Online Tutorials: A Synthesis of Findings

Academic libraries have been using online tutorials are used with the purpose of either supplementing or entirely replacing traditional library instruction. Before creating any tutorial, there are many considerations. What is the investment of staff, time, training and other resources? How will the tutorial’s use and effectiveness be assessed?  (Slebodnik & Riehle, 2009).  Is there faculty buy in?  (Lo & Dale, 2009).  Conducting a formal needs assessment (observational studies, focus groups, and researching information behavior, etc.) is recommended (Holliday, Ericksen, Fagerheim, Morrison, & Shrode, 2006).

Tutorials should be as individualized and interactive as possible.  Interactivity distinguishes an information source from a learning experience. (Dewald, 1999).  The online environment differs from paper; online tutorials need not be linear following a sequential order.  By using scripts following various narrative scenarios, designers can provide options and increase a tutorial’s individualization and interactivity.  (Bailin & Pena, 2007).  This can be described as “branching design” (Reece, 2005). The learner should also have control over content, path, and pace.  An engaging product includes practice activities and active participation (Oud, 2009). Students are receptive to and enthusiastic about interactive tutorials (Armstrong & Georgas, 2006). The more student-controlled the tutorial, the more effective it is (Reece, 2005).

Other hallmarks of successful tutorials are

Progression from simple to complex

  • Short duration
  • Content that is focused, tied to a particular  assignment, and divided into small steps
  • Design based on multimedia learning
  • Feedback that gauges student progress
  • Proper balance of presentation and learner involvement (push and pull)
  • Use of reusable learning objects for single instructional concepts that are taught in multiple classes

(Armstrong & Georgas, 2006; Lo & Dale, 2009); Mardi & Ury, 2008; Mestre, 2010; Plumb, 2010; Reece, 2005; Slebodnik & Riehle, 2009; Su and Kuo, 2010)

Librarians should acquaint themselves with various learning and instructional design theories and their applications to the online environment.  Prior deciding to use a behavioral approach, cognitive approach or a mix of the two, Deubel (2003) recommends examining the materials and the context of their use.  Products should feature textual, aural, visual and kinesthetic modalities to match different learning styles (Mestre, 2010).  Tempelmal-Kluit (2006) echoes this, stating that when text and images are close together, connections between the two will be more easily made and meaningful learning occurs; if verbal and visual information are presented together, there is a higher rate of knowledge transfer.  A multimodal tutorial provides a more human learning experience (Brumfield, 2008).

Librarians should investigate the various software tools available. Camtasia is easy to use, works well with PowerPoint, and mimics YouTube. Files can be exported to formats such as mp3.  The final product can be embedded in course management software and can provide surveys and quizzes (Charnigo, 2009).  Plumb (2010) provides helpful matrices to make software decisions.   Yang (2009) discusses technology tools for web-based tutorials, with a recommendation a mix of tools play a role in creating an interactive product.  Student expectations are important; students expect technology to work.  When students found the quality of online audio-visual materials good, they reported higher levels of satisfaction, due to improved ability to follow course activities and engage with others (Hsin-Liang  & Williams, 2009).

Evaluation is crucial to developing a high quality product and should  considered from the beginning (Mages & Garson, 2010).  Also, with the time and effort of tutorial creation (along with the culture of assessment in higher education, assessment of student learning is important (Lindsay Blakesley, Cummings, Johnson & Scales, 2006; Tronstad, Phillips, Garcia, Harlow, 2009).   Many of the articles discussed methods for evaluation and assessment: pre- and post-tests, surveys, text responses, and user comments.

Libraries create online tutorials for various reasons. Reasons include perceived shortages of library staff and time for instruction, the rise of learners who prefer the online environment, the increased number of distance learners, the advent of hybrid learning, and the fact that an online tutorial is available anytime, from any place.  Any library wishing to create an online tutorial should review these and other articles for an examination of the issues and a close look at how other libraries approached the process.


Armstrong, A., & Georgas, H. (2006). Using interactive technology to teach information literacy concepts to undergraduate students. Reference Services Review, 34(4), 491-497.

Bailin, A., & Pena, A. (2007). Online library tutorials, narratives, and scripts. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 33(1), 106-117.

