Why Modular Course Design
The Course Development & Training team at Oregon State University Ecampus promotes modular course design in our online courses. Laura Crowder (2011) defines modular content as “a collection of learning resources developed as a single learning object”. The major benefits of modular course design include:
- Saving time in the development and updating of course content
- Modular components are easily repurposed across courses
- Student learning is improved since the content is presented in smaller chunks
Modular Course Design in Online Education
Modular course design has been highly recommended by various pioneers in online education. Stephen Downes (Downes, 1998) stated in “The Future of Online Learning” that, “…Online courses will be modular. A course – especially from the designer level – will no longer be seen as a single unit, but rather, as a collection of component parts, each of which may be replaced or upgraded as the need arises.” Andrea Henne (Kelly, 2009) recommended that “modular course design benefits online instructors and students.” The Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education Final Report (2014) suggests “an action plan that includes the goals to identify any new or existing MITx course that could be produced as modules; produce the “sticky” modules associated with these subjects; define a limited set of standalone (“smooth”) modules and produce these; put in place a well-organized repository of existing and new modules and define guidelines for building and credentialing customized courses.”
Modular Course Design at OSU Ecampus
With Ecampus’s move to Canvas, modular course design is even easier to implement. Our online courses are generally formatted into 11 weeks as 11 modules. We used a modular course design template for creating each week’s learning content, which includes:
- weekly overviews
- learning objectives
- assigned readings
- appropriate activities such as graded and non-graded assignments
Our template is very similar to Henne’s template (Kelly, 2009), which consists of learning objectives, see table 1 for comparison of the two templates.
Table 1. Comparison of Global Public Health – H 333’s course design template and Henne’s course design template.
This weekly modular template, however, should not limit us from organizing learning content into even smaller units within a weekly module. Here is an example of two modular learning content units within one week in Global Public Health – H 333. The highlighted boxes show two modular content units within Week 1.
Image 1. Screenshot of Global Public Health – H 333 online course Week 1 Learning module
Therefore, if you have a course that has heavy content within each week, feel free to break them into smaller learning modules instead of putting them together as a long big piece.
Enjoy designing and teaching online in Canvas.
Crowder, L. (2011). How to develop modular content in 4 easy steps. retrieved from http://www.learninghouse.com/blog/publishing/how-to-develop-modular-content-in-4-easy-steps on July 28, 2015.
Downes, S. (1998). The Future of Online Learning. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume I, Number 3, Fall 1998. State University of West Georgia, Distance Education Center.
Kelly, Rob. (2009). A Modular Course Design Benefits Online Instructor and Students. Faculty Focus. September 2009. Retrieved on July 24th, 2015 from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/a-modular-course-design-benefits-online-instructor-and-students/
Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education: Final Report, July 28, 2013, pp. 49–50.