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Online Tutorials: Tools and Best Practices: Planning and Best Practices

Best practices for all tutorials



  • Make sure your examples make sense, test them on others.
  • Do several dry runs to test the script and timing.


  • Keep tutorials short; modularize.
  • Open the tutorial with an introduction and close it with a summary.
  • Insure accessibility of your tutorials.


  • Add title page, table of contents, contact information, and credits if applicable.


  • Create an early demo of the video and send it out for feedback from teammates or other stakeholders
  • Test the tutorial in various browsers.

Distribute and advertise

  • Add links to your products.
  • Embed them into SubjectGuides /Moodle /RUM / Kaltura.
  • Feature them on library pages and/or media.


  • Watch the tutorial from start to finish before you share it.
  • Link video tutorials at the point of need and use language that students are looking for and understand.
  • Consider sharing your creations in tutorial clearinghouses, such as ANTS, LION, PRIMO , etc.

Modified from Why Screencasting? The Benefits of Interactive Online Tutorials

Online Video Tutorials


  • Slightly more slowly than regular conversation


  • Short and to the point
  • Break videos into 1 minute or 30 second segments
  • TOC for quick and easy navigation

Look and Feel

  • Simple, straight-forward, informational video NOT entertaining
  • Graphics: clean and professional

Video vs Text

  • Make content available in multiple formats, linking pages to suit learning style


  • Link videos at point of need
  • Use language that students understand

Bowles-Terry, M., Hensley, M. K., & Hinchliffe, L. J. (2010). BEST PRACTICES FOR ONLINE VIDEO TUTORIALS IN ACADEMIC LIBRARIES: A study of student preferences and understanding. Communications in Information Literacy, 4(1), 17-28. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/763599877?accountid=2909



Why storyboarding?

A storyboard is a graphic organizer in the form of illustrations or images displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing ... [an] interactive media sequence.

It forces you to:

  • examine your motives
  • organize your thoughts
  • test your ideas.

Storyboarding allows you to create flow of learning:

  • text
  • graphics
  • links and navigation
  • interactivity
  • branching
  • assessment.

A storyboard may be a sketch made by hand, a Word table or a spreadsheet. Sample storyboard.

Elements that can be used in a storyboard:

  • learning objectives
  • audio
  • captions
  • text-entry boxes
  • quizzes and assessments
  • branching (intervention, advanced contextual information, related topics).

Featured readings

Science Behind Best Practices

Cognitive Load Theory (CLT)

Mismanagement of multimedia elements can overwhelm and impair the learner’s capacity to process info by introducing distraction, redundancy, and other principles outlined by CLT theorists.

Ways to reduce cognitive load in eLearning

  • Present some information via the visual channel and some via the verbal channel.
  • Break content into smaller segments and allow the learner to control the pace.
    • Use chunks for pre-training: give learners prior instruction concerning the components in the to-be-learned system.
    • Allow some time between segments of the presentation to give the learner time and capacity to organize and integrate the words and images.
  • Remove non-essential content (including decorative graphics and background music).

When it is not feasible to remove all the embellishments in a multimedia lesson, cognitive load can be reduced by providing cues to the learner about how to select and organize the material:

  •  selecting words by stressing keywords in speech,
  • selecting images by adding red and blue arrows to the animation,
  • organizing words by adding an outline and headings,
  • organizing images by adding a map showing which of the parts of the lesson was being presented,
  • align words with pictures: place words near corresponding portions of the animation.
  • Synchronize the presentation of corresponding visual and auditory material.

Adapted from:
Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.

ACT-R (Adaptive Character of Thought) theory: Declarative and Procedural Knowledge

Declarative Knowledge = facts, terms and other specific “chunks” of info. They precede many of the screencasts in tutorials as “pre-training” sections: introducing terms, helping understand larger objectives. “Chunks” introduced early in a tutorial help students be less distracted by unfamiliar facts when more complex procedures, concepts etc. are introduced – one of the ways to reduce/eliminate cognitive overload.

Recommendation based on this theory

  • Provide "pre-training sections" in tutorials to help students be less distracted by unfamiliar facts when more complex procedures, concepts etc. are introduced. For example, show potential resources students might need for completing an assignment before showing how to use them.

