Wednesday 1 July 2020

Creating Teaching Resources: Canva

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts looking at my experiences of developing online learning materials. Hopefully sharing these is helpful as people work to deliver online training at their own. As always, this blog post only represents my own views and experiences. A lot of people will be focused on creating video resources (for more on this area see the previous posts on webinars and making short videos) but you can also create other types of visual resource which are equally as effective. 

What is it?

Canva describes itself as a 'graphic design platform' which allows you to create a range of visual materials including presentation slides, social media graphics, certificates and more. This selection of formats has grown over the years and now includes content such as websites, t-shirt prints, videos and worksheets. Canva offers templates for all of these formats meaning that you don't have to possess any great design skills to create something which looks professional and eye-catching. It also includes several images and fonts which you can use to customise the templates as needed. As with most sites there are free and paid for versions but you can do most things with the free version. It offers access to almost every feature although you will have to pay a small amount to use some elements (usually around 99p a time). However it's easy to upload images to the site if needed which usually helps to avoid the need to pay.

At a time when visual social media sites are rising in popularity and it is increasingly hard to capture our users' attention, creating visual resources which are easy to share online is a definite plus to using Canva.

How are we using it?

We've used Canva for nearly all of our training formats over the last year or so. We have made presentation slides, social media graphics, session handouts and posters - and that's just for a start! The two projects we've had the biggest success with have been our Moore About Guides and our Instagram Stories.

The Moore About Guides are short, four page booklets which can be printed out or viewed online. Each one covers the essentials of a topic our users need to know about such as data management or avoiding plagiarism. They are designed to be both useful and visually attractive so we needed a design that would work for both. As I have no innate design skills (everything I make myself looks worryingly like a 1990s PowerPoint presentation) Canva was really useful here for providing ready made templates. I chose a template for a flyer that I thought would fit and changed some of the elements to make it more appealing and on brand for our library such as the font and colour. Then it was simply a matter of adding the appropriate images and text to complete the guide. The hardest part of putting the guides together is making sure that we balance the amount of text with the amount of images whilst still getting across the information we need to. We have intentionally made the resources quite visual so we didn't want to overwhelm this with text. At the same time we are talking about complex topics like copyright and referencing so we need to make sure that we don't simplify things so much that they become confusing or misleading. Given that the guides have proved really popular with both users and other librarians we think we've managed to strike the right balance! You can see an example of a guide in the GIF below:


Our other main use for Canva is to create graphics for Instagram. This is a relatively new area for us but we were keen to reach out to a new audience who might not otherwise engage with our training materials. Given the rise in popularity of image based sites like Instagram we have had to rethink how we present our resources and Canva has really helped with this. We have created a series of simple images overlaid with text which form a mini-slideshow which shares top tips on topics as a way to advertise our other resources. 

These stories are really simple but have proven to be quite effective. Using Canva makes the whole process much less hassle than using other image software and the hardest part is writing the text to overlay the images since, as with the guides, this needs to be both concise and informative. We try and use these graphics to signpost people towards our other resources which have room to expand on the topic in more detail. 

How to...

The good news is that Canva is really simple to use but makes it look like you have lots of skills in the design department! You will need an account (which is free) but once logged in you will be presented with a range of format options depending on what you create. The list of available formats has grown a lot recently but there is a useful search option where you can find the format you're after (presentation, Twitter graphic, newsletter - the choice is endless). There is also the option to specify a custom size but this can be a bit hit and miss. 

Once you have chosen your format you are presented with a blank page and a range of options in the on-screen menu. These include a range of templates (very useful for inspiration), photos, text, videos and background. The most interesting item on the menu is the Elements option which contains all of the images and layout elements that you might need to create your masterpiece. There is also an Uploads tab if you want to add your own images or other elements. Once you have found what you want it's a simple matter of drag and drop onto your blank document. Everything is very easy to position, resize and delete as needed. One word of warning - some elements within the free account are paid for options and those with a crown on are for professional accounts only.

Canva offers an extensive Design School with several courses on everything you could want to know. As well as learning how to use Canva, the lessons here around branding and social media marketing are transferable to other platforms so are worth a look.


There are several good points to Canva, the main one being that it is so easy to create professional looking graphics. It offers just about every format you could want and you can always add your own sizing if needed. I also find the templates great for inspiration (even if I do end up moving some things around!). One really handy thing about these formats and templates is that they automatically resize for social media   - something I have spent hours trying to do in the past. You can also share many of your graphics straight to social media once you link the accounts, another timesaver.


As always with these sites there are also some negatives. An increasing amount of content such as images and photographs have moved to become paid for over the last few years and I've noticed that this is happening with fonts as well. Although there is usually something else to use or the option to upload your own content this does take away from the simplicity of using Canva - its main selling point. The site does offer the option to purchase individual elements at a temptingly low price but this does begin to add up after a while, something I can't help but feel is a trick designed to lure you into a subscription....

Next steps

Canva is definitely a tool that we will keep using, especially as social media moves towards image heavy posts to attract attention. We want to keep experimenting with the new options that are being offered such as animated slides and social media graphics to try and make our content more engaging. However, we have to balance this with the need to stay on brand and keep everything to a certain look so it's recognisable for our users. As long as Canva keeps it looking like I have design skills beyond my secondary school experiments with PowerPoint I'll keep using it!

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