Note: This page is a summary of the article 'Writing effective online units'.
Follow these steps to write effective online units:
Get to know your student audience
In order to engage your student audience, connect your content with their professional interests and goals. Spend time to research their demographics and likely motivations for studying.
Map out your heading structure to help students create a mental map of the information
Organise your key concepts into digestible chunks, then break these down into logical sub-sections.
Identify the key concept or point of interest in each chunk and sub-section, then use those to write each heading.
Aim for a parallel structure to the headings and sub-headings. This will make it easy for students to navigate and find where they stopped reading if distracted.
Look back over the structure you have created. Is the content presented in the most engaging way? Consider reordering the headings so your module begins at the most compelling point.
Write for your student audience
Use a conversational writing style. ‘Speak’ to your students as you write. Express your content in the context of their interests and goals.
Write to your students’ current knowledge. Remember, they don’t yet know what you know.
Promote active engagement with words. Use questioning to keep students actively engaged.
Use signposting between explanations and activities.
Provide explicit instructions when introducing each activity and assessment. Spell out exactly what students should do, when they should do it, why they are doing it, and exactly what constitutes a successful outcome.
Write for impact on a screen, not a printed page
Create a site that is easy to scan and navigate. This will give your students control about how they access and engage with the content.
Be clear and concise. Use plain language.
Provide one concept per paragraph.
Create a scannable, at-a-glance page. Make it easy to skim.
Reduce text on the page visually.
Write first, then revise and improve.
Start bigger-picture, then narrow your focus
Put your work away for a few days so that you read with fresh eyes.
Start with the bigger-picture checks. Look at the heading structure. Is it easy to scan and navigate? Does it provide a ‘quick-scan’ overview of your module content?
Narrow your focus. Check the lengths of your paragraphs and sentences. Can you convert blocks of text to a bullet-point list, diagram, table or video?
Read each sentence looking for ways to improve clarity and on-screen readability. Remember: less is more.
Imagine you are one of your students, reading the unit for the first time.:
Is there any phrasing they might find confusing?
Have you assumed any prior knowledge they may not have? If so, can you create an activity that will revise required knowledge?
Can you better link your information to students’ interests and goals?
Could you record a video where you describe a professional anecdote that relates to a module outcome?
Finish with a final proofread. Read through the whole unit from beginning to end, and check for any errors you may have accidentally introduced during the editing phases.