Create Digital Content

by MU Instructional Designers
March 21, 2024
15-20 min read

Best Practices

Effective digital content is authentic.

Effective digital content is authentic.

Effective digital content includes your presence.

Students are taking a Messiah course with YOU as their instructor, not Pearson or MacMillan or some random YouTuber. Avoid the correspondence course vibe by adding your own presence: film yourself (or at least record your voice) and include anecdotes and examples that are from your own experiences. It should be very clear to students that you are their teacher.

Sharing stories from your own experience adds dimension to your presence in the course. Students can see you as a multi-faceted person instead of just a talking head. It helps build a sense of community and trust. If students feel like they know you, they are more comfortable contributing during class discussions, regardless of whether they are synchronous or asynchronous.

Effective digital content includes diverse perspectives.

Incorporating multiple perspectives enhances the authenticity of your content and fosters a more inclusive learning environment (see CRT for details). When you present multiple perspectives in the course content, you invite students to connect it with their lived experiences. When students see themselves and/or people like them in your instructional materials, they receive a clear message that their perspective is a valuable contribution to the learning environment.

Effective digital content is engaging.

Effective digital content is engaging.

Effective digital content is varied.

When we say “varied,” we are referring to both variety of format and of perspective. A mix of text, images, audio, and video makes content engaging and also enhances comprehension (see UDL for details). At the bottom of this page, we have included links for different types of digital content that you can consider.

Effective digital content is chunked into manageable lengths.

It’s well-known and documented (Briggs, 2015; Cercone, 2008; Vai & Sosulski, 2016) that attention spans for digital content are short. Therefore, it’s important to chunk content into manageable lengths to reduce cognitive load. In other words, don’t overwhelm your students with 60+ slide PowerPoints, 30+ page syllabi, or 2 hour videos. Instead, chunk these into shorter PowerPoints (separated into subtopics), a syllabus with links to relevant items, and shorter videos (or time-stamps for particular parts of the videos) to support retention.

Effective digital content follows visual design principles.

Check out the video below for some visual design basics as they pertain to instructional content.

Effective digital content provides opportunities for student response/reflection.

Effective digital content provides opportunities for student response/reflection.

To increase comprehension and retention, students need the space to practice, respond to, or reflect on the concepts that they’re learning in your course content. (We recommend you check out Make it Stick, by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel for more details on that.) You can make your content interactive by providing questions, prompts, or activities that encourage students to apply or reflect on the knowledge they gain.

See caption
In this image, a reading is provided in Canvas with some context and a few guiding questions.
Effective digital content models ethical behavior.

Effective digital content models ethical behavior.

Digital Citizenship

Ethical considerations of copyright, information validation, etc. are important in the content creation/curation process. Content that is shared with students should model ethical online behavior. For example, when choosing images for your PowerPoints, consider copyright implications — find public domain or Creative Commons images from sites like Pixabay and Unsplash. When sharing articles or webpages, model the critical thinking process of ensuring that the information is credible (for a list of fact checker sites, check out this libguide from Berkeley Library).


Consider students who may have different cultural backgrounds. Be careful not to make assumptions about what your students already know based on how they look or how they speak. Provide students in your class the necessary background knowledge to decode any vocabulary or references in your materials. Your students may not have the same regional and/or generational customs or cultures that form your own frame of reference.

Even the best content in the world is useless if a student can’t access it. From the technical side, you can check out the Tech Support Knowledge Base for details on adding content to Canvas. But beyond the technical, content needs to be accessible to the diversity of ability, interest, culture, and perspective among your students. To do this, you should examine your different types of content for potential barriers:

  • Text can be inaccessible for non-native English speakers and students with conditions like dyslexia.
  • Videos can be inaccessible for students with visual or hearing impairments.
  • Audio can be inaccessible for students with hearing impairments or some processing disorders.

To ensure that your content is accessible, strive to offer alternatives and/or functions like closed captioning that will help students overcome these barriers.

Some Types of Digital Content


Briggs, A. (2015, February 11). Ten ways to overcome barriers to student engagement online. Online Learning Consortium. Retrieved from

Cercone, K. (2008). Characteristics of adult learners with implications for online learning design. AACE Journal, 16(2), 137-159. Retrieved from ERIC, Accession No. EJ805727

Vai, M., & Sosulski, K. (2016). Essentials of online course design: A standards-based guide (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge