You may or may not have previous experience with designing courses for online or face-to-face learning. Here we will touch briefly on how to organise the structure of the course. Although this aspect can be finalised later in the design process, it is undeniably useful to think about your course navigation and intended end point when drafting initial ideas. Throughout, keep these two concepts in mind:

Your context

Does your institution have a preferred approach to online course...

  • Consistency
  • Alignment.

Finding consistency

Maintaining consistency in the layout of an online course has been shown to influence student success (Swan et al., 2000). Take the time to look at other online courses, including those available at your institution. What does the layout look like and is it easy to navigate? Does a particular layout look more natural or intuitive to you? Consistency also refers to layout across courses; if you are part of a larger programme, try to develop a layout that is similar in approach.

There are various common approaches that you can take to find this consistency. Some use weekly folders for semester long courses and/or topical folders for more informal learning experiences. For example, the folder for a particular week would include an overview, readings, activities, assignments, and resources. At the same time, there could be course folders for readings, activities, assignments, and resources. This way there are multiple pathways for students to access what they need.

Achieving alignment

Major topics to be covered and related learning objectives will need to be aligned (using 'constructive alignment') with learning tasks and assessments. Goals and learning outcomes will help drive the way your online course is organised.

In the meantime, let's consider the categories that are often used to evaluate online courses in terms of course organisation; note that not all categories may be applicable to you.

In the following activity, click on each folder title in the left-hand navigation to find out more about the criteria you can use to organise your online course.

PROGRAMME | Teaching Online
COURSE | Designing and developing your online course
UNIT | 2 : Things to consider before you start designing your course
PAGE TITLE | Organising your course

Learning outcomes are clearly defined

Learning outcomes state what students are expected to know, understand and be able to do as a result of learning.

Assessments align with learning outcomes

Assessment activities are directly linked to intended learning outcomes, providing a succinct path from outcomes to activities to assessment.

Course content is presented in organised, manageable segments

Students can access and learn content in an organised and manageable format.

Course navigation

The course is highly organised with user prompts for navigation (e.g. notes or links to materials). Students can easily follow the logical progression of the course. Tutorials provide assistance when needed.

Academic resources

Appropriate academic resources are provided, enabling students to extend their learning and find assistance in mastering course learning outcomes and materials.

Student-to-student interaction and learning community are built into the course

Course objectives and activities incorporate cooperative and interactive learning. Activities/strategies are used that promote learning through the online learning community such as group projects, teamwork, exchange of electronic documents or other collaborative activities.

Students are encouraged to interact with each other as opportunities are interspersed within the course using multiple modes of communication.

Local knowledge

Useful links

Sample course structures:

Specific approaches may be used at your institution, and these may be directed by the chosen learning management system/virtual learning environment, so it's best to find out what planning templates and resources are available and required in your local context. Similarly, depending upon your context you will also want to better understand how your programme fits into the larger scheme of courses.

There are several different approaches to organising your course, but the key considerations are consistency (of layout) and alignment (of content). Before you decide on how to organise your course, look at others that are of interest to you or ask if there are exemplar courses to look to at your institution or within your programme. Similarly, when reviewing those courses, consider some of the categories associated with evaluating online courses.

Your context

Does your institution have a preferred approach to online course organisation? There may be planning templates and resources in place to help you through the process, as well as guidance on how your course fits into the wider organisation of courses. Be sure to consult the guidelines and requirements of your local context.

Useful links