Organizing Course Content

Over the years one of the things that online students share through their end-of-course surveys is that they can easily become frustrated, confused or disengaged because the course is difficult to navigate and find what is needed to be successful. When students have to use their cognitive energy to figure out where to access videos, discussions, readings and quizzes they have little energy left to engage with the content. This results in students who are less likely to engage and learn.

In both traditional face-to-face courses and online course offerings the organization and support services should be easy to locate. The sequence and the design of the content as well as activities should have some kind of system and purpose behind it. For example:

  • If students have to click out of a module and into another to simply watch a video that can be a distraction.
  • If students have to navigate away from a module to review a discussion board, it can sometimes be difficult to navigate back to the lesson.

Faculty in traditional in-person courses have the added advantage of giving additional verbal explanations and reminders about where items can be located in the course. The same advantage is not available for faculty that teach online. Faculty need to provide clarification and structure ahead of time to proactively avoid any confusion. A couple things to consider:

  • Faculty should take advantage of any functionality that allows them to view their course in the LMS as a student. Review the entire course from “student view”.
  • While viewing the course as a student, is it clear where items are located? Is there ever a time when it’s not immediately known what a student should do? Whenever possible provide additional text or guidance such as “click the SUBMIT link above to access the assignment submission area”.
  • Faculty should make the effort to provide any quick pointers or videos to help students along the way in their online courses
  • Faculty should think about creative use of menus, modules and folders when organizing their course content. Minimizing the number of course navigation items will help reduce any anxiety felt by students during the course. 
  • Faculty should look for a way to find the perfect balance between a single scrolling webpage and an overwhelming number of folders and nested folders to hold their course content.

Overall faculty should strive for organization that is clear and intuitive. Faculty should help students move through their content easily so that the students attention will remain on the learning of the material and in being successful in the course. Faculty may ask an instructional designer for support in the area of course organization and also ask an experienced online colleague for help and simply provide an extra set of eyes on the finished course. Oftentimes faculty are too close to the course content and are not able to see it from the perspective of a student.