The Best Free And Low-Cost LMS Design & Content Resources

The Best Free And Low-Cost LMS Design & Content Resources
Summary: How can you build an engaging, interesting Learning Management System under budget? In this article, we’ll share our most favorite free resources to draw in your learners and cultivate a culture of learning.

Top LMS Design & Content Resources – Under Budget

You did it. You researched, deliberated, demo’d, and RFP’d your way to a new Learning Management System.

LMS Design & Content Resources
Discover the top LMS design and content resources to draw in your learners and cultivate a culture of learning under budget!

Unfortunately, now’s not the time to kick back and relax. The content of an LMS is just as important as the LMS itself—if not more so. Good design, engaging content. Of course, the price tag for professional photography, design content, and polished video production can easily run beyond the bounds of your budget.

Good news, though: there are tons of free design resources. We scoured the interwebs and pulled some of our favorite of those free resources right here. Peruse the following and impress your penny-pinching boss by building an engaging, interesting LMS under budget.

Foundations Of Design

On Design And Emotion

First things first, we need to understand the elements of good design. You know, why it’s important and what it looks like in other situations.

There is a Ted talk from design critic Don Norman that illustrates the basics of design. It’s a bit of a meandering talk, but he touches on three key elements to design: beauty, functionality, and reflection. Good design leaves your LMS easy on the eyes, intuitive to use, and something that you can tell stories about.

Less, But Better

Now we’re getting closer to putting these design concepts into action. Check legendary designer Deiter Rams’ philosophy of design: Rams believed that purpose should drive design. Be mindful of the concept when filling out your LMS. Don’t get carried away with frills and kitsch. Users need to be able to log in and move through the system intuitively.

There are plenty of examples of this done well and done poorly. For example, the way Google shows the number of pages yielded by your search by stretching its name out with as many “o”s as there are pages. Great design.

On the flip side, think about the last time you went to small news organization’s website. Oftentimes you’ll open a story, be greeted by an auto-playing video, have the right third of the screen taken up by ads, then have an ad pop up as you scroll down, then have a banner ad bounce up on the bottom of the screen. You opened the page to read a story, and the text is crowded into a small block in the center of your screen, surrounded by moving, flashing, talking advertisements.

It’s terrible—don’t do that.

MailChimp’s Style Guide

Design goes beyond color schemes and logos. It includes the content templates, how to handle SEO, and the voice and tone of your writing. The marketing automation platform MailChimp is renowned for its strong design and content. And their style guide is online and open to everyone! Look over the guide before you start building out content. Make sure to check out these sections: creating structured content, content types, and resources.


Imagery is important. It sets the tone and draws learners in at first glance. Hiring a photographer is expensive and time-consuming. Sometimes, you have no choice but to use stock photography. Luckily, we live in an age where not all stock photography has to look forced and awkward. Pexels has a great collection of stock imagery that doesn’t look so, well, stock.

Photoshop is a great tool for creating all sorts of images for your LMS. Unfortunately, it’s not super cheap to subscribe to Adobe Cloud month after month. The good news is that there are a few totally free resources that can get the job done without shelling out any additional money:

GIMP is possibly the most recommended alternative to Adobe Photoshop out there. It’s great for people on both PCs and Macs. It has quite a bit of horsepower for a free application and can be used to edit photos, create thumbnails and graphics, and even some animations.

Pixlr is a browser-based Photoshop alternative that’s great for people that need the ability to edit photos without downloading and installing software on their computers. Just a heads up – you’ll need Flash Player to run this application.


You might not have access to a fancy camera and production studio (or the budget to hire someone who does). Luckily, though, you can shoot rich, culturally engaging training videos on your smartphone. Get our step by step guide here.

Be mindful of the concept when filling out your LMS. Don’t get carried away with frills and kitsch.

LMS Content Resources

We all know how much third-party content can cost, and L&D budgets never quite have enough room for the wide array of content your dynamic organization needs.

Thankfully, plenty of tools exist that can help you move training content from paper to digital, from digital to interactive, and even create online courses from your super effective in-person training.

Listed below are the tools we use and see our clients use to bolster their stellar L&D strategies.


Converting paper manuals and guides to digital can be tricky. But there’s good news: you don’t have to type them up or stop at scanning the documents and turning them into PDFs. You can go an extra mile and make them interactive.

FlipBuilder is software that turns your PDFs into page-flipping eBooks. The basic version of FlipBuilder costs $99. It gives you the ability to turn a PDF into a fully mobile responsive eBook. The pro version lets you embed video, images, links, and build interactive pieces into the eBook. It runs for $299.

Better Videos

You can’t have a modern LMS without video. People, and learners, gravitate toward quick, focused videos. It’s a great way to bring your effective in-person training online.

One route is filming the training yourself. Find the most effective trainer, film them going through the training, and upload it to the LMS. It’s easier than you think with a smartphone and simple editing tools.

If you want to step up your video game, check out HapYak. The company offers software that lets you create interactive videos and gather data on who’s watching them—key for compliance and learning what content resonates with learners. The software carries a monthly $500 licensing fee for a basic plan. For your money, you get the software and custom branding, styling, and online support.

There are quality TED Talks videos on leadership, available for free, that are applicable to every level of learner, from a part-time to management.

Flash Cards

Of course, no LMS is complete without assessments. They’re how you make sure learners are digesting all the content you’ve built out. Most modern LMSs have some kind of assessment tool built into the system. Those tools aren’t always user-friendly, for both the learner and the administrator who uses them to create quizzes and tests.

One solution to this is Quizlet—which offers interactive Flash Cards you can embed in your LMS. The software started as an academic study tool, but it’s more than capable as a tool for professional development. You can even create interactive diagrams accessible on mobile devices.

A basic version of Quizlet is free. But an annual $35 subscription gives you more capabilities, including audio and analytics that let you track learner progress—essential for any L&D strategy.

Beyond The Basics

Many resources exist beyond traditional eLearning categories. You can put together surveys easily and for free with Google Forms. Surveys are a super handy way to engage learners, and to get a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of your L&D strategy. Responses can be anonymized, which can help with soliciting feedback on training programming.

Podcasts are another great addition to any course focused on professional development or leadership in general. Mobile learning is only becoming more important as smartphones continue to improve. And podcasts give learners the opportunity to learn on the go—podcasts are perfect for listening while traveling or working on something that doesn’t require your complete, undivided attention. Inc. Magazine collected a dozen great podcasts that you should peruse.

And don’t underestimate the effectiveness or quality of organic, user-generated content. Most learners have smartphones that can make high-quality videos. Few things resonate more than authentic, meaningful content.

Bringing It All Together

Let’s put all these pieces together and see what kind of learning module it creates. So, let’s say there’s a course on conflict resolution you need to put together for managers in training.

The learner opens the course and finds a TED Talk on leading solutions to complex problems. After that, the learner finds an interactive PDF that goes through conflict scenarios common in the industry. Then the learner has a podcast on authentic leadership through emotional intelligence before they’re able to go through a Quizlet that has them apply these ideas and concepts to resolving a workplace issue.

Nice, huh?