Content presentation formats

There are many different styles and formats for online courses, but most courses consist of a combination of the following: 

Formal written lectures, lecture notes, course notes, instructions, guiding information, assigned readings, and more
Images, diagrams, examples, thought maps
Video presentations or lectures
Essential course content presented through video media, ideally 10 minutes or less, or chunked into short segments
Other video elements
Demonstrations, experiments, films, examples, case studies, etc.
Interactions, problem sets, or concept checks that provide students with feedback (typically ungraded) on their learning as they work through course content
Forums, chat, video-based discussions, question and answer, and more

Introduction to Learning Management Systems

All online courses require a digital home space. Today’s online courses use a learning management system (LMS) to host and organize essential course materials or (in many cases) the entirety of the course and its content. Your institution probably uses one of the following learning management systems: Desire2Learn (Brightspace), Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, etc,. A few institutions support their own in-house LMS or use another system.

Every LMS works a little differently, but there are key functions that are universal. These include:

Content hosting
All systems allow instructors, and usually learners as well, to upload and host text and multimedia content and to link to external content online. Content in an LMS can be edited and organized in various ways depending on the system in use.
All systems allow course participants to communicate with one another. Discussion forums are an essential feature, especially for communication among the whole class or any groups within it. Individual communication features often include email and chat. Your system may offer synchronous communication features like a virtual classroom or webinar system.
All systems have features that allow for quizzing and file submission, along with gradebook features for recording marks. Some systems may include advanced features such as multimedia assignments, group assessments, virtual proctoring, and more.
Data features
Most LMS systems allow facilitators to create and access data about their course and their students. Data can include statistics about student behaviour (such as log-ins, time spent in the course, discussion posts), survey responses, and other course information.

The following table, from eCampusOntario, provides a more detailed list of some common LMS tools:

Table 1.1: LMS Tools (pfrench, n.d.)


Allows students to document their learning experiences chronologically, share it with the instructor and classmates, and provide feedback to one another.


Allows students to create a personalized web space with all their best work.


Allows students to document their learning and share it with the instructors only.


Allows instructors to assess student learning by creating various types of questions (e.g., multiple choice, true/false, short answer).

Self and peer assessment (a.k.a. Workshop)

Allows instructors to use student self-assessment and peer assessment.


Allows students to create and edit content pages as a group.



Allows students to synchronously talk to each other using text in a virtual chat room.

Discussion Forum

Allows students to asynchronously comment using text or audio in a forum-type environment.

Email/Internal email

Allows students to send emails while they are navigating the course content in LMS.


Allows instructor to send course announcements.


Allows students to subscribe to course updates. They will be notified via email when changes are made to content pages.

Content management/organizing


Displays all the important events (e.g., assignment due dates) in a calendar format.


Allows instructors to create checklists for students to proceed with their learning.


Allows instructors to create competencies for a course or program and monitor student achievement.


Allows instructors to create pages in a “frequently asked question” format.


Allows instructors to organize content in a glossary format.


Allows instructors to organize content in sections, learning modules, or units.


Allows instructors to create rubrics.


Allows instructors to upload SCORM content/objects.

Data Collection/reporting   


Allows instructors to survey students and collect information/feedback.


Allows instructors to assess student learning and provide feedback to their assignments.

Grade book

Allows students to see their grades.

Identifying LMS tools

Online courses can vary substantially when it comes to which LMS tools they use. While nearly all courses will use a gradebook, and probably at least a few discussion forums, things like Wikis, peer assessment, or rubrics may or may not feature in your particular course. In order to ensure that you are prepared to manage the technology successfully, one of the most important steps to take before you begin facilitating an online course is to identify which LMS tools you will need to use in order to ensure that you are prepared to manage the technology successfully. If you are also the designer of your course, you will already have this information at the ready. If you are facilitating a course you did not design (for example as a TA or sessional instructor), you will want to look carefully through the course syllabus and LMS to identify the tools that you will need to master.

Check and reflect

Tools in your course

Identify the LMS tools that you and your students will be asked to use in your online course. Common places you can find this information are in the syllabus pages, where communication or contact information is communicated to students, and/or where assessment instructions are communicated. If there are any tools or tool features that you are unfamiliar with, seek out training on the use of those tool. Most higher education institutions have a department that supports the tools and technologies used in their courses. If the tool is not supported within your institution and/or no training or help is available contact the course instructor. If you are the course instructor, you might consider contacting the course author (if you know who they are or are still present in the department) and/or seeking out online training and help resources that are made available by the tool creators.

Now, record your list of LMS tools that you will need to use for your course. Also record any instructions or further training (if any) that you will need to obtain to feel confident using these tools. You'll use these lists in the next section of this unit.

Third-party tools and features

Many online courses take place entirely within an LMS, such that all content, activities, assessments, and features can be found directly in the course home space. Other courses, however, take advantage of one or more third-party tools and resources.

It would not be possible to list every third-party tool and feature used in online education today. Simply keep in mind that you may be asked to use such software, or access such features, outside your LMS in order to facilitate your course.

If your course includes such features, you will want to identify them just as you did for the LMS tools that your course uses. Similarly, it is important to identify what support or training you may need (if any) in order to be ready to use a particular third-party tool in your course.

Third party-tools and resources
Include learning tools and resources that are outside the LMS' built in tools. Third-party tools can include document-sharing tools, portfolio software, field-specific software, and social media, just to name a very few. Some third-party tools may have LMS integration, allowing you to synch that tool with your class grade book, for instance. Third-party content may include external online resources, such as media or web-based content (e.g., online textbooks). 



 pfrench (n.d). Teaching Online: Basic Skills for TAs.