Instruction is purposeful interaction to increase a learner’s knowledge or skills in a specific, pre-determined fashion. Simply publishing a webpage with links to other pages or other digital resources does not constitute instruction. Materials developed for web-based instruction must follow established instructional design principles in order to be effective and viable means of education. The following elements are adapted from Gagné’s nine universal steps of instruction and should be included in the instructional design of learning materials. A description of how these elements can be incorporated into Web-based courseware is below:

Motivate the Learner

The use of graphics, color, animation, and sound are often used as external stimuli to gain attention and motivate learners. These elements are easy to include in Web pages. Some organizations give awards for aesthetically pleasing, technically innovative, and generally creative pages, and these sites provide new developers with examples of what attracts and holds a user’s attention. It should be noted, however, that simply adding color and graphics doesn’t ensure motivating pages — excess is often counterproductive. Use just enough to call attention to your material and motivate your students to interact with it.

Explain What is to be Learned

In an online course it is essential to let the learners know exactly what they will be responsible for at the end of the instruction. This helps them focus on relevant information and take responsibility for their learning. The hypertext environment of the Web allows students to make individual associations with learning materials while browsing, and each learner chooses to follow a different set of links in a different order and thus make their own associations and connections with the learning material. This is positive in that learners explore materials according to their own thought patterns which enhances retention. However, as instructional designers, we cannot allow our students’ attention (and learning) to be drawn away from our desired outcomes, thus it is important to clearly state the objectives of each course module as well as what the learner is expected to do.

Recall Previous Knowledge

With Web pages it is easy create links from your site to others. Multiple links allow learners with diverse backgrounds and knowledge bases to review previously learned information before new information is offered.  By identifying similarities and differences between existing knowledge and the knowledge to-be-learned, students more quickly grasp relevant information.

Present the Material to be Learned

Text, Graphics, simulations, figures, pictures, sound, etc. can all be used in online course delivery to present the learning material. Online instructors should use a variety of teaching strategies in order to accommodate different learning styles. This Web offers a dynamic environment where multiple presentation strategies are possible.

Provide Guidance for Learning

Providing guidance for learning helps students integrate new information into an already existing knowledge base. The hypertext environment of the web allows for presentation to be easily structured and for examples to be integrated into the presentation of the instructional materials. With examples, students can relate the new information into a familiar context.

Active Involvement

Most educators would agree that for learning to take place, the learner must actively process and make sense of available information. An active learner will integrate new knowledge more readily than a passive learner. In order to encourage active involvement with the learning material, an instructor must provide opportunities for performance or practice. The discussion element of an online course can provide an excellent opportunity for students to become actively involved in their learning by discussing issues and concepts relevant to the learning material. Group work and projects provide more opportunities for learners to become actively involved with the course material.

Provide Feedback

The online environment provides many opportunities for meaningful feedback for students. In discussion forums, instructors can give feedback to students either individually or in groups. Students can also view each others” work online and offer feedback to their peers. Online quizzes can give students immediate feedback and links to related materials for further study. Learn how feedback strategies can be integrated into the instructional design of online courses.


Assessment of student learning is essential to know whether learning has occurred and if remediation is necessary. Online quizzes can be used to assess student learning, but they should not be the only method by which students are evaluated. Because of the possibility of immediate feedback, online quizzes are sometimes integrated into course design to offer students opportunities for self-assessment and review. Other means of assessment are projects, written assignments, case studies, and essay questions. Some instructors require students to take proctored exams either on campus or at other locations. View Academic Honesty Issues for a discussion on how to minimize cheating online.

Providing Enrichment or Remediation

The final step in instruction should provide learners with either remediation (in areas where comprehension is lacking), or enrichment (featuring associated information which extends or applies their knowledge). In an online environment, this can be provided through  links to additional resources. In this way, learners can receive relevant, specific information to match their abilities.