A well structured course is key to creating a well structure learning experience for your students. In this article we’ll go over techniques for self-diagnosing your course. We’ll look at structures both micro and macro -- from individual lectures, to sections, to the course curriculum as a whole.
We’ll then go over some strategies for updating your clarity and organization -- we’ve broken down that section into The Quick Win and The Full Treatment. Quick Wins are just that -- quick ways to dramatically increase the quality of the student experience in your course. For those dedicated instructors who want to go all-in and take their course to the top tier we’ll go over larger updates in The Full Treatment.
Your Clarity and Structure of Course Content
|What Students Appreciate (actual quotes from students)||What Students Recommend (actual quotes from students)|
|"My favorite thing about this course is it is straight to the point"||"Shorten the lectures and make them more focused on the topic"|
|"Short and pointed sections easy to digest"||"Instructor is very hard to understand"|
|"The lectures are clear, concise, and no-nonsense"||"Slow down and explain things better!"|
|"The course gives bite-sized levels of understanding making the content easier to digest and refer back to specific topics. Very Nicely Done!"||"Goes through course material a little too quickly. Would be more beneficial to jump straight in and 'learn by doing'"|
Successful Instructors Do This:
Here are some best practices that instructors have used to provide clear, well-organized course content to their students:
- Stick to one concept per lecture. Don’t try to cover too much in a single lecture. Keep it simple, stick to one specific concept and address 3-5 points about that concept.
- Address one skill per section. Give students a chance to make progress every few lectures. A section should contain 3-5 lectures and focus on helping students acquire one new relevant skill.
- Make sure your sections cover all of your stated course objectives. While each section should help students acquire one new skill, all the sections together should add up to deliver on all the skills your course promises to address. So make sure your content adds up to course’s stated goals.
- Consistently address your target student. Make sure your course content is designed with a target student in mind and that you address that student directly.
Clarity of Explanations
- Include a summary in each lecture. Start or end each lecture with a summary of what students should learn from that lecture.
- Manage what your students see. Students appreciate when instructors zoom in or visually highlight the part of the screen that is most relevant to what the instructor is saying. In live-action videos, try superimposing key words, freeze framing, or using a telestrator.
- Avoid tangents. Avoid talking about related topics that aren’t immediately necessary or relevant to the topic of the lecture.
- Explain all jargon. Whenever you introduce a term that may be new for students, define that term in the context of the concept you’re explaining.
If you’re already doing these, great job! If you’d like to try them out or make improvements to your course in this area, here are some next steps you can take to ensure an amazing learning experience for your students.
The Quick Win (2 Hours or Less)
Create an introductory lecture (if you don't already have one) or re-record a new intro lecture that answers the following questions for students:
- Who is this course for?
- What am I going to learn and why?
- Why are you the right instructor to learn from?
- Is this course going to be interesting and/or fun?
Use this article for a sample script to adapt for your own course, as well as a process for getting feedback on your intro structure.
The Full Treatment (Address the Majority of Student Concerns)
If you really want to make sure your course is as clear, organized, and actionable for students as possible, here’s what you can do.
Step 1: Tag course content
Look through your course and for each section:
- Identify the concept covered in each lecture
- Identify the skill covered in each section
Step 2: Introduce each section
Make a new lecture for each section where you:
- Introduce the primary goal of the section
- Describe what students should get from each lecture in that section
- Make sure these introductory lectures are clear, concise and organized, avoid jargon and tangential information. Use live-action shots wherever possible.
Get a Head Start on Your Next Course
Want to make it easier on yourself to organize and deliver clear content in your next course? Check out our Structured Teaching article as well as this article, which explains how you can get feedback on your course outline.