If you’re creating an online learning course for the first time, you’ve probably encountered a huge array of options for structuring your content. The flexibility of online learning platforms is a blessing, but piecing together a virtual learning or training course from scratch is intimidating. Conveying information successfully to your trainees or students without a classroom can be a serious challenge.

Read on to learn about several ways you can organize and enhance your material while maximizing what course participants take away from the program.


Assessing Your Content

First and foremost, you must decide whether or not you need your learners to move through the material in a particular order. Do the concepts build upon one another, or are your subtopics somewhat unrelated? You might adopt a looser structure to allow your students to take more control if the topics do not need to be viewed in order.


Dividing Your Content Into Bite-Size Pieces

Next, divide your content into sections. Three sections – an introduction, the major chunk of content, and a conclusion – is too few; on the other hand, you don’t want to overwhelm your learners with dozens of units. If you feel that you have too much material to fit within five to ten units, keep in mind that you will be able to create subsections later.

In an online course, no teacher can count on having a student’s full attention, so dividing your units into subsections is critical. People are constantly scrolling through their phones, checking their email, and responding to social media messages. Splitting your content into digestible pieces will reduce the chance of a learner losing focus and turning his or her attention to a distraction.

ELearn Magazine suggests that the optimal length of one learning module is somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes, noting that it is completely fine for certain sections with more objectives to be closer to 30 minutes than other sections. After half an hour, though, the audience’s attention will trail off.

By breaking your material down, you’ll give your learners a small sense of accomplishment each time they check off a section. Imagine reading a book. Do you think more about finishing your current chapter, or about what it will be like to finish the entire novel? Probably the former. Subsections provide opportunities for short breaks, and when your learners return to the material, they’ll feel like they have a defined starting point.


Structuring Individual Units

To organize your material well at the unit level, you’ll want to create a standardized sequence, which might look something like this:

  • Overview of the unit
  • The “meaty” material
  • A short comprehension quiz
  • Conclusion/review

Your learners will become accustomed to your consistent formatting and will know what to expect from each unit. Leaving the structure predictable will enable your participants to focus on the information at hand, not what’s coming up next.


Holding On to Your Learners’ Interest

As for the material itself, the golden rule is to avoid the “wall of grey.” Replace text-filled PowerPoint slides with interactive elements, media clips, quizzes, images, and examples. Visuals are critical – studies have shown that students can only recall about 10% of information they hear several days later, but if that information is accompanied by a visual, retention rates skyrocket to 65% several days later. Interactivity will keep students engaged by forcing them to click around inside a learning module, not absentmindedly hit “Next” until the presentation is complete.

Invite your students to explore the subject matter more by providing them with links to external resources. To do this, you can link out to videos, articles your learners might find interesting after seeing your material, or related research.


Keeping Your Learners on Track

Once the content is prepared, you will have to decide on a set of deadlines. When teachers see their students in school every day, they are able to give verbal reminders and easily meet with students who are falling behind. As an online course administrator, though, you won’t be seeing your participants. Set clear deadlines and write them up in a centralized location online.

Learners can easily fall behind without daily nudging from a course head, causing them to procrastinate on important tasks. The lack of scheduled learning times, which traditional school provides, can become an issue for those who are less disciplined. To avoid this problem, use an online presentation platform that enables you to track student interactions with your course. Learning modules with tracking capabilities will give you insight into which students are falling behind. Be sure to set specific deadlines for each unit or subsection, not just the full course.
Set your learners up for success by crafting an organized, engaging, and well-structured online learning course. Defy the norm of all-text learning courses to increase information retention and invite your participants to explore more. By creating a consistent structure, you’ll allow your learners to immerse themselves in and fully understand the subject on which you’re teaching.

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