Choosing Technologies for Your Online Course

A photo of a keyboard, iPhone with earbuds, and an iPad.

While online courses depend upon technology, technology should not be the focus of the online course; learning should. When considering the use of technology in your course, keep in mind your outcomes and the ways that tools can be used to engage your students and contribute to active learning opportunities.

Pick Tools That Support Your Outcomes

Most learning management systems come with several built-in tools, add in the large number of Web 2.0 tools and publisher tools, and it can often seem like there are too many from which to choose. Best practice then is to focus on tools that will help students master the outcomes for the module and course. Be sure that you are matching what students will be required to do with the correct tool. For example, if the outcome states that students will need to be able to discuss something, then you will want to pick a format that allows them to do this. Here you have a variety of options:

  • discussion forums;
  • short or long answer essay questions on an exam;
  • assignment tools, which can be used to allow students to submit a short-written assignment or attach a document; and
  • blogging, journal, and Wiki tools.

To begin narrowing down your choices, consider which tool will best fit your intent. For example, if you think it is important for students to be able to discuss an idea with others - in other words have a dialogue - then a discussion forum, blog, or wiki tool would be your best choice. If, instead, you want to ensure that students can discuss an idea in writing, then a short or long essay question on an exam might work, or you could use the assignment tool to have them submit a longer piece of writing. Finally, if you want to be able to have a dialogue between only yourself and the student on the topic, then you may want to use a journal tool.

Part of your decision should also be influenced by what level of technology you feel comfortable interacting with as the instructor. For example, you may feel more comfortable assigning students an activity in a discussion forum rather than having them create a blog because you are more familiar with that tool and know that grading with it will be easier for you.

Additionally, as stated above, there are many tools available outside of the learning management system that could be considered. Adding Web 2.0 tools or publisher tools to your course can involve a variety of other decision points in addition to the ones discussed so far. This is something that your instructional consultant can help you think through and plan for your class.

Promote Engagement and Active Learning

When choosing tools for the course, try to ensure that the tools will be used as ways to help students engage with the content and practice active learning. For example, instead of simply posting a link to a web site, you might include it within a discussion question asking students to evaluate the site based upon criteria that they have been studying. You can then have students post their findings on the discussion forum and discuss their findings with their peers. This tactic will help engage students with both the content that they have been studying and their peers. Additionally, it will have them apply what they have been studying and try out their new knowledge in a setting where they can get some feedback.

Choose Tools Wisely

Think carefully about the tools that you want students to use and avoid using tools simply because they are new and cool. Tools outside the learning management system should be easily accessed. Keep in mind that often students are not working with the latest technology, and if there is a cost to the tool you will want to be sure that it is essential for what you are doing and that it is used enough throughout the course to justify the expenditure. Additionally, you will want to ensure that any tool you use has been around long enough that most glitches will have been identified and fixed so that there is a minimum of problems.

This also brings up the topic of support for the tool – only specific tools are supported by UNT, so be sure that if you are choosing something not currently supported that there will be a way for students to get help when they need it. If you would like some assistance considering an outside tool for your course, you can always contact your instructional consultant for assistance.

Remember, too, that student privacy is important to consider when choosing tools outside of the learning management system. If you are using a tool that requires the student to create an account and username, then you will want to include information in the course about the privacy policy for that tool. This can be especially important when using social media tools, like Twitter or Facebook. Often students are unaware of the precautions needed when using Web 2.0 tools in the online environment, so this is a good opportunity for you to help make issues around privacy clear and provide students with information that will help them protect themselves online.


Center for Learning Experimentation, Application, and Research. (2016). Teaching Resources for Engaged Educators [online training modules]. Denton, TX: University of North Texas.