Transitioning to Online Lectures

When transitioning your class online, there are a variety of options for delivering your essential course content—especially lecture content—in the digital environment. For many instructors, the creation of video lectures will feel natural, and in some cases simply recording key pieces of lecture material may be a good choice. However, before diving in and recording a lecture exactly as you would have given it in class, take some time to consider the following.

Avoid Large Files and Long Recordings 

It is essential for both technical and pedagogical reasons to keep any multimedia recordings for your course as short as possible. In general, your video files should be smaller than 500 MB, and video lecture materials should be broken up into small segments of 5-15 minutes maximum. Keeping file sizes small is important because many students who have returned home may have limited access to technology and the internet and downloading large files could take hours or be completely impossible. The brevity of your video is important because viewing a lecture online is not the same as listening to one in-person; research shows that many students don’t make it all the way through longer videos in one sitting, and often disengage as early as 5 mins into a video lecture (Kim et al., 2014). If you must include a longer video lecture, consider segmenting your lecture into a series of shorter videos that are meaningfully separated by topic. 

Online recorded presentations can be created using various methods, with the most common formats being narrated Powerpoint and short video screencasts.

  • Narrated Powerpoint. Powerpoint allows you to embed audio files on each slide, so students can hear your instruction alongside each of your slides. As a general principle, it’s helpful and appreciated by students if you include your talking points or course notes in addition to the audio recordings. Keep in mind, if these presentations are not kept short and succinct these files can quickly be very large.
  • Screencasts. A screencast allows you to walk students through a process (e.g., demo software or how to work through a calculation) or talk through a slide presentation. This method creates a video recording of your computer screen with audio.There many different tools and software for creating screencasts.

For guidelines on how to create a narrated Powerpoint and video screencast please refer to CTE’s teaching tips on Screencasts. Here you will find a list of recommended tools and best practices, but instructors are encouraged to use the tool that they are most familiar and comfortable with (e.g., Apple users may use QuickTime Player).

Consider the Layout

Student attention and engagement online functions a little differently than in the lecture hall. Including a video recording of an instructor on screen (e.g., ‘talking head’) is not necessary or helpful in many cases. In fact, research shows that videos that include visuals of the instructor are a source of distraction and can actually impair learning (Fiorella & Mayer, 2016; Wilson et al., 2018).

If you are someone who likes being on screen and part of your instructional magic comes from your charismatic nature, then consider creating a short introductory video to the week’s lesson/topic and/or a short concluding video where you can appear in full. These kinds of videos can work well to help build rapport and convey a sense of your personality. However, when it comes to the essential lecture materials for the course, it is typically preferable for students to focus on the content rather than on the presenter. You may want to consider one of these options to create some variety in delivering lectures online:

  • Break things up between your lecture content and reading.For example, present a 5-minute video introduction to a topic, then have students do the required reading from their textbook, then perhaps introduce a short activity (e.g., answer a concept check question) before presenting another short video segment wrapping up the topic.
  • Build a text-only version of an existing power-point presentation. You can add your speaking notes to your presentation, saving the file as a PDF and posting to LEARN. Students can then read your presentation at their own pace.
  • Create an audio presentation from your slides. You can record an audio-only version of your presentation and upload it to LEARN alongside your power-point presentation slides. Signal to students in your audio which slide you are on so they can follow along. Alternatively, create a narrated power point using your favourite tool. Keep in mind, however, that such recordings should still be short enough to hold attention (less than 15 minutes, ideally closer to 5 minutes).
  • Simply write your lecture as prose instead or include your detailed course notes. You can create text-based content pages in LEARN or convert your text document to a PDF and upload it to LEARN. If you wish, you can also include any visuals you would normally show in a lecture. If posting your course notes, please be sure that they can be fully understood on their own or in conjunction with visuals or examples you have provided, and include all the ideas that you would have shared verbally during your lecture. Text-based content is often preferred by students as they can read them at their own pace, and they are easy to search using text-searching functions, making it easier for students to review key concepts when they need to study.

Note: In a face-to-face class, students can ask questions at any point in a lecture. The instructors, too, can modify their lectures on the fly according to their sense of whether students are understanding the material or struggling with it. An online lecture, in contrast, is less "flexible": it delivers course content in a single, undeviating way. Students can, of course, pose questions about the online lecture's content after they watch it, via email or in a discussion group -- but this isn't the same as being able to ask questions as the lecture is being delivered. Accordingly, it's a good idea for instructors to supplement online lectures with materials that provide alternative ways of explaining the same content -- for example, a document or a link to a YouTube or Khan Academy video that explains it from a different angle, or provides additional, relevant examples. 

Lecture Less without Cutting Content

Transitioning your course online does not mean getting rid of any essential course content. However, the online format can often create the opportunity for lecturing less without any reduction in the type, amount, and quality of the content that students encounter. To reduce the amount of lecture content that you need to create for your course, you could:

  • Link out to material that already exists online. This can include things like open textbooks and other Open Educational Resources, as well as existing publicly available multi-media that covers your topic.

  • Substitute an extra reading in place of a lecture. Perhaps there is a good article on one of your lecture topics that could be assigned in lieu of the time that students would have spent watching a lecture recording.
  • Emphasize existing course readings. In class, you may at times cover certain material through both assigned readings and lectures, using lectures to reinforce or comment on things that students have already read. When transitioning online, it may be more effective instead to signal to your students the important sections of the reading, and add comments and clarifications with minimal repetition or summary of the content. You can also combine readings with a simple comprehension activity to help make sure that students have mastered the material.

Student Video Submissions 

In addition to creating multi-media of your own, you may be thinking of requiring students to submit a presentation or other project by creating a video individually or in a group. Video projects can often work well in courses originally designed for the online environment, but they present greater challenges when transitioning an in-class offering online.

In particular, having students submit large files (500 MB or more) is typically not recommended in these situations. If using a LEARN Dropbox for these submissions, there is a limit to the file size a student can upload. Even more important, students returning home and not originally planning to take a class online may find it difficult or impossible to upload large video files.

If requiring video submissions, instructors are strongly encouraged to have students submit these using the “video assignment” tool in LEARN (also known as “Bongo”), rather than Dropbox, and to offer alternative audio-only and text-only methods of completing the assignment for any students who have difficulty creating or uploading a video for technical or accessibility reasons.


If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help.  View the CTE Support page to find the most relevant staff member to contact.


  • Fiorella, L., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). Effects of observing the instructor draw diagrams on
  • learning from multimedia messages. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(4), 528.
  • Kim, J., Guo, P. J., Seaton, D. T., Mitros, P., Gajos, K. Z., & Miller, R. C. (2014).
  • Understanding in-video dropouts and interaction peaks inonline lecture videos. Proceedings of the first ACM conference on Learning@ scale conference (pp. 31–40).
  • Wilson, K. E., Martinez, M., Mills, C., D'Mello, S., Smilek, D., & Risko, E. F. (2018).
  • Instructor presence effect: Liking does not always lead to learning. Computers & Education122, 205-220.
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