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Planning an Online Course Module

After you have identified your course learning outcomes and determined how you will assess students, you can begin to start planning the learning activities that support students in achieving those learning outcomes.

The best way to approach the design of course online learning activities is from a module approach. Moodle is organized into "sections", which is where all the activities related to one topic are organized, and there is a clear separation from one section to the next. These sections are typically organized in a weekly format; however, without the confines of a usual academic week, instructors are free to organize these sections into modules that span as little or as much time as needed for the specific content.

For example, you may choose to have 6 modules over a thirteen week course, with one week at the end for review activities. In this case, you may only meet students synchronously once every two weeks, or you might decide to meet once briefly at the beginning to introduce the topic and follow up with some discussion or problem-solving activities the second week. 

Create a Template for your Module

It is recommended to consider implementing pattern structure for your modules to help with consistency and set expectations for students. This will also make it easier to plan each week. For example, you might know that each module will look something like this*:

  • An introductory activity
  • 4-6 instructor-created videos
  • 1-2 Other videos (external sources)
  • Targeted Readings
  • Reading/video quizzes  OR  reading summaries/responses
  • a one-hour Zoom lesson (to clear up fuzzy concepts, and do practice or discussions in break out rooms)
  • 2-4 Practice Activities (Discussion forums, practice problems, group tasks, etc. - see below for more information on what those might look like)
  • 1-2 Application Activities (see below for more information on what those might look like)

*This is an example only, and individual course templates will depend on target content and skills, learning outcomes, etc.

Preparing your online coure in advance

You do not need to have all modules of your course ready to go on Moodle before the first day of class. Many instructors develop their Moodle activities on a week-by-week basis, staying ahead of the class by a week or two. This is feasible if you already have plan for the modules.

The CTL recommends that you have a minimum of 2-3 weeks ready on Moodle by the first day of class. This will ensure that you have enough time to work on subsequent modules, but can make adjustments as needed for activities that are not working. 

Instructional Planning Framework

The most commonly used Instructional Design Frameworks include: Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction, WIPPEA, Merril’s First Principles and the 5E Instructional Model outline the process for designing a learning experience – from analyzing the audience to implementing and revising instruction.

Although each of these frameworks is different, they all have three things in common:

  1. They are all centered around the learning outcomes
  2. They all emphasize learner assessment & feedback throughout the process, and
  3. They all include the following phases of instruction: an Introduction (in one form or another), Presentation of content, (guided) Practice, and Application

These three components are essential in the design of instruction whether it be online or face-to-face.

the instructional framework is displayed as four phases: Introduction, Presentation of content, practice and Application/integration. These four phases all have arrows pointing to each one that are labelled: learning outcomes and feedback.

The following guidelines are intended to assist faculty in applying the essential components for instructional design as they plan and organize their instructional activities for their course.

Steps for Planning your Online Module

Considerations for Module Planning

Some things to keep in mind as you start planning instruction:

  • Intended student learning outcomes
  • Most appropriate learning activities to meet the outcomes
  • Most appropriate assessment activities, that include feedback on learning
  • Number of students
  • Technology Tools available
  • Anticipated variations in student knowledge and skill
  • Unique realities of individual students (i.e. access to Internet, technology, space, and other responsibilities)
  • The difficulty of the topic and any bottlenecks and/or threshold topics

Once you are ready, follow the steps below to plan your unit.

1. Identify your unit learning outcome(s)

While your course learning outcomes are broad statements that cover the entire course curriculum, it is good practice to break those down into more discrete outcomes for each week/module when possible. This will help you target a subset of the knowledge, skills or values in your course-level learning outcomes that will build as the course progresses each week.

2. Determine how you will introduce the topic

The main purpose of the Introduction is to:

  • establish what students already know about the topic and help them access that knowledge in order to prepare them to build on it. This is an important step in order for the constructs to be efficiently formed in students’ schema
  • pique student interest. It’s important to provide context for students to explain why what they are learning is important or valuable, how it relates to the field, and how it applies to everyday life
Example introduction activities:

All of the above activities will provide you with feedback as to where students are with the topic.

For more information on designing activities, refer to Desiging Online Activities.

3. Determine & plan how students will engage with the content

a clock that show time moving 2-4 hours


This phase should be approximately 2-4 hours of work per week in a usual three credit, 13-week course.

In this phase of instruction, students will be engaging with the content. The typical ways students are introduced to new content is by: reading, watching a video (demonstration, simulation, worked problem, etc.), watching a video lecture, and participating in an experience.

Regardless of the instructional strategy you use to present your content, it should support the learning outcome and any extraneous or “nice-to-know” information should be kept to a minimum to help manage the cognitive load.

The best way to determine how students will engage with the new content is to pinpoint exactly what knowledge, skills and values students need in order to achieve the learning outcomes, and then start to find content that helps support those outcomes.

Tips for developing content activities

  • Discrimate between need-to-know and nice-to-know for achieving the outcome(s)? This is your chance to omit unnecessary pages from readings and trim down your video lectures.
  • Do not reinvent the wheel. Find out what resources already exist and integrate them. (i.e. videos, books, articles, software & simulations, images, learning objects, etc.)
  • Keep content pieces as short as possible so that students can digest pieces at a time.
  • Make sure you content is accessible to all learners 
  • Vary the presentation format (i.e. multiple means of representation) as much as possible (video, reading, podcast, etc.)
  • Present content from diverse perspectives; this is particularly important to engage critical engagement with the content.
  • Build in interactive elements to keep students engaged
  • Integrate opportunities for peer teaching (example: Jigsaw)
  • Find ways for students to “discover” the content (example: Inductive reasoning or pattern recognition activities)

With your content selected, you can begin planning the learning activities.  

