Organizing Your Online Course

Consider breaking your online course into modules or another kind of self-contained unit. Each module or unit can be organized around a major topic, course theme, assignment, or overall course objective. Start each module or unit with an overview, showing students what they will be doing and the overall goals of the module. This will help orient students and keeps them on pace.

Give students a clear route through the course content and consider how you will signpost important due dates and materials. Organization is important for every class, but it is essential to an online class. Be sure to post due dates early and clearly label the different elements of your course.

Chunking materials into units or modules can help students navigate the course. Here are some tips on chunking materials and a worksheet to help you create a unit/module cycle in your course:

  • Lecture videos should be short (up to 15 minutes). If you plan on recording a lecture video that is longer, consider breaking it into two or more videos. In between each video, think about making a short quiz or another activity to help reinforce the content you covered. This will allow students to check their understanding before moving on to the next chunk of lecture material.

  • If your Canvas course contains sections with lots of texts, consider chunking that text into short paragraphs or using bullet points, images, and videos to break up the text. By presenting the material through multiple kinds of media, instructors can help keep the content fresh and maintain student engagement. 

  • If you can, think about having a regular “cycle” or “rhythm” to your course. For example, organize every week into a module and have students complete assessments and other course activities at the same time every week. This will allow students to anticipate when important course items are due. Below is an example of a course cycle for an online course:

Example course cycle

Monday Instructor opens new module. Modules can be opened manually, or instructors can time modules to open on a specific date. Each module begins with an overview section taking students through the specific steps they need to complete in that module. This overview can be a short written document or video.
Wednesday Students complete a short assessment that helps them check their own understanding. If possible, the instructor provides prompt feedback, or sets their Canvas quiz to automatically provide feedback, to help students prepare for the higher-stakes assessment at the end of the module.
Friday Students need to complete the final assessment in the current module. After that, the instructor opens the next module.