Online Course Look and Feel

After your course structure is created your online course starts to feel a bit more real. But what will the content pages look like? What resources will you use? Will you need images and videos to enhance your content? If so, do you have them prepared and ready to put in the content pages? Are you going to 're-invent the wheel' as you create content or are there Open Educational Resources (OER) that you can incorporate in your course?

Course Navigation

How students will navigate through the content you create is typically determined by the Learning Management System (LMS). Usually there isn't much flexibility in the interface: a table of contents with links to the pages you create and to course tools, such as gradebooks and profile settings. Some systems may allow a linear navigation (page turner style), as is the case in Moodle if you use the "book" block. Flexibility is inherently part of the course as you offer students choice:

  • Allow students to choose what learning activities they want to engage in
  • Allow students to choose how they explore the content you create.

Of course, adding multiple resources to your content pages also offers flexibility to your students in the way they go about their learning.

Content Pages

In most cases you won't control the look of the LMS environment, but you sure can control what you make available and the look of the content pages you create. Here are a few tips to create engaging content pages:

  • Plan how much content to add to each page and keep it simple. Best practices speak to pages that do not require excessive vertical scrolling and that have a balance between "white" space and text to facilitate reading.
  • Use titles and subtitles to organise and chunk your content: makes it easier for learners to find information an breaks long block of text, which are difficult to read online
  • Use visual elements to present content. Use images, diagrams or flowcharts to present concepts visually or to illustrate actions or examples as much as possible. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Having said this, avoid using images for decoration purpose only. If there is no purpose for the image, don't crowd your page with it.
  • The use of video is good to demonstrate processes, how to operate machinery, how to perform a task. There are many video resources available on YouTube, but you can also create your own videos easily, even with your phone camera. Caution about overusing video: it is not interactive and if too long, it will disengage learners. How many of you get distracted while watching a video? Especially if it is only a "talking head". I bet you start to look at your watch after a few minutes, or you start thinking about what you have to get from the grocery store on your way home!
  • In an online environment, take advantage of available open educational resources (OER). You can link to existing resources and in some cases you can even embed them in your own page. More on OER next.
  • Online learning environments offer many possibilities to engage learners. Make sure you incorporate a variety of learning activities that will engage learners at different levels.

When creating content and designing pages, take advantage of what online environments have to offer in terms of student engagement, collaboration and co-creation. It's not just about the "look", it is about creativity and thinking of different ways to engage learners with the content, stepping outside of the traditional role of the instructor / teacher.