The Ultimate Guide to eLearning Content Types


To simplify the wide range of content types you can use for eLearning I have created this article with a large list of content types and the tools to created them.

The Content Types you can use for eLearning fall into the categories of Text, Graphics, Audio, Video, Interactive, Offline Tasks and Advanced.  Varying content types is an easiest way to increase student engagement.

TextGraphics  Audio  
– Web page
– eBooks / ePubs
– Articles
– Statistics or poll results
– White Papers /
– Case Studies
– How to Guides
– Help Documentation
– Photos
– Info Graphics
– Charts
– Word Clouds
– Instructions
– Maps
– Plans & Designs
– Screen Shots
– Interviews
– Instructional
– Books
– Podcasts
– Internet Radio
– Sound Effects
– Environment
– Conversations
VideoInteractive / Advanced  Offline  

– Demonstrations
– Screencasts
– Animations
– TV Shows
– Movies

– Games
– Gamification
– Leader boards
– Points Systems
– Real Rewards
– Simulators
– Quizzes

– Team Projects
– Assignments
– Exploratory
– Excursions
– Research Tasks
– Applying a Skill
– Third Party
– Testing
– Industry Meetup Groups

So lets discuss these in more detail and see what tools and resources are available to make your job easier.

Text

When we think about text we often think of a fairly boring content type but it is still the largest content type used by all elearning packages and those people teaching online. It is also the easiest to update and smallest file size to send or download from the internet.

If you intention is to teach globally there are some statistics you may wish to consider. ITU has estimated that half of the world is now online at the end of 2018. That is approximately 3.8 billion and only 1.1 billion are on broadband internet. The rest are on mobile phones.  The ITU is the specialised ICT entity for the United Nations.

You may wish to consider is translation services are easier and cheaper to do with text. So if you want to reach a larger audience you may wish to translate to the largest languages in the world with the below approximate amount of speakers:

  • English – 1 billion
  • Madarin – 1 billion
  • Hindi – 600 million
  • Spanish – 500 million

There are a lot of languages after that between 200 to 300 million each but just with the top 4 languages you could capture half the worlds population which is better than just the one language.

Web Pages

Whether you are creating your own websites and putting your content up there or using a third party the content you put on there is our first content type. A single web page or article post is our first a very common online content type. The article you are reading right now is an example. The content can either be dynamic or static. Static website contnet does not change but the dynamic content changes depending on who is logged in.

The three different ways to host your content are on a third party website, on your own Learning Management System (LMS) website or Content Management System (CMS) and finally your own custom website. An LMS is a CMS but designed specifically for education. A LMS and CMS are types of websites that allow someone with limited Information Technology skills to make and maintain a website. It allows for simple administration and content management with the ability to extend what it can do with plugins.

Well known Open Source CMS and LMS
(click the name to visit the sites)

If you wish to learn how to create your own website to then host your Web Pages it is worth looking at https://www.freecodecamp.org/

Alternatively you can use something like Google Classrooms that provide a premade site for each class where you can host your content https://classroom.google.com

We will be reviewing these CMS And LMS options and explain them in more detail in the article What are the common features of Learning Management Systems?

eBooks / ePubs / Training Manuals

eBooks and ePublications (ePubs) are the newer alternative for the old style text book and magazines that used to dominate our lives. There is a massive list of them on all the major websites like Amazon, Google Play and iTunes. It makes for an easy mechanism to push text books out to your students whether you create your own or use a third party training manual.

If you are wanting to create your own eBooks you can any text editor or word processor like MS Office or Open Office. If you want the option of printing then you are better using a Single Sourcing tool. Essentially they are tools that allow you to write the content once and then export it in different formats.

Here are some of the tools you could use
(Click the name to visit their web pages)

For a full list and more information about single sourcing you can look here Wikipedia Single-source publishing

Once you have created your eBook, ePub or Training Manual you will need to secure your content with Digital Rights Security. This basically just means that you are stopping people from copying or distributing your book without your permission.

The eBook stores handle this for you but if you are distributing it on your own you may wish to look at more into this. The training manual creation article below will discuss this more with you.

We will discuss online training manual creation in the article How do I create a Online Training Manual?

Articles

We discussed these briefly above in the web pages content type. When we speak of Aricles here we are specifically talking about peer reviewed research papers that are held to a higher standard then simple webpages. The type you would find on https://scholar.google.com.

These articles are based on research done in the chosen field by an industry professional that typically has a Doctorate in their field of research. Here is an example articles about the teacher forcast demand by the United Nations

ARTICLE: Future Global Teacher Demand

Statistics and Poll Results

This content type while it could be displayed as a table of figures or downloadable content for use in a software tool like Microsoft Excel or to load directly into your own database. It commonly based on quantitative and qualitative results of a particular set of data of real world data.

For example student average marks and completion rates or enumerated student feedback. This data can be a static table or dynamically pulled from a database.  The link below is an example link to the World Bank Educational Statistics page so you can see how you might use this content type.

