Instructional Material 4 Minute Read

Considerations When Using Publisher Materials in Online Courses

Computer and books

Most textbook publishers develop instructional materials for students to use in conjunction with their textbooks, including slide deck presentations, test banks, and interactive content. These materials can be a lifesaver when faculty members are looking for materials to include in their online courses. They’re typically already in a digital format and tend to integrate well with many learning management systems. However, course writers must carefully consider how students in the classroom will use these materials and must ensure that their use doesn’t take away from the goals of the course. When used correctly, publisher-created materials can be a great resource in the online classroom environment.

Maintain Instructor Presence in the Course

Remember: Your students see you as the subject matter expert for the course. They’re not nearly as interested in the textbook author’s opinions and perspectives as they are in your thoughts on the course materials. Never allow publisher-made materials to be the meat of your course! Publisher materials are designed to supplement the personal touch that only a faculty member can bring to the class. When you design an online course, the primary teaching materials should be those materials that you have personally developed.

Ensure Alignment of Publisher Materials

As always, consider the course design triangle when evaluating the alignment of any course materials, including those developed by publishers. You’ll want to verify that publisher materials align with both your course assessments and your learning objectives. Publisher materials are typically designed to align with outcomes that specific chapters of the textbook address. These outcomes may or may not align with the learning objectives for your course. Before you include slide deck presentations, test questions, or interactive elements from textbook publishers, it’s important to evaluate how they align with your specific course. Some materials may not be a good fit based on the goals for the class that you are teaching.

When you do decide to add a publisher-designed element to your course, take the time to explain to your students how the added activity helps improve their learning. The tenets of “review, preview, and motivate” remain true even when publisher materials are integrated into a class. For example, you can use publisher materials as an opportunity to review a topic or idea that you have previously presented. Let students know that the publisher materials explain the same topic in a different way. Some students may benefit from hearing both explanations.

Verify Accessibility of Publisher Materials

Also be sure to consider the accessibility of publisher-developed materials before you integrate them into your course. Some materials may not adhere to Web content accessibility guidelines, or may not be useable when students require a screen reader or other assistive device to access the online course environment. If possible, consider contacting the publisher directly and inquiring about the accessibility of materials that you’re planning to add to your course. This is an important step when considering the use of publisher content and can be easily overlooked.

Potential Pitfalls When Using Publisher Materials

It’s certainly tempting to continue using publisher materials even after the textbook is no longer a required resource for the class. Unfortunately, this is not a good practice for a couple of different reasons. First, the old text resources and the newer resources will likely not align in terms of chapters. Because most publisher content is organized according to chapter, this can cause a lot of confusion for students. Second, most publishers allow the use of their instructional materials only when the text is a required resource for the course. Using publisher materials for a textbook that isn’t required may subject the school to legal problems.


In closing, when designing an online class, faculty members should keep in mind that students tend to be most interested in the instructor’s perspective on the class material and not in the textbook author’s opinion. Use publisher materials to review topics that you have already discussed, and make sure they align with assessments and course-level learning objectives. Finally, evaluate whether publisher materials adhere to accessibility guidelines to ensure that they are available to all students in a course regardless of disability. When used correctly, publisher materials can be a great addition to the online classroom.

Posted November 6, 2017
Author Robin Zahrndt