sits within the winter and spring color palette.”

To summarize, once you determine your brand’s colors, determine which are the best for your learning outcomes, intentionally employ energizing or muted color, and remember the dos and don’ts of using color in your online course, you’ll have the best chance at meeting the goals of your students.