Careful planning of your Moodle course is essential for creating a positive and effective learning experience for your students. Before you begin to design your course online, review your current teaching strategies, the course learning outcomes and the learning activities used to assess the outcomes.
Articulating the learning outcomes and aligning them with teaching and assessment strategies—"constructive alignment" (Biggs 1999)—will help you select your course content and plan the learning activities for your students.
Effective course design minimises course navigation time, leaving more time for students to spend collaborating, communicating and engaging with the course. Moodle is flexible enough to allow you to create learning paths specific to the needs of your students, through the sequencing of resources and activities.
Without planning, the flat structure of Moodle can result in a long list of links on a course home page. This can require a lot of scrolling and discourage student engagement.
Giving your content and activities a clear structure is essential if students are to participate actively . If they can't find an activity, or a particular resource, they'll get confused and frustrated.
Moodle Enhance was implemented (from Term 1 2023) to help address this to some extent, with a focus on the key information being situated in the same place across, eventually, all courses at UNSW. A recommendation for the organisation and structure of the course content in weekly / topic sections is also included in the template.
Case studies and examples
In this example links to all files and activities sit on the course page, as does some of the content and assessment information. This results in a busy looking course. The majority of activity takes place offline as students work alone with no collaboration opportunities provided. This example is from an older look before Moodle Enhance but the principle is still relevant.
The same course redesigned with extensive use of the Book resource in Moodle. Students regularly participate in online discussions and activities, all of which can be linked to from inside the Book.A photo of the course instructor and their relevant contact details situate the teacher in the course, from the first time students view the course. This is the first step in creating teacher presence that is strongly linked to "students' sense of learning community" (Shea et al., 2006). This example is from an older look before Moodle Enhance but the principle is still relevant. The Teaching Contact block is an important element within the Moodle Enhance template (NB after the Moodle 4.0 upgrade and in Moodle Enhance, blocks are now on the right side of the course content).
Find out more about using the Book resource.
- What can you do with Moodle? - note that activities can have more than just their primary use, e.g. a glossary activity can be used in many different ways, such as an introduction / learning community building activity. Be creative in your use of activities in Moodle.
- Course template recommendations - consider these recommendations when designing or updating your course.
How do I get started
With your course outline and program of lectures, use coloured sticky notes to physically identify and order your class activities from week to week.
- Use one colour (say yellow) to represent the points at which you provide input to students (content).
- Use another (say pink) to identify the activities that students do during the course.
- Use yet another (say green) to identify the points of assessment—both formative and summative—throughout your course.
- Lay these notes out on the table to see how the course (or learning process) looks to your students as an overall experience.
You can do this overall for the duration of the course, or break the course down into weekly maps of your students' learning experience.
You may see a number of weeks where the learners are only passively receiving content in the form of lectures, videos, handouts and readings. These present opportunities to use Moodle to add student activity or engagement with your content.
If you are satisfied with the course, its structure and experiences, you might consider where you can augment the student experience with asynchronous discussions, access to external resources or a formative assessment to help students judge their progress independently. Use some other sign (e.g. red dots) to mark these opportunities.
Once you have planned your course, choose the Moodle course format that is appropriate for your needs and start building. When you select content for your course in Moodle, choose content that can be used to construct learning activities that encourage student engagement. Choose learning activities that enhance what your students learn in the classroom, not replicate what they are already doing.
Consider your current course topics or units and try to match these to the skills and understandings to be addressed in your course. Consider the relative size of these topics and the order in which you cover them.
In selecting and sequencing your content, the main objective is to support the course learning objectives. Decide how to sequence your content by choosing one of the options below based on your purpose for using Moodle:
- case studies.
When choosing learning activities, reflect on the learning process, What do we actually do when we learn something? One model by Hughes et al. (1992) suggests that in order to learn something you need to do the following:
1. When you design learning activities consider the following:
- All learning requires some type of activity.
- Engage your learners to encourage active learners.
- Consider different learning styles.
- Design authentic learning activities that make learning outcomes achievable.
- Allow learners to use different approaches to achieve the same outcome.
Activity is the key word here. Think about what students can do other than passively receive your content.
- Can they discuss an issue or concept?
- Can they construct something like a written paper or piece of media that they publish to the class?
- Can they read and record their reaction to a reading?
2. Consider what you want to achieve with each learning activity.
Is the activity for:
- information transfer
- guided discovery of knowledge
- communication and interaction
- formative assessment, or
- summative assessment?
Some final considerations for course design in Moodle.
Accessibility for all:
- Provide alternative text (alt text) for images.
- Use high contrast.
- Information conveyed using colour should also be conveyed in other ways.
Design for learning:
- Include activities and resources that visually engage, e.g. video and images.
- Use charts, tables and graphs to aid processing of text-based information.
- Break up recorded lectures into manageable chunks and supplement with video, maps and diagrams.
- Use voice-over with PowerPoints.
- Provide opportunities for students to discuss and collaborate.
- Use simple, consistent layouts.
- Remove unused blocks.
- Use Moodle styles (e.g. heading 2, 3 or 4, paragraph) for headings and subheadings.
- Provide instructional text to help guide students.
- Avoid abbreviations.
- Avoid redundancies.
- Provide only useful links that you expect the students to use.
- Edit your course for spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors.
If you need help including Library content in your course (e.g Leganto), make sure you contact the Library as early as possible to arrange this.