Tips from the Pros: Is Creating Online Course Content Worth Your Time?

Advances in online education have opened up a host of opportunities for the integration of multimedia to enhance the student learning experience. As technology has improved, so has access to a plethora of open educational resources, publisher supplements, and instructional content that can be integrated into an online course. From Khan Academy to Connexions to YouTube (and everything in between), faculty and students have a virtually unlimited selection of educational content available at the click of a button.

Although the research clearly shows the cognitive value of multimedia for increasing student learning, the vast array of educational content available on the Internet challenges the need for online instructors to create their own instructional supplements. In a nutshell, why spend time, money, and resources creating materials for your online course if you can quickly and easily link to existing content that is just as good (or better)?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question isn’t a simple one. We know students can learn via online multimedia if they are actively engaged, but because of the distant, isolated nature of the online classroom, students frequently report lower levels of motivation and engagement. To benefit from instructional content, students have to be meaningfully engaged with the learning experience. Although instructional material linked via the Internet may be able to teach content, it lacks the personalization necessary to foster an engaged learning environment.

On the other hand, while instructors can create personalized content that fosters learning, engagement, and motivation, it takes considerable time and resources to do so. Development of high-quality, interactive multimedia is time-consuming and often requires specialized equipment or expertise. Recognizing that an instructor’s time is limited, any investment of time in the creation of multimedia leaves less available time for interaction and feedback (instructional activities that research consistently deems essential to quality online learning).

Competing demands for personalization and instructional efficiency suggest that instructors (and students) would benefit from a dual approach to multimedia integration that maximizes the value of existing online content and instructor-generated supplements. The following guidelines are provided to help you bridge this divide:

  1. Follow the 15-minute rule. If, in less than 15 minutes, you can find existing, high-quality instructional content that fits your needs, use it; if it takes more than 15 minutes, create your own content. The Internet has so many resources available that you can waste considerable time exploring without locating sufficient instructional content to justify the time investment. To help guide your search, utilize Open Educational Resource (OER) databases (e.g.,,, or or educational resource portals (e.g.,,, or
  2. Personalize the standardized. When you find high-quality materials on the Internet, supplement their integration in your online course with a personalized message (text, audio, or video). Your personalized message might highlight why you selected the resources, how the content aligns (or contradicts) other course material, or your personal interest in the resource.
  3. Create with a purpose. Teaching online goes beyond simply conveying course content; pedagogical goals may include motivating interaction, inspiring interest, fostering critical thinking, or supporting ongoing engagement. Create personalized multimedia with a clear focus on instructional goals beyond knowledge acquisition. For example, to motivate interaction you might create a short video announcement in which you relate course content to current events and pose questions for students to explore in the discussion, or as a means of fostering critical thinking, you might post audio feedback in relation to a course assignment.
  4. Embrace minimalism. Instructor-generated content does not have to be fancy, interactive, or high tech to have an impact. Students simply seek a connection with their instructor, so anything you can do to convey your personality will foster a more personalized learning experience. In fact, a video of you drawing a diagram on a piece of paper may be more powerful than a more tech-savvy presentation of the same material in helping students see you as an instructional resource in the content area.
  5. Tap available resources. There are a host of applications and programs that can be used to create instructor-generated multimedia. In fact, simply selecting the right software to create your online course content can be an overwhelming task. Rather than navigating the plethora of options on your own, utilize the resources available at your institution. Seek assistance from your faculty support, online learning, or instructional technology departments. Lean on the expertise of those involved with technology on a daily basis to ensure that you are getting maximum value for your time investment.

Although high-tech, interactive multimedia provide obvious value for online learning, instructors can also benefit from the integration of low-tech, quick, personalized instructional supplements that are more amenable to instructional time constraints. By utilizing a combination of existing instructional content and personalized resources, instructors can create an engaging, educational classroom . . . and still have time to invest in other teaching activities.

Jean Mandernach is executive director, Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching; John Steele is an assistant professor; and Sarah Robertson is an instructor at Grand Canyon University.

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