Online courses were once the exclusive domain of e-learning professionals. But in the past several years, they’ve made a big splash in the world of digital marketing. Many marketers take their content strategies to the next level by releasing their online courses. It’s become so popular that some teachers are making video courses in place of e-books or blog posts. If you’ve ever created a course for your blog or a client, you know it’s not always easy. It’s one thing to follow a textbook-like The Complete Photo Guide to WordPress — it’s quite another to create something based on your perspective and expertise.

We at EdisonOS see a lot of clients with great success on the platform having utterly different content types — which is always interesting. Over the past few years, numerous teachers have created over 190,000 content blocks on EdisonOS. In all of this time, I’ve heard more than one teacher lament how content keeps disappearing once a course is closed down. That’s why I thought it might be helpful to collect together in one place a comprehensive overview of the different content type options available to you when creating and running your courses.

It’s challenging to be a teacher, an instructional designer, a mentor and most importantly, a business owner all at the same time. And I wanted to share these content types in hopes they could help you think differently about your courses. I have ten favourite content formats that have worked beautifully for our teachers repeatedly. But, I have a bank of 20+ more content formats that can make your online course more interactive and practical.

Here are 10 of the most effective content types that I have noticed:

The 10th type of content format will surprise you. So stay tuned!

Text with images might be the most commonly used content type. Images help the learner process information and make it easier to remember.

Research by Dr Lynell Burmark found that when images accompany the text, they are transferred to long-term memory up to 22 times more than text alone. Text with images can also be called “text with illustrations” or “text with visuals.” It can include photographs, infographics, illustrations—anything! Like embroidery in clothing, text with images never goes out of style. It’s been around for a long time and will likely remain one of the most shared content types for years to come. Although some LMS features can incorporate text and images together (such as the Image Widget and File Widget), you can also add them to a Page, Lesson, or Discussion.

For example, you may want to use text with images in a lesson too:

  • Display a section of your textbook that includes pictures of the equations, graphs, or other visual elements
  • Create a safe space for students to practice taking notes by providing them with an outline of a lecture or reading assignment​
  • Describe the sections of their research papers and give examples of how each part should look
  • Present an infographic that you’ve created in Illustrator or Microsoft Visio, then describe the parts of it point by point

I still don’t understand why images are necessary. One of my previous blogs gives you 8 reasons to make your content more visually friendly.

Don’t underestimate the power of pie charts. These simple visual tools are quick and easy to create but pack a powerful punch for your audience.

They’re especially useful for displaying data that could be hard to understand in a text format. Instead of dumping large quantities of information in front of your students, you can use pie charts to help them quickly grasp the essential points. Think of pie charts as miniatures of the big picture—they show the complete range of elements in any given subject or situation while providing students just enough detail to understand it all. They’re also great for highlighting trends, so they’re ideal when you want to make categories or relationships between topics clear. If you’re lost on what types of content will benefit from a pie chart, think about anything with multiple parts or involves comparisons and contrasts.

For example:

  • When you have different groups, you need people to know about
  • If you want people to see how many members are in each group
  • When you want people to compare how many members are in each group

Animated Slides

Remember the age-old, doodle-on-a-napkin example of a picture worth 1,000 words? By that measure, a video can be worth even more. Nothing attracts and holds students’ attention better than moving pictures. Combining video with text, narration, and animation allows you to deliver your message in an engaging and effective way. Animated slides are a great way to keep your students engaged. They can also help you present complex information in an easy-to-follow format. You don’t need to be a tech wiz to add animations to your slides—download the free slide template I’ve provided below and follow the step-by-step instructions. Adding animations is simple, but it’s essential to ensure they’re not distracting.

Try to limit the number of animations you use on each slide, and make sure the movement is subtle enough that it’s not taking attention away from the content. Also, be sure that you’re using some animation on every slide—even if it’s just rotating a graphic or fading in the text—so that your students know they’re in a dynamic presentation and won’t be tempted to click away. You can even use animations to give your students credit for completing work within a course! When you include animated slides in your course, you can ask students questions about what they learned in each section and have them indicate their answers by clicking on certain parts of the screen. This will make them more likely to pay attention during class because they’ll want to get credit for their work!

Guess the Image

For years, the Guess the Image question type has been a favourite in textbooks and worksheets. This is an easy place to start if you’re new to interactive course content. Guess the Image is a simple way to break up long blocks of text or pages full of bullet points. You can show (or hide) part of an image to challenge learners’ perceptions or focus their attention on the essential elements of an image or graphic.

It’s a great way to get learners engaged with your content and give them practice applying what they’ve already learned.

  • In the example above, we used Guess the Image to help learners identify what object is in the picture.
  • The quiz includes only one question with images of solar panels. The learner must answer the question during the class and enter their answers in text fields before checking their work using reveal answers.

