Build an Explicit Structure in Your Online Course

Quality Review Showcase

The Quality and High Quality online course reviews explore components proven to be best practices in online course design. This post showcases Quality item, “The course has an explicit structure (e.g., organized in modules, units, and/or topics; tools not pertinent to the course are hidden in the menu).”

By: Roslyn Miller, Instructional Designer, CDL

When students open your online course, they should be able to understand the structure of the course so they can find what they should be learning now, what they have learned, and what they have yet to learn. When an online course is explicitly structured, then students can focus more on their learning and the tasks at hand, rather than on wondering what their upcoming assignments are or worrying if they overlooked a message. When they are working in such a structure, they can intuitively navigate within and across units of instruction. To design a more explicit structure, course content and tasks can be organized into accessible units (e.g., modules, weeks, chapters).

What Are Some Ways Your Online Course Can Be Designed to Meet This Standard?

  • Use the Modules tool to organize your content, activities, and assessments in units (e.g., weeks, chapters, topics).
  • Organize modules with a discernible pattern as feasible (e.g., module introduction and overview, module content, module assignments, module assessment, module summary).
  • Use text headers to organize content within a module.
  • Provide meaningful titles for module components such as pages, files, assignments, quizzes. Meaningful titles might include a reference code (e.g., 5.2 to indicate Chapter 5, Section 2) and/or descriptive name.
  • Use templates in the Templater tool such as Module Introduction, Module Page, and Module Summary to design module pages.
  • While the assignments do not have to be the same each unit, try to keep the structure as familiar as possible (an introduction, an activity, some content, etc.).
  • Hide tools in the course navigation menu that students will not need in your course (e.g. Files, Pages, Chat). 

What Does This Look like in a Real Online Course?

Online Module Structure
Example 1: Online Modules, Christine Hanlon, COM1000.
Expanded Module Structure Screenshot

Example 2: Getting Started Module, Madeline Davis, DIG2109.
Navigation Menu