We build our courses with an ideal “flow” that we expect the learning to take. We assume students come into our course, read all our intro material, then diligently work through all the assignments until completing the course.
This fantasy learning flow is supposed to look like this:
Unfortunately, it’s actually a lot more complicated than that. With all your lessons, assignments, units, forums, live Blackboard sessions, multi-colored fonts and dancing smiley faces, your course has dozens of opportunities to confuse and lose learners.
Just like a river suddenly hitting a dam or falling rocks, that flow can be interrupted and STOPPED by problems in your course.
Quite often, the flow in our classes actually looks like this:
I’m going to dive into each of these problems and suggest some ways for you to keep the learning “flowing” through your course.
(By the way, I’m a big fan of arrows. I have them in my blog posts and my Moodle courses. Notice how your eye just wants to follow like …. this ….)
1. The Baffling, Dizzying Top of Your Course
In web design, we call everything that first loads on your screen “above the fold”. This is borrowed from the newspaper industry, where the most eye catching news stories were position on the top of a folded newspaper, which is what most people saw on a news stand.
In your course, the cluttered, multi-coloured font and button-palooza that is “above the fold” can really derail the attention of your learners. Or worse, make them completely tune it out.
I know teachers load up the top of the course because they want to call attention to important items. Ironically, cramming everything at the top of the page isn’t necessary and doesn’t work.
Start with this question: What ONE thing do I want my learners to do when they enter my course today.
In September, the answer might be watch a welcome screencast so they can learn about the course and meet me. Put that at the top of the page, under the course logo. All the OTHER things that you might want there for reference … can be turned into small, icon buttons in the sidebar. They aren’t necessary all year long, splashed all over your front page.
(Live class, Course Outline, Recordings, Forum)
That’s just an example of a button set I would have, tucked in the sidebar of your course. Remember, less clutter means less confusion.
Want them just to get cracking on their assignments? Then clear away the clutter and lead their eyes to Unit One.
Uh oh … speaking of Unit One …
2. The Great Barrier Reef (Unit One)
The most critical unit in any course is the first one. Unit One, to me, is about psychology. This is where “elearning” actually get real for students, and the fantasy of the easy, multi-media extravaganza comes to a screeching halt.
Elearning is, actually, quite challenging. You’ve already done 10 things just to get logged in to the course, figured out what to do and begin learning the first lesson. And the lesson doesn’t get easier because you don’t understand it.
The first unit is often incredibly intimidating for students. As teachers we are excited to dive into the meat of the course and give students lots of learning and projects to explore.