What makes this question type so helpful is its versatility—you can use it for any topic! Here are two more examples:

  • Identify chemical elements by showing only their atomic symbols.
  • Show partial equations to challenge students’ familiarity with standard calculations and problem-solving strategies.

Tables

Tables are great for when you want to show the relationship between two different types of information. They’re a powerful way to present data because they allow your learners to get an overview of the information and then focus on the details. Tables can be used in any subject area, but they’re particularly useful in math and science courses.

When you use tables in your course, here are some tips:

  • The table should have a title, so learners know what it’s about.
  • Each column should also have a heading and each row if it’s not apparent which rows are related.
  • The headings should be written clearly and concisely—if your titles are too long, or if there is unnecessary information, the table will be confusing or take up too much space.
  • Ensure there is enough white space between the columns and rows so that the different items are easy to differentiate.
  • If you have a lot of data to include in your table, keep related pieces close together by breaking it up into multiple tables or using tabs/accordions.

Cheat Sheet!

A cheat sheet is a great way to remind your students about the key concepts of your course. It’s like a cliff notes version of your content — and it can be super helpful for students! The beauty of cheat sheets is that they can be used for just about any course topic. Whether you’re teaching leadership, organization, social media strategies, or baking, cheat sheets effectively help your students retain information. Make sure you include visuals in your cheat sheet. Images will increase retention and make the information easier to digest. It will also make your cheat sheet more enticing and approachable.

PDF Resource

PDFs are the most popular format for text-based learning content. They can be read on any device, and when you’re designing them, you have lots of options for formatting and branding. You can use a PDF reader like Adobe Acrobat to create hyperlinks and bookmarks within the document, so students can easily navigate through it. You might include a table of contents or index, colour-coding, headings and subheadings, images, or other visual elements to make the information accessible. PDFs work best when the content is intended for reading rather than active participation.

You’ll want to keep them reasonably short (longer than one page) but not so long that they become overwhelming. If your material involves a lot of step-by-step instructions or complex diagrams, consider including downloadable printable worksheets or checklists as PDFs and describing the same information in your course videos and audio files.

Simulation

If you’re building a course with the goal of teaching a set of skills, a simulation can be the perfect tool. Simulations are precisely what they sound like—virtual representations of real-world situations. They’re great for testing students’ knowledge and skills in a low-stakes environment. A good example is a physics lab, where students may not have access to expensive instruments or equipment to measure velocity, force, or distance. Instead, students can use simulations to take measurements, record data, and then analyze this data through graphs and charts.

Students can also record their results from the simulation and compare them against the instructor’s notes and findings, which helps them learn how to examine data more closely. The beauty of simulations is that they’re cost-effective and work well with any subject matter that students need to practice over time.
With simple grading tools built into online courses, it’s easy for instructors to track students’ progress on simulations.

Bar chart

Bar charts are one of the most widely used data visualization types. They’re easy to understand and give a simple snapshot of data at a glance. They’re great for comparing different items in your course or showing how things change over time. The X-axis is the category you’re comparing, while the Y-axis shows how much of something there is. For example, if you wanted to show how two companies performed in two different years, a bar chart would be a great way to show that information.
When using a bar chart, be sure that you’re only comparing one thing at a time (otherwise, it could get confusing). It’s also important to note if something is measured in percentages or numbers.

Podcasts

In a friendly tone: Podcasts are an excellent way to engage your learners and deliver the information they need. Like videos, podcasts allow your learners to listen to the content you’ve created on their schedules without requiring them to be at their computers or workstations.

One of the essential aspects of podcasts is that they allow you to vary the format by which you share your course materials. You can add in interviews with subject-matter experts and use podcasts as an opportunity to have conversations with learners. Podcasts are also a great way to allow learners to reflect on what they’ve learned during the course or talk through some of their thoughts and feelings.
For example, you could create a podcast based on reactions to something shared in the course, like a case study or an experience someone had in the field. Or, perhaps you want to provide some additional information about resources available within your industry but don’t want it included in your course’s main body of information. Podcasts are a great way to do that!
Finally, podcasts are an excellent place for them to connect if other individuals could benefit from being involved in your training program – especially experts not directly affiliated with your organization.

Conclusion

My goal was to create a helpful resource for teachers who are working on courses and who need guidance on the types of content that can enhance the experience their students have on the platform.

The content you create is a big part of what sets your courses apart from others available online. It’s a critical aspect of your courses, and by keeping it fresh and focused, you’re on a better path to creating a course that meets the needs of its students. It can be hard to think about designing lessons or courses in this way, but it’s reasonably straightforward to come up with a list of content types you’d like to appear in your lesson or course.I hope this article is a helpful guide for what types of content make for great courses and how you can use them to move your learners along in their learning journey.

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