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Designing Online Tutorials

Designing Online Tutorials

Format Depends on Purpose

Videos come in various forms: screencasts (audio and visual); slidecasts (PowerPoint with audio); animations (cartoon characters); live action (real actors); and tutorials (screencasts, slidecasts, readings, and interactive activities).

Use a screencast to demonstrate basic skills and ideas or to send a reply to a reference question.  Prefer a tutorial to introduce more complex concepts, especially if it is embedded in a course where students are more likely to complete it.

Before You Begin

  • Check learning repositories and the web for existing learning tools you can link to or adapt. Prefer vendor tutorials for database information as they will be kept current.
  • Review existing learning tools on the QUL How-To pages and LibGuides.
  • TLWG will coordinate the learning tools on QUL How-To pages. Let them know you are planning new learning tools.


  • State learning outcomes clearly and write from the students’ perspective. Outcomes should be aligned to the level of the course and linked to course assignments.
  • Prepare a chart listing actions on screen mapped against narrative.
    Be sure that materials will not go out-of-date quickly. Check vendor websites before creating database demonstrations.
    Planning Chart


  • Accessible materials are presented in a format for an online learning environment and are easily accessible by the student (compliance with AODA).
  • Provide closed captioning for video content.
  • Provide a transcript of video content.

Design Principles for Online Learning

Apply core principles for online learning (Clark, R.C. & Mayer, R.E. (2008). e-Learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Pfeiffer):

  • Multimedia Principle: Use text and graphics rather than words alone. Pictures should be used to explain text and should not be used for decoration. Animations work well with narration but even sequential images may be used to highlight content.
  • Contiguity Principle: Place corresponding words and graphics near each another.
  • Modality Principle: Present words as speech (audio) rather than onscreen text. Images are processed visually while spoken words are processed phonetically. Because each uses a different perceptual track, cognitive load is reduced as compared to processing written text and a vocal narration of the same text at the same time.
  • Redundancy Principle: Explain visuals in either narration or written text, but not both because it is distracting and reduces potential learning.  AODA requires that a text version is also made available to learners.
  • Coherence Principle: Adding interesting but unessential material can reduce learning. Avoid extraneous sounds, pictures, graphics, or words.
  • Personalization Principle: Use a conversational style in the form of a virtual coach to connect to audience. A more personal style can be motivational, however, tone and style should be appropriateto the age group, needs, and level of learning of the audience.
  • Segmenting and Pretraining Principle: Breaking down complex topics into smaller pieces or chunks aids learning. Learning segments focus on a limited amount of information and serve as building blocks in understanding complex ideas. Pretraining provides helpful background information such as the names and characteristics of key concepts.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework and set of principles that provide all students with equal opportunities to learn. UDL uses inclusive instructional strategies that benefit a broad range of learners, including students with disabilities. 

Students enter university from diverse backgrounds bringing with them varied learning preferences and life experiences. Diversity can take many forms including race, gender, social class, ability, learning style or learning preference. A UDL approach to instruction allows students with a wide range of abilities, backgrounds, language skills, and learning styles to have multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement.  The adoption of UDL principles reflects sound pedagogical practice.

UDL advocates for flexibility in how information in learning environments is presented, in how students become engaged with the curriculum and in the ways in which students demonstrate knowledge.

UDL creates a learning environment that:

    • Respects and values diversity.
    • Allows all students to access the content of the course and participate fully in class activities.
    • Uses a variety of instructional methods for content delivery and student engagement.
    • Anticipates student needs rather than reacting to them.

UDL provides educators with a variety of strategies to meet different learning needs and creates a more accessible environment for students with disabilities. 

See the Universal Design for Learning Graphic for a complete description.