Online Course Module Structure

Online Course Module Structure

A critical distinction in the module structure is whether the activities will be synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous means that the instructor and students will be in the same place, whether than be a synchronous session or a face-to-face classroom, at the same time. Asynchronous means that the instructor and students will be working on the same activity, but will not have fixed times and meetings. 

As the instructor, you have control over many elements of the online learning experience:

  • how long lectures (face-to-face or online synchronous) or video recordings are,
  • how you sequence content and activities,
  • how you check in with students to ensure understanding,
  • how you make passive experiences more interactive,
  • how you transitions students from one activity to another.

That is where good module design is essential. Whatever combination of content, learning activities, assessments, and face-to-face or online synchronous sessions comprise your module structure, having an idea of every module’s recurring steps provides predictability for your students.

A clear, predictable, well-marked module structure provides a learning path for students to follow in online teaching.  Remember, stick to the structure while occasionally varying the activities is the best approach.

Planning the course modules

A Canvas Module can organize and present course content with a logical flow for your students to progress through your course. A Module is a collection of files, pages, assignments, quizzes and other course content.

  1. Identify and make a list your course modules. This can be done in several ways:
    • by content-­‐specific topics or unit specific
    • by day/week or time frame
    • by steps in a process.
  2. Sequence your modules appropriately within the content section (Ex. Week 1,2,3..).
  3. Name your modules and content module pages appropriately in the Canvas content section.
  4. Start to create your content module pages!

Keep all pages consistent with the same structure, layout and organization of the content. To get started, use the Online Course Essentials (ONCE) and ISU Course Template.

Examples of Modules

There is no perfect module structure. Even when courses are designed and taught by the same person, they will typically use a somewhat different module structure based on the learning activities and objectives. It might help to see some examples of various modules to get our mental gears turning. Let’s look at a few examples of how to structure an online course module.

To recreate the synchronous classroom discussion, you use use a structured format like the one below. Consider, in particular, how long each activity will take. If your term is set up for students to spend 3-5 hours a week reading and preparing and 3 hours a week in class, make sure you don’t inadvertently create a much higher or lower workload online.

Setting the stage, which might include:

  • assigned readings from a textbook or ISU Library Course Reserves (connected via Canvas)
  • pre- and post-reading activities
  • instructor-recorded video in Studio

Discussion, which might include:

  • online synchronous session
  • asynchronous Discussion
  • if you are teaching a hybrid course, this might be where your live face-to-face meetings take place in a physical location

Processing, which might include:

  • submitting answers to post-reading prompts as an Assignment
  • a reading Quiz that asks processing questions
  • interacting with peers on an asynchronous Discussion board or video-based discussion thread using embedded student-created responses in Studio
  • adding thoughts to an individual, private  journal

If this format seems like it might work for you, but there are other elements you typically include in your f2f classes and hoping to have online, how can you adapt this model to your needs? Perhaps a 4th step in the module for demonstrating knowledge and skill? Or maybe your course has a presentational element, and students will need to create and share their video or audio presentations? This simple format has a lot of room to adapt, add on, and make it yours.

To recreate the live presentations, you may use a structured format like the one below. Consider, in particular, how long each activity will take. If your term is set up for students to spend 3-5 hours a week reading and preparing and 3 hours a week in class, make sure you don’t inadvertently create a much higher or lower workload online. 

Setting the stage (provide context)

Actions, may include:

  • assigned readings from a textbook or ISU Library Course Reserves (connected via Canvas)
  • open educational resources (OER) created by experts
  • instructor-recorded video in Studio

Performance (provide context and explanation)

Actions, may include:

  • online synchronous session
  • asynchronous, limited time Discussion
  • synchronous Chat
  • webcam video responses by faculty or teaching assistant to anonymous questions submitted by students on the Discussion board

Processing (check knowledge and community building)

Actions, may include:

  • problem sets from the textbook’s self-grading online platform
  • a Quiz with unlimited attempts
  • Pen and paper problems scanned and submitted as an Assignment
  • posting answers on a small group discussion board to compare answers and arrive at a consensus with peers

Inclusion in the Online Learning Environment, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Inclusion in the Online Learning Environment, is a derivative of Maintaining Equity and Inclusion in Virtual Learning Environments developed by San Diego State University Diversity and Innovation (retrieved on May 13, 2020) from https://diversity.sdsu.edu/resources/inclusive-pedagogy.