ARTICLE: World Bank EdStats Website

Whitepapers

White Papers are a informational document explaining a specific complex topic in detail and includes the authors opinion in an effort to help them understand an issue, solve a problem or make a decision. Here is an example of a whitepaper on higher education from the Times Higher Education website that ranks universties.

ARTICLE: Success as a Knowledge Economy

Case Study

A Case Study is the research into the development of a particulate person, group or situation over a period of time. It generally asks a question and tries to answer that particular question by analysing real world data. Here is an example of an Australian Case Study about Vocational Education in schools by the Austrlian Bureau of Statistics.

ARTICLE: VET for year 10 to 12 student and effect on retention

How to Guides

How to Guides are essentially a tutorial explaining how to do a particular task in a step by step fashion. These are normally created to solve common problems and to allow people to solve their own issues.  The link below is a how to guide for parents as it relates to the hour of code project in the USA encouraging students to learn how to code from experts in their fields.

ARTICLE: Parent How To Guide for Hour of Code project

Help Documentation

This style of Content Type is used for specifically providing support around a particular product, service or resource. Commonly found in most software products to explain the tools, features and options.

The most common way to create these is using the single sourcing tools above and they are either exported to web pages (In HTML5 format) or as a single CHM file which is a compiled htiml file. Essentially multiple web pages as compressed single file including graphics and code.  Check the software above for eBooks as the same software can be used for help files.  Below is an example of Madcap Flares own help file.

ARTICLE: Madcap Flare Help File

Graphics

It is fairly common knowledge that a decent graphic can explain simply what would take a massive amount of text to do. It also engages the audience better and provides a clarity that you just can not get with text alone. Lets look at some of the Graphics Content Types you can use in elearning.

Photos

In an educational context, photos are often the base image that then gets overlayed with instructions, text or graphics to help with understanding or help the student focus on what is important. This is often done with image editing software like Photoshop, GIMP or Coral AfrerShot Pro. The example of showing what a required building tool is and pointing to it in the photo.

Info Graphics

Info Graphics are images that have been designed to show a complex topic using text and graphics to help the student visualise or understand easier.   Whether you know it or not you have already seen these as you surf around the web many times.  Here is a gallery of infographics from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

ARTICLE: UNESCO Info Graphics Gallery

Charts & Dashboards

When we are talking charts online we are not talking about the ones you use in the classroom and put on the wall although you could do them online. We are more interested in data visualisation charts like Pie, Line, Bar, Area, Circular Area, Historgram, Scatter Plot, Time, Waterfall and Stacked. There are many other chart types depending on what you are trying to display and they can be combined as well.

Whether you are showing revenue and sales or using a project planning tools they are a great way to simplify large amounts of data for your students. They can also be either static graphic or dynamically updated from a database.

Dashboards are generally used by C level staff in businesses but can be used also in your training to represent large data sets.

Here are some example dash boards from Dundas so you can understand what they are.

ARTICLE: Sample Dundas Dashboards

Word Clouds

Word clouds are graphics designed to show the important words or phrases about a particular text or subject. The size of the words indicates its frequency or importance. There are heaps of software packages and websites that will create these for you like Wordle.net, WordClouds.com and WordArt.com. They will generally take a document and use the words contained in it to create the world cloud for you.

The most well known tool is Wordle

Instructions

These types of graphics show you a single step in a process and are often used by training manuals to provide a visual representation of each step in a building block style aproach. These can be designed of any task in the real world that you like.

Maps

What would our life be without mapping data and the way in which we are using in continues o grow. Some interesting mapping uses of Google Maps you could include in your training are.

  • Finding Flights, Hotels, Food and Places of Interest
  • Using Google Timeline
  • Reviewing Search History
  • Downloading Offline Maps
  • Creating your own Map layers
  • Route Planning
  • Step by Step Directions

There are also many other map data providers and uses that you can look into but that should get your started.

Plans and Designs

Whether you are including an architectural drawing, a engineering design or just a quick sketch of a unit layout there are heaps of examples of how you could use plans in your training. You can show them as 2d or 3d and even use a series of them to provide a timeline. Here are some examples of engineering design software you could use.

Whether you are designing chemical compounds, a car or a house you can use these images in your training online or for students to use for assignments.  There are many other types of design software for each industry.

Screen Shots

For software products and any configuration task you would like to do on a computer or mobile phone you can use Screen Shots. If you are on a mobile phone normally a two button press takes a picture of the current screen. It is different for each mobile phone and you can google it for your particular model.

For computers you can use tools like Greenshot and Techsmith SnagIt allow you to create and edit these as you complete each of the steps you are wishing to doument on the computer. There is also the Snipping Tool on Windows and the Grab tool on Mac’s.

Audio

When dealing with Audio for training you need to understand the hardware you are using, the software tools and the process you will go through to make the audio recording. On the hardware side you can use any microphone you like to get started but you depending on the type of audio you are making.

If you are doing computer instructional videos then a headset or free standing microphone is handy. If you are doing situational recording something that handles the wind and on a boom or lapel and there are some that plug into your mobile as well. For elearning most people opt for the desk stand mic.

Some professional desk condenser microphones worth researching are:

  • RodeNT USB
  • Blue Yeti or Snowball
  • Audio-Technica AT875R

When you are looking at editing your recorded audio you are looking at open source (free) or paid software applications.