The following activities are just some examples of how you can get students to engage in the course content.

For more information on designing activities, refer to Desiging Online Activities.

4. Design Practice Activities

a clock showing time 3- 4 hours


This phase should be approximately 3-4 hours of work per week in a usual three credit, 13-week course.

In university teaching, the presentation of content is commonly the focus of instruction. However, the Practice and Application phases of instruction are equally, if not more important, in the learning process because they target the students’ understanding of the specific content and performance skills.

When designing these activities, keep in mind that they will need to focus specifically on new knowledge and skills and should be relatively simple but sufficiently challenging. Remember - we are not assessing their knowledge here, we are helping students develop their knowledge and skills in this phase, so this is the ideal time for instructor support and feedback.

It is important that they have the opportunity to practice several times before consolidating it with other knowledge.

Tips for planning effective practice activities

  • Model and scaffold skills (i.e. give examples, use smaller tasks that build)
  • Use support mechanisms (cues, hints & prompts)
  • Design activities that allow for multiple means of expression of learning?
  • Integrate student-student interaction when possible
  • Integrate student-teacher interaction when possible
  • Plan a feedback mechanism

Practice in the STEM

Practice might include repetitive problem-solving activities and practice using equations. It might also include knowledge checks on specific terms, definitions, etc.Here are just some of the types of activities:

  • Labeling a diagram [Moodle Quiz/Assignment]
  • Ungraded quizzes/knowledge checks [Moodle Quiz]
  • Practice problems [Moodle Quiz/Assignment]
  • Defining Features Matrix [Collaborative Documet (i.e. Google Doc)]
  • Group Grid [Collaborative Document (i.e. Google Doc)]
Practice in Social Sciences & Humanities

The practice phase also relates to “practicing” content, such as theories, concepts and ideas. In this case, students are engaging with content and negotiating meaning of the content through analysis and reasoning. The following are only some of the types of activities that can be used:

  • Reading Summaries [Moodle discussion Forum/Assignment]
  • Analyses of texts [Moodle Discussion forum/Assignment]
  • Believing and Doubting  [Moodle Discussion forum/Assignment]
  • Analytic Teams  [Moodle Discussion forum/Collaborative document, i.e. Google Docs]
Practice in Fine Arts
  • Videos of students practicing skill [Moodle discussion forum/student upload to YuJa]
General Practice Activities

For more information on designing activities, refer to Desiging Online Activities.

5. Design Application Activities

clock showing 1 - 3 hours


This phase should be approximately 1-3 hours of work per week in a usual three credit, 13-week course.

In this phase of instruction, students apply new content and skills and integrate these with previous knowledge. The activities should provide opportunities for students to incorporate new and prior knowledge and apply it to new situations. The goal is for students to practice using the new knowledge and skills in tasks that mimic real-world applications.

Tips for planning effective application activities

  • Deign activities that mimic authentic tasks in the field
  • Design activities that provide students with opportunities to draw from their own diverse backgrounds and experiences
  • Build in opportunities for student reflection 

It is possible that you will not have an application activity each week or in each module. You may design your application activities to help students integrate content and skills spanning over a series of weeks or modules. 

Here are just a few examples of the kinds of activities to help students apply new knowledge and skills:

  • Doing projects and application tasks specific to the discipline
  • Performing a Roleplay [in live Zoom session, or recorded by the students in their own Zoom session]
  • Problem-solving from a scenario or a Case Study [Moodle Assignment/Collaborative Document]
  • Relating a current event to course work using the Contemporary Issues Journal [Moodle Discussion Forum/Assignment]
  • Organizing or facilitating a virtual community event
  • Participating in virtual community work
  • Doing a Critique of an art work or performance [Moodle Discussion Forum]

For more information on designing activities, refer to Desiging Online Activities.

Tips for Effective Module Planning

  • make sure your modules are posted at least two weeks in advance of the current date in order to help keep you on tractk
  • plan a variety of activities that include individual, whole class and group activities in each modules
  • use Zoom to take advantage of its interactive capabilities to increase social and teacher presence
  • where possible, give students options, i.e. which questions to answer in a forum, what format/medium to use when submitting a task, etc.
  • use a mix of visual, text and auditory sources when delivering content
  • focus content and practice around concepts and skills you know students typically struggle with

Adapting your course

If you are not sure how to adapt your course, please find a couple of sample module "templates" below to help you plan your own course.

If your typical face-to-face lecture time was structured as...

...your online course might look like this:

Online Week

  1. Four to six video mini lectures (7-20 min. each)
  2. Selected readings on the topic
  3. A 5 -10 question quiz to test general understanding of concepts presented in the videos
  4. A 50 minute Zoom session
  5. Two to four Practice Activities (Discussion Forum or other type of practice in group or individually)
  6. Individual Application Activity (optional depending on weekly workload and content)

...your online course might look like this:

Online Week

  1. Two to Four video mini lectures (7-20 min. each)
  2. Selected readings on the topic.
  3. Discussion Forum (Reading/Video summary, reaction or analysis) 
  4. A one-hour Zoom session
  5. 1-2 Practice Activities 
  6. Collaborative Group Activity (Discussion Forum or Collaborative Task)
  7. Reflection or Application Activity (optional depending on weekly workload and content)
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