Media Message Design Tutorial

Completing this Media and Message Design Tutorial will guide you through the redesign of content for your online course. Make sure you work through all levels of the tutorial.


Regardless of your discipline, putting your content message online requires careful examination of many factors. Moving from the initial idea to the desired result requires planning, hard work, and commitment. You need to analyze your current student audience and course structure and then design and develop a plan that works for you. The final result is implementing a well-organized and designed course.

Transitioning to an online environment is much more than simply creating electronic versions of hard copy content. You need to examine the big picture, evaluate what you already have to work with, and develop a plan that:

  • is based on the instructional goals of your course
  • integrates your learner centered objectives
  • applies media and message design principles.

The transformation requires commitment and adherence to an organized, strategic process.

This Media and Message tutorial begins with an evaluation of your existing instructional materials. There are benefits, constraints, and limitations in the online environment you need to consider. You will need to modify and develop new content that takes advantage of new options available in the online environment.

Our goal is to provide you with an overview of message, media, and visual design principles to help you create effective online instructional materials. So let’s get started with the Message Design.

Message Design

To achieve instructional value in your online course, your first step is to consider the pedagogical, technical, and logistical variables involved in developing your message. Next, consider the basics of message design principles and move forward from there.


While you can’t design multiple variations of each concept you are teaching, you can utilize a variety of media and message design principles to address various learning styles. Some basic pedagogical variables to keep in mind are:

  • Individual preferences and responses to your messages will differ depending on your learners’ prior experiences and skills.
  • Your students’ motivation to learn is greatly impacted by the way in which you present your instructional messages.
  • Content structure and layout guide your students through the learning process.


You will need to consider the technological possibilities and limitations when planning to incorporate media elements into your course. Begin by addressing the following technological issues:

  • What resources are available to assist in the creation of media elements for your course? Always take into consideration the people and tools available to help you complete the project. What resources are available commercially, through the Center for Distributed Learning, or through your department or college?
  • Are there more effective ways to achieve the same instructional goal? Video and graphics should be incorporated to achieve specific goals. Why use several paragraphs of text to describe something that can be more easily communicated by an image or picture? Similarly a video segment can capture motion or convey a complex process or concept that would be inadequately expressed in a narrative format. Ensure that video and audio are used appropriately.
  • Do all media elements pertain to the instructional message? Video, audio, photos, and graphics may utilize large file sizes and require extensive time for downloading. Don’t make students wait for elements that are not essential to the information you are attempting to convey. Also, remember to provide links to any software or plug-ins required to play video or audio segments.
  • Does the final product have lasting instructional value? You want to be strategic in developing an instructional piece that can be used long term and in multiple instructional instances. Remember to always do some research to see if something is already available commercially. You do not want to reinvent the wheel.


You’ll want to keep in mind that the creation of original content takes time and coordination of resources. The instructional value of a graphic, video, or multimedia component should be high enough to justify the time and effort expended. Working with your instructional designer and other teams at CDL entails a commitment from you. Begin by discussing your ideas with your instructional designer. Provide a written description and identify any examples, if possible. The role of the instructional designer is to serve as your liaison and coordinate projects that involve other teams at CDL.

Text Layout

In the image shown, there are no paragraph breaks. The prose may be eloquent, but little or no attention has been given to helping important points stand out. The reader may have to read the document over and over to decipher the relative points.

Make sure you take the time to consider the effectiveness of the layout and how the students will perceive it. Following a basic plan to ensure readability and legibility is crucial. You should always:

  • Organize your content in manageable clusters or chunks. You may want to use headings to identify each chunk of text.
  • Use sans serif fonts that are designed to be very legible on a computer screen (like Arial, not like Times New Roman).
  • Use boldface, italics, different font attributes, or other formatting techniques to emphasize and highlight important information.
  • Use bulleted or numbered lists to aid “scanning” or “skimming” (especially on the Web). Example:
    1. Step One
    2. Step Two
    3. Step Three
  • Avoid writing whole sentences in capitals, as it is difficult to read. (In the online world, it means you are shouting.)
  • Avoid moving or blinking text if at all possible. Besides being distracting, it is very hard to read, especially if one has poor eyesight.
  • Remember that you don’t need to cover an entire page with text and graphics. Use blank areas or “white space” to make the layout easier on the viewer’s eyes.

Now that you have covered the basics, you are ready to define the Media Components of your course by incorporating graphics and using color.

Media Components

Graphics and Color

Graphics can be used to illustrate, organize, explain, or decorate pages of online content. The use of images achieves more than making a visually appealing page. Images can serve as a valuable tool to clarify your content.

The use of color in your online pages is primarily determined by the color scheme you choose for your course. However, understanding how different colors work together in conveying a message is relevant for the visual learners in your course and for complying with accessibility requirements.

Use graphics to:

  • Illustrate
  • Organize
  • Interpret
  • Decorate

Multimedia Components

You may want to incorporate media components such as video segments, animations, games, or virtual worlds to provide dynamic or interactive functionality while conveying an instructional message. Additional expertise, tools, time, and programming are required to produce enhanced media elements and not every concept justifies the use of multimedia components.

Certain types of media, graphics, photographs, audio, and video may present a barrier to individuals with impairments and to those with less sophisticated computer equipment. Make sure to provide alternatives such as alternate text descriptions, transcripts, and closed captioning to ensure accessibility.

After consideration of all the related issues for media and message design, you will need to follow a Maintenance schedule.


Keep it Simple and Focused

The key to creating and maintaining an online course is to apply a well-balanced fitness plan. Start with the basics. Begin by improving the quality of your online course. Consider the time and effort required for developing specific components, and keep students’ equipment and access in mind. Make your decisions based on the instructional value and the course objectives, and incorporate good message and media design principles.

Remember to:

  • Ensure readability and legibility.
  • Use graphics to enhance, not distract.
  • Use consistent graphics, color schemes, and formatting throughout the course.
  • Do NOT include graphics or content in your course that you obtain from other sources unless you have permission. All photos, graphics and writings that you find on the Internet are protected by copyright. See Copyright for further information.