Blummer, B. (2007). Assessing patron learning from an online library tutorial. Community & Junior College Libraries, 14(2), 121-138. doi:10.1080/02763910802139397

Brumfield, E. J. (2008). Using online tutorials to reduce uncertainty in information seeking behavior. Journal of Library Administration, 48(3), 365-377.

Charnigo, L. (2009). Lights! Camera! Action! Producing library instruction video tutorials using Camtasia studio. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 3(1), 23-30. doi:10.1080/15332900902794880

Deubel, P. (2003). An investigation of behaviorist and cognitive approaches to instructional multimedia design. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 12(1), 63-90.

Dewald, N. H. (1999). Web-based library instruction: What is good pedagogy? Information Technology and Libraries, 18(1), 26-31.

Ganster, L. A., & Walsh, T. R. (2008). Enhancing library instruction to undergraduates: Incorporating online tutorials into the curriculum. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 15(3), 314-333. doi:10.1080/10691310802258232

Holliday, W., Ericksen, S., Fagerheim, B., Morrison, R., & Shrode, F. (2006). Instruction in a virtual environment: Assessing the needs for an online tutorial. Reference Librarian, 46(95), 187-211.

Lindsay, E. B., Cummings, L., & Johnson, C. M. (2006). If you build it, will they learn? Assessing online information literacy tutorials. College & Research Libraries, 67(5), 429-445.

Lo, L. S., & Dale, J. M. (2009). Information literacy “learning” via online tutorials: A collaboration between subject specialist and instructional design librarian. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 3(3), 148-158. doi:10.1080/15332900903375325

Mages, W. K., & Garson, D. S. (2010). Get the cite right: Design and evaluation of a high-quality online citation tutorial. Library & Information Science Research (07408188), 32(2), 138-146. doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2009.10.004

Mardis, L. A., & Ury, C. J. (2008). Innovation – an LO library: Reuse of learning objects. Reference Services Review, 36(4), 389-413.

Mestre, L. S. (2010). Matching up learning styles with learning objects: What’s effective? Journal of Library Administration, 50(7), 808-829. doi:10.1080/01930826.2010.488975

Nagra, K. A., & Coiffe, D. J. (2010). Management of online tutorials: A model for a step-by-step approach. Journal of the Library Administration & Management Section, 7(1), 4-17.

Oud, J. (2009). Guidelines for effective online instruction using multimedia screencasts. Reference Services Review, 37(2), 164-177

Plumb, T. K. (2010). Creating electronic tutorials: On your mark, get set, go! Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, 22(1), 49-64. doi:10.1080/1941126X.2010.486729

Reece, G. J. (2005). Critical thinking and cognitive transfer: Implications for the development of online information literacy tutorials. Research Strategies, 20(4), 482-493. doi: 10.1016/j.resstr.2006.12.018

Robertson, M. J., & Jones, J. G. (2009). Exploring academic library users’ preferences of delivery methods for library instruction: Webpage, digital game, and other modalities. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 48(3), 259-269. Retrieved from

Skagen, T., Torras, M. C., Kavli, S. M. L., Mikki, S., Hafstad, S., & Hunskår, I. (2008). Pedagogical considerations in developing an online tutorial in information literacy. Communications in Information Literacy, 2(2), 84-98.

Slebodnik, M., & Riehle, C. F. (2009). Creating online tutorials at your libraries: Software choices and practical implications. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 49(1), 33-51.

Su, S. & Kuo, J. (2010). Design and development of web-based information literacy tutorials. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36(4), 320-328.

Tempelman-Kluit, N. (2006). Multimedia learning theories and online instruction. College & Research Libraries, 67(4), 364-369.

Tronstad, B., Phillips, L., Garcia, J., & Harlow, M. A. (2009). Assessing the TIP online information literacy tutorial. Reference Services Review, 37(1), 54-64.

Yang, S. (2009). Information literacy online tutorials: An introduction to rationale and technological tools in tutorial creation. Electronic Library, 27(4), 684-693.


About Pamela J. Morgan

Librarian at Vanderbilt University Libraries
This entry was posted in Library Instruction, Tutorials and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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