Online Course Content: Creating A Curated Learning Experience

Last time you went to a garage sale, you probably found a variety of personal items out on a driveway. Everything at the sale was placed on display for you to view.  To the sellers, these objects each held meaning and memories. All you saw were a few good deals and an otherwise unrelated jumble of random items.

Now think about the last time you wandered through a museum exhibit. The items you saw were purposefully selected and consciously displayed to engage curiosity and attention. Each item included details for context: descriptions, owner stories, dates, materials, and value. Your path was curated to show connections and meaning for a memorable experience.   

When I was a new online educator, I was guilty of using a garage sale approach to my courses. I simply listed the required readings and resources for each week of the class, letting each source speak for itself. My students probably felt like garage sale shoppers as they struggled to see the connections in the materials that were so obvious and important to me. 

Bridget Arend, PhD explains how effective instructors need to be aware of their “expert blind spots.” Though the value and connections among various sources are obvious to us, they may not be to our students, who are novices on the subject. When we don’t take the time to provide the meaning and connections among our sources, students may dismiss them as busywork.

Through trial and research, I found these seven principles to be reliable guides for selecting and presenting online course content for outstanding learner engagement. I reviewed these during a presentation on “Showcasing Your Course Content;” by accessing the link you can view the Faculty Webinar recording.

1. Make Online Course Content Matter

Stories help learners relate to instructional content. This means you must begin with the learner in mind when determining how each piece of instructional material fits in with their experiences. Let your enthusiasm for the topic show. Communicate the value of each resource and model how learners can engage with it. Try a pre-recorded video, live conference call, course announcement, or brief narrative to highlight main ideas to bring out the content connections learners may miss. 

2. Objectives as Touchstones 

When selecting online course content, first review your learning objectives. These are your touchstones. Consider using a table or alignment map to define the links between course or module objectives, the class activities or assessments, course tools, and the instructional materials. By articulating these links for yourself, you are better able to make connections explicit for your learners. You may even discover that assigned textbook sections, videos, articles, or other multimedia are redundant and can be replaced. 

3. Pare it Down

After reviewing your content with touchstones, start removing what doesn’t fit. Consider the total reading and viewing time students should dedicate to each course segment. Nix resources that are unnecessary or repetitive. Offer separate “required” and “supplemental” resources for learners so that they can decide where they wish to explore tangential topics. Stop at nothing to rigorously curate your course materials down to subject matter essentials. 

4. “Easy to Eat” Segments 

Person Reading Tablet

When students come up against information with which they are not familiar, they often struggle to stay focused. Consider dividing large sets of information into more digestible chunks. Choose selections from text-heavy textbook chapters or long scholarly articles. If it fits with the goals of your class, consider using condensed versions of materials, such as articles from magazines like the Harvard Business Review or National Geographic.  Think about options for microlearning, such as social media sharing, brief audio or video clips, or interactive self-assessments. 

5. Logical Flow

When posting online course content, don’t just start with the textbook chapters. Direct the learning path so that students start with the most digestible information before pushing them towards more demanding reading. Evaluate how key points from one source might set up another source, or where one source best summarizes the material overall. You might also save the most compelling material for the end to create a memorable conclusion to the course sequence. 

6. Gamify 

Though gamification refers to a wide variety of instructional design tactics, the idea of providing learners with a sense of achievement through a course is quite simple. All you need is to provide clear evidence of completion and progress to give your learner a sense of satisfaction along the way. You can present resources on dedicated pages with acknowledgments for completion; add a printable course checklist in the classroom; use multimedia integrations to create a content roadmap; or award points when students turn in reflections on required readings.

7. Meaningful New Tech

Multimedia can be a rich source of engaging content for online instruction. It is important however to employ multimedia or alternative technologies in the context of well-curated experience. Richard Mayer cautions instructors that the wrong combination of multimedia in a course can quickly exceed a learner’s capacity for absorbing new information. Instructors should consider how a combination of visual, audible, and practical demands on a learner can limit how much meaning they derive content.


From Principles to Practice with Online Course Content

When you’re ready, contact your FIU Online Instructional Designer for alignment maps that can help you think critically about aligning your online course content. Your instructional designer can also help you find new course materials, coordinate time with our Multimedia Studios, or interface with Technology Service specialists for testing new tech. By keeping the above seven principles in mind, online instructors can curate the content in their course and create an online environment that encourages top-notch learner exploration and engagement. 

Amber Webber, Ph.D. is an Instructional Design Manager at Florida International University (FIU) Online. Dr. Webber is an Air Force veteran, with experience as an adjunct professor, leadership development coach, corporate trainer, instructional designer, and organizational development consultant in civilian and government organizations. She is a “serial academic” and lifelong learner, coupling her practical experience with a Ph.D. in Business Management specializing in Strategy and Innovation, a Master’s in Adult Education, a Bachelor’s in Management and Human Resources, and a couple of Associates degrees from the Community College of the Air Force. She believes in building outstanding online learning experiences, leveraging students’ individual experiences and prior knowledge to create a nexus between learning opportunities and future application for each student.

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