ARCS Model of Motivational Design

ARCS models of motivational design

The illustration below lists some strategies which may be used to improve the general motiva­tional aspects.

ARCS model of  motivational design including selected strategies

Image source and additional information: Keller: ARCS Model Motivational Design Cheat Sheet

Additional Sources

Mikkelsen, S., & McMunn-Tetangco, E. (2014). Guide on the side: Testing the tool and the tutorials. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 19(3), 271-282. doi:10.1080/10875301.2014.948252

Guide-on-the-Side (GOTS) open source software is emerging as a popular new platform for library tutorials. Unlike video tutorials, GOTS tutorials provide an active learning experience for students. This research sought to determine student preference for passive video screencast tutorials versus interactive GOTS tutorials. In addition, the study compared creation time for GOTS versus video screencast tutorials, an important consideration in the adoption of this technology. Findings suggest that students are evenly split on tutorial preference, largely based on their individual learning styles. Furthermore, results showed that GOTS tutorials take significantly longer to create than simple screencasts, but may save time in the long-run because they are easily edited. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

3 Takeaways (R. Roberts)

  • Simple screen casts are faster to produce than are GotS tutorials, but GotS is easier to edit/update.
  • Student preferences between video and GotS tutorials appeared to be insignificant and "may" be correlated to learning style.
  • Given the findings enumerated above the authors of this article elected to create "both" GotS tutorials and video (screen casts) tutorials.


Scales, B., Nicol, E., & Johnson, C. (2014). Redesigning comprehensive library tutorials theoretical considerations for multimedia  enhancements and student learning. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 53(3), 242-252. doi:10.5860/rusq.53n3.242.

When the Washington State University Library Instruction Team undertook a complete redesign of its two most central online tutorials, the task to incorporate multimedia challenged us to adopt newer pedagogical models into our information literacy curriculum. Drawing from several recent designs and learning theories, including cognitive load, Mayer's theory of multimedia learning, Anderson's theory of ACT-R cognitive architecture, and others, we successfully updated and implemented the new tutorials and conducted a user experience assessment project. This article explores learning theories, reflects on their actualization within the video learning objects of the new tutorial, and examines students' responses to the redesigned tutorial. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

Mestre, L.S. (2012). Student preference for tutorial design: a usability study. Reference Services Review, 40(2), 258-276. doi:10.1108/00907321211228318

Purpose - This article aims to report on a usability study to assess whether students performed better after working through a screencast library tutorial or a web-based tutorial with screenshots. Design/methodology/approach - This qualitative study asked 21 students from diverse backgrounds and learning styles to take two learning style inventories prior to a usability study. The students then went through two short tutorials (a static web page tutorial with screenshots and a Camtasia screencast (video) tutorial, as well as a pre- and post-test and debriefing for each. The "think aloud" protocol was used as their movements and voices were recorded using the Camtasia software. Findings - The results of this study indicate that across all learning preferences students performed much better in recreating tasks when they used a static web page with screen shots than they did after viewing a screencasting tutorial. Practical implications - Suggestions are offered for ways to create tutorials that are effective for multiple learning styles that will fit into a student's workflow. Originality/value - Results of this study may help inform other librarians in ways to effectively design tutorials and learning objects to meet student needs. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

Gonzales, B. M. (2014). Online tutorials and effective information literacy instruction for distance learners. Journal of Library and Information Services in Distance Learning, 8(1-2), 45-55. doi:10.1080/1533290X.2014.898011 

As Internet and computer technologies have evolved, libraries have incorporated these technologies into the delivery of information literacy instruction. Of particular benefit is the ability of online tutorials to deliver information literacy instruction to students not physically present on campus. A survey of library and information science literature determines that while a variety of methodologies have produced mixed results, the majority of studies find online tutorials can often be as or more effective than face-to-face instruction. However, more consistent research methods are needed to draw meaningful conclusions regarding student preferences, satisfaction and performance in response to online instruction. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]

2 Takeaways (R. Freeman)

  • Online tutorials can be just as satisfying and effective as face-to-face instruction, if presented in the right circumstances and tailored for the target audience.  It is the duty of the instructor to evaluate the context of the lesson and decide if an online tutorial is appropriate.
  • Online tutorials are most effective if linked to a specific class students are taking for credit, rather than being used for general digital literacy instruction.