Presenting content in structured manageable segments

By Rob Higson (Learning Technologist – Curriculum Development)

Ensuring that your modules have well-structured content across all of their digital platforms can make students feel well orientated and organised, meaning that they can manage their study time efficiently.

Creating an effective structure is often simply a case of giving purpose and instruction to the materials within Course Resources ensuring the students know how to operate within the VLE. Imagine a student has no experience of Higher Education, the module, the tools, or materials they will encounter, would they be able to navigate the module independently? Can they access your content irrespective of their digital skills, levels of ability, experience and language?

Making the module easy to navigate and helping students understand the expectations, can reduce their cognitive load and help them to prepare to engage with academic materials for sessions. In turn, we have seen that when content is well structured, students ask fewer admin related questions of academics, focussing instead on questions relating to their learning.

A screenshot showing materials with a clear structure and explanatory text.

An example of a narrative around materials which makes it clear what it is, why a student would engage with it, how long it will take, and how it relates to the weekly synchronous sessions and coursework.

Case study examples

Within the following videos are examples of how this approach has been realised by academic staff for the academic year 2020-21. In the first video, we look through the modules to understand how they have been structured and this is followed by two case study audio clips in which Melanie Powell (Course Director, BLSS) and Bev Crighton (Senior Lecturer in Business and Management) discuss their approach to structuring their module content and the impact it had on themselves and their students, alongside a few tips for working in this way.

A framework for narrative

A simple framework for writing the narrative around materials is below. This can be used to help think about what information is useful to students. Using a narrative gives materials a purpose and clear instruction from the academic and speaks to the whole cohort. It’s a simple way of adding your voice to the virtual learning environment and it ensures the materials and asynchronous activities are linked to the synchronous sessions and vice-versa.

Consider the following elements for creating a narrative – it doesn’t need to be complex, just clear and concise.

WHAT is it? (TITLE)

WHO needs to do it?

WHY should they do it?

WHAT should they do?

HOW long should they spend on it?

Combined with an induction session or video and guidance on how to use the tools they will be using, this helps students to independently navigate the module content and come to sessions as prepared as possible, giving them the best chance of success.

Academic staff at the University of Derby can find more information about module structure on the Off-Campus Digital Baselines Sharepoint site and for further support with Technology Enhanced Learning and Digital Practice, please contact the TEL team ( who will be happy to help.