Online Learning: It's Different
When we're ready to start lesson planning, we want to think of individual lessons as a package of content. We want to chunk our content so as not to overwhelm our students' brains--which is extra important in an online context.
Online students are working without the normal cues our brains receive from being around other people, plus we're asking them to use technologies and complete tasks that are brand new to them.
Studies have indicated that: "students learn new material better and can remember it longer when they receive a complex lesson in shorter segments rather than as one, long continuous lesson. Any continuous exposition of content, whether videos, podcasts, animations, needs to be divided into short segments of three to ten minutes. Even text should be segmented by headings and subheadings, with [screen] reading limited and/or broken up by alternative tasks" (Nilson & Goodson, 2018, p. 87).
Students are also more likely to visit our online courses for small 'chunks' of time (sometimes every day) rather than spending a large block of time like they would in a face-to-face environment.
All this to say: if online learning is different, then we should work with what it is, not fight against it.
Strategies for 'chunking' lessons
- Add a short (e.g. 3-5 minute) intro video at the start of each lesson explaining what 'chunks' are in that lesson and why you've put them there.
- Tell students how much time you estimate each 'chunk' of your lessons will take (e.g. readings, lecture videos, activities, etc).
- Keep your videos short. Instructional and intro videos should be about 6 minutes; lecture videos are often best kept to 20 minutes.
- Use 'headers' or obvious breaks in longer videos (especially those longer than 10 minutes) so students can easily scrub to the part where they left off.
- Reduce students' unnecessary cognitive load: link to instructions and resources for your OWL tools the first time you use them, or create video demosntrations where necessary. Ensure students struggle to learn your course content, not how to navigate OWL.