Outliners allow you to create online lists with hierarchical levels: items, sub items, sub sub items, and so on. With the click of a button, you can open an item to reveal its sub levels, and with another click you can close them.

Have a look at this example. Try opening and closing some of the levels. 


Outliners are an effective way to manage, display, and share large amounts of vertically structured information. 

Best Practices

  1. Use online outliners as a presentation tool: begin by showing your students the "top level" of your presentation. Then, open the first item in the top level to reveal its sub levels. Discuss each sub level one in turn. When you are done with all the sub levels in that item, close it and then open the second item in the top level to reveal its sublevels. Discuss those sub levels. And so on. Here is an example of an online outline that was used as a presentation tool. 
  2. Have your students begin work on a major project (such as an end-of-term essay) by using an online outliner to create a well-developed outline, which they then share with you. 
  3. Use an online outliner to organize information pertaining to your own research projects. 

Evidence of Efficacy

  • "Two parallel studies were conducted with junior medical students to determine what influence the forms of lecture notes would have on learning. The three types of notes given to the students were: a comprehensive manuscript of the lecture containing text, tables, and figures; a partial handout which included some illustrations but required substantial annotation by the students; and a skeleton outline containing no data from the lecture.... the students performances on tests generally were better for those who had received partial or skeleton handout format." -- Effects of three types of lecture notes on medical student achievement, 1983.
  • "The results of Experiments 1 and 2 clearly showed that both outlines and headings facilitated readers' recall of text. Further, the results of Experiment 3 indicated that outlines facilitated readers' ability to place paraphrased versions of statements taken form the text into an order matching that of the text.... Outlines and headings based on outlines have a significantly beneficial effect on readers' recall of text." -- The effect of outlines and headings on readers' recall of text, 1989.
  • "Studies suggest that nearly all non-linear note-taking strategies (e.g. with an outline or a matrix framework) benefit learning outcomes more than does the linear recording of information." --Cognitive Effort during Note Taking (PDF), 2005.

Recommended Tools

Four outliner tools are recommended. They are all free. 

More Resources

  1. "Getting students 'partially' involved in note-taking using graphic organizers", 2010. (PDF)
  2. "5 Free Web Tools to Organize Your Thoughts." 


Contact Dr. Mark Morton


teaching tipsThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Online Outliners. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.