Instructional Materials

Instructional materials are the content or information conveyed within a course. These include the lectures, readings, textbooks, multimedia components, and other resources in a course. These materials can be used in both face-to-face and online classrooms; however, some must be modified or redesigned to be effective for the online environment. The best instructional materials are aligned with all other elements in the course, including the learning objectives, assessments, and activities.


Why Is It Important?

Instructional materials provide the core information that students will experience, learn, and apply during a course. They hold the power to either engage or demotivate students. This is especially true for online courses, which rely on a thoughtful and complete collection of instructional materials that students will access, explore, absorb, and reference as they proceed in a course.

Therefore, such materials must be carefully planned, selected, organized, refined, and used in a course for the maximum effect. The planning and selection of instructional materials should take into consideration both the breadth and depth of content so that student learning is optimized.


How to Put Into Practice?

Consider these questions as you select instructional materials for your course:

  • Is the scope and coverage appropriate?
  • What will learners read/explore?
  • What will learners view/hear?
  • What could learners experience/create?
  • Will you find or create this material?
  • Do materials and media support and align with the stated learning objectives?
  • Is there sufficient interactivity and engagement?

Instructors and/or instructional designers should cast a wide net and aim for a variety of materials to include in their course. At the same time, they should be deliberate with these choices so that the course has the appropriate combination of instructional materials. Below are just a few categories of instructional content to include in an online course.

Note: Select the plus sign or headings to reveal additional content.

Where to Find Resources?

Examples of Instructional Materials

The following table provides examples and links to resources and tips for the common types of instructional content.

Common Instructional Content Types Examples Resources/Tips
Print Materials: Readings, Syllabus, Lesson/Assignment Files, Rubrics, Handouts
  • Assignment
  • Rubrics
  • Discussion Prompt
Digital Media/Recorded Lectures (Audio or Video): Movies/TV Clips/ YouTube, Podcasts, Screencasts, TEDx Talks, etc.
Course Introduction Video Tips to create an introduction video



Presentation Materials: Lecture Notes, PowerPoint, Prezi, Adobe Captivate)
Expert Interviews, Guest Speaker Recordings
Case Studies/Scenarios
  • Articulate storyline example courtesy of the Physical Therapy Department. Produced by the DoIT Academic Technology Online Course Production Team.
Educational Games 7 things you should know about games and learning
Simulations Uses, trends & implications for simulation technologies in education
Visualizations: Illustrative Pictures, Graphics, Interactive Data
Third Party Tools and Software
Role Playing Thiagi’s Training Games
Student-Created Content For the most part any of the other content types can also be created by students as an assignment and then could be used as examples in your course. Tips for adding student-generated content
Expert Blogs The Rapid E-Learning Blog is a great resource for building learning. 7 things you should know about blogs
Open Educational Resources (OER): Textbooks, Online Articles, Audio or Video Clips, Links to Online Resources, Databases, Examples; Simulations OERs to explore



Integrating OERs in teaching and learning
Websites/Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds Website: EDUCAUSE® is a nonprofit association committed to advancing higher education.
Software & Topical Training is an online training library of video tutorials that is available for free to UW-Madison staff and students.  


Please note: Not all of the listed technologies are officially supported by the university.


  Want More?

The “Instructional Materials” deep dive topic provides strategies and best practices to help you find, plan, create, and organize instructional materials and media in an online course.

Topics covered include:

  • Planning and Selecting Course Content
  • Types of Instructional Materials
  • Digital Media Best Practices and Tools
  • Finding and Using Existing Content
  • Copyright
  • Accessible Design


Visit the Instructional Materials deep dive topic

Note: These courses are available for FREE to all UW-Madison faculty and staff. When you click the links you will be prompted to sign in with your UW-Madison NetID and password. Then you will be taken to the topic homepage where you can learn more and complete activities.