Some other open source packages are

For the paid software packages some you can look at are

Also some the biggest website in the world for audio whether recorded or streamed is https://soundcloud.com/ and many artists, bands, tracks and podcasts.

Interviews

Interviews are a great way to add weight to your argument and provide students with multiple other sides to arguments and subjects from real world people. These can be live cast or recorded for later play back.

Instructional

Instructional audio is a great tool for when people may need to use their hands and don’t need a visual aid that a video would provide. It is also easier to create and update.

Audio Books

As an alternative to an eBook is the hugely growing and in demand field of audio books. They are a more versitile solution for knowledge transfer that can be listened to in the car, while exercising and to reinforce the training you are doing online. The smaller file size and lower cost to created then video makes it a great alternative.

Podcasts

While podcasts are not used as much as video on all of the streaming video websites and have fallen out of favor. They are however a great way to send out news and updates to an existing group of students or people with similar interests as it does not require as the time and effort that video does.

Internet Radio

While there are still traditional radio stations internet radio has grown dramatically with mobile broadband internet. With streaming services like spotify and the large range of raido apps on both the iTunes and Google Play store. You can also live stream it on your website.

They are a great way for Universities to educational institutions to get information out to students. They are being used for updates and news and educational programming as well as being able to live stream large events. Ted talks are a great example of content that could be streamed on an internet radio as most presentations don’t have many visual aids. Speeches and public talks are also another good example.

Video

Video is the most popular form of content type used in elearning and there is a massive amount of training out there on every subject you can imagine. It is also simplier than ever to create video but there is a huge difference in the quality of the video as well. Developing skills in video editing is a core skill of an elearning Developer.

For general video editing you can use the following tools

Paid Tools

Free Tools

Let us now discuss the different video content types you could use in your elearning.

Animations

Animations can be very effective and until recently were very expensive to create. While custom animation is still be very expensive to create depending on who you get to develop it for you.

With global freelancer websites you can use offshore developers to create custom animation as a fraction of the traditional fees but it is still expensive and time consuming. The rapid application tools like PowToon has made it cheaper and you need less skill to create them but the animations created are very generic. Two of the common ones are explainer and whiteboard animations.

Here are some of the animation tools you can use

The rapid application tools do provide more engagement but the increase the cost and maintenance of the training you create. They generally get used as a hook for your other training or to explain broad concepts.

TV Shows

Creating TV shows can be a very expensive content type due to the planning, video editing, actors if required and professional help you may need. If you are doing it as a Video Blog style instead it wont be as expensive and you won’t need a film crew. You can then sell the rights to a video streaming platform or put it on your own website.

Movies

Educational movies are quite common for schools and large institutions to purchase for students. With the video streaming websites they have become less popular but the documentary style are still hugely popular for the ability to sell them to sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime. With the trend towards just in time training where videos are short and to the point and the time, cost and resources required to create movies you may never use this content type.

Interactive / Advanced

Nothing is as good as interactivity for student engagement and completion rates. Building these into your course also allows students to break what can sometimes seem very methodical and boring content.

Games / Gamification

From simple games built inside your elearning package software tools and simple quizes to real games built as independent software or with tools like Flash or in a HTML5 canvas tag. It is ok if you don’t know what either of those are as the software products we use for elearning handle all of the technical stuff for us.

While not a content type but more a concept, the idea of gamification or adding game like elements to your training is another option. There have been some very successful educational gaming apps like DuoLingo as a free version and lots of paid versions as well. Simple games or interactivity can be added with your elearning packaging software and tools.

If you want to have a go at creating a full game I would suggest getting on the Steam Powered Game Platform and looking at the Unity Game Engine as a way to create a rapid application game without too much actual coding.

Most people use leader boards with points and badges only in their training.

Simulations

Simulators are great for when the cost of the real items is too much, for when the equipment is too large or dangerous to use and when the real equipment is located large geographic distances away and can not be connected to the internet.

There are multiple types of simulator and they are specific to the industry they are a part of. One of the best technical simulators I of the best free simulators I have seen is Cisco’s Packet Tracer which allows computer networking students to create full computer networks to learn networking and pass their certification.

Quizzes

Quizzes to test their knowledge as they go for instant feedback for you and the students that you can then run reports on are always good. They can also feed into the Gamification aspect to provide points for leaderboards and increase student competition.

Offline

These real world tasks and assignments allow the student to complete tasks that are not sitting in front of the computer. Most of them fall into an assignment content type or result content type where they need to upload some sort of result.

Even the Industry Meetup Groups can be an assigned task where they have to upload some sort of report or assessment after attending. They are there to let you think about including offline activities into your eLearning to better engage the student with the professional community they are training to be part of.

Article References

http://worldpopulationreview.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_total_number_of_speakers

ITU News

Glen Brown

I am a Technical Trainer and Manager with over 20 years experience in IT, Education and Business. I have multiple qualifications on each topic including post graduate qualifications. I have a passion for sharing knowledge and using technology to do this. If you would like to know more about me please see the about page of the website.

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