Design Content for Online Learning

Illustration by Cayla Basson

Developing online learning material can be a time-consuming process. In this column, Jacques Masuret takes the reader on a journey on creating online content and making the online experience pleasant for both the teacher and the student.

For many the experience of transitioning to an online environment is akin to visiting a distant country. This country shares various familiar features but equally striking is the unknown. To help navigate these foreign waters, a guide is often used. This column is written as a guide to creating content for the online environment.

Teaching in the online environment is not possible without online content at hand. Creating and modifying content can be a time-consuming and challenging process. Before embarking on this process maybe consider two alternatives: firstly, search the internet – do not underestimate what is already available online. If proven to be unsuccessful, at the very least, the search may spark new or creative ideas. Secondly, make an inquiry – many of your colleagues might have content that they are willing to share. This will also prevent the unnecessary duplication of content.

Even after having exhausted all avenues above, the reader does not have to start from scratch. Instead, make small modifications to content already available. Employ learning objectives (the specific goals set out for lessons or activities that speak to the broader learning outcomes of a course) as guideposts – it will provide direction and purpose when designing and curating content.

The reader might find that in order to create and modify content, there is a need for software programs. Make an inquiry at your Information Technology department before purchasing software, as your institution may already have acquired licences. There are also numerous free software alternatives available online. If all else fails, many companies provide generous discount when purchasing software for educational purposes.

Illustration by Cayla Basson

Content can come in different formats. Each comes with its own advantages and challenges. Offering students a variety of different formats will keep the online experience engaging. Five common formats are listed below:


Text is the fastest and simplest content type to create. However, an over-reliance on text runs the risk of negatively impacting the online experience.


Using diagrams, pictures, sketches and graphs is a quick and easy way to convey a great amount of information in a concise manner.


Audio recordings are easy to create and low on data usage. Consider making a voice recording: (i) of the lesson instructions or, (ii) as a summary of the week’s learning objectives or (iii) consider adding a voice recording with your PowerPoint slides.


A video is one of the quickest ways to convey generous amounts of content in a short span of time. For that reason, keep videos short to prevent information overload. In addition, long videos can also run the risk of having large file sizes.


Interactive content, e.g. web applications and graphing programs, requires the students’ active engagement. This type of content will keep students engaged, but is time-consuming and challenging to create.

Illustration by Liani Malherbe

Created and modified content needs a “home” – a virtual space where everything will be uploaded and hosted. Most institutions have a Learning Management System (LMS) exactly for this purpose. Students will need to be guided on how to navigate the online space and how to interact with the content. The emphasis here is on simplicity and a user-friendly online experience. To this end, the reader might find the following suggestions helpful:

  1. Use one platform (e.g. a LMS) to host all the content. If the students are unfamiliar with the platform, create a short instructional video (or audio) on how to use and navigate the platform.
  2. Structure the content in chronological order, weekly and then daily.
  3. Create a summary of what the student will learn for the week. This will help give the student some context.
  4. Provide clear, stepwise instructions to what is expected of the students for each lesson. Students would likely want to know:
  • What must they do today?
  • How long will it take to complete?
  • By what date and time should it be completed?
  • Does it count toward their semester mark?
  1. Ask a colleague to test the online space and provide constructive feedback.


A virtual space to address student queries is highly recommended. There are various tools available, ranging from text-based tools (chat rooms etc.) to conferencing tools (video calling etc.). Make use of the tools available on the LMS, bearing in mind that students will need to be guided and instructed on how to use it. Managing student queries should not be underestimated and will require planning in advance.

This column has not addressed online assessment because assessment is a topic that needs a column of its own. The reader might consider employing a combination of formative and summative assessment opportunities. Ensure that the learning outcomes, learning activities and assessments are aligned to promote deeper learning.

The reader has been taken on a brief journey on creating and displaying content for the online environment. Like all journeys, if one visits often and explore long enough, the once unfamiliar and foreign will start to feel more like home. This is certainly only the beginning of an exciting journey – stay curious and explore courageously. Bon voyage!

Dr. Jacques Masuret

Lecturer in Mathematics,

by Laylaa Motola
Meme by Laylaa Motola

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