Organizing Course Modules, Part 2: Course-Specific Modules


In this second part, I’ll go over the “right brain” which represents the unique modules specific to your course.

II. Right Brain

In addition to the standard modules I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog post, you have the “meat and potatoes” modules of your course. These modules are unique to your course and therefore involve a lot of creativity.

Roughly speaking, most courses can be organized in one of two ways:

  • by topical modules (recommended)
    • recommended for most courses
    • each module is numbered and labeled with a word or phrase indicative of the topic it addresses.
    • e.g., “Module 1: The Integumentary System”, “Module 2: The Skeletal System”, “Module 3, The Muscular System”, etc.
  • by categories and checklists
    • recommended for courses with massive amounts of files, links, and assignments and/or long descriptions
    • each category of information is housed in a module labeled intuitively and descriptively
    • a checklist is created for each week or module of the course, and the checklist provides links to all bits of information relevant to that particular week/module.
    • e.g., “Lectures”, “Readings”, “Assignments”, “Checklists”
    • each module can be further divided into submodules (e.g., the “Assignments” module can have a “Discussions” submodule to house links to all course discussions, a “Quizzes” submodule to house links to all quizzes, and so forth)
    • given the complexity of this organization type, I strongly recommend that you work with me through this design.

Let’s look at them one by one.

1. Topical Module Organization

As mentioned earlier, this is the most common way to organize courses in Brightspace/D2L. The modules will be named “Module 1: Topic”, “Module 2, Topic”, etc. — where modules include:

  • all the inputs for the respective module (e.g., lecture, readings, web resources, etc.)
  • all the outputs or the respective module (e.g., surveys, quizzes, dropboxes, discussions, etc.).

Here is an example of what the beginning of my FDEV-1 Online Course Design Fundamentals course would look like if I were to organize it by modules:

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 3.02.32 PM


  • Absolutely everything that students will ever have to see/do in Module 1 is located in Module 1, and so forth, so information is parsed exactly as students need to consume it.
  • You can create an overall description for the module, including the module-level learning outcomes – a good way to pull all the materials together and get students excited about what they’re about to learn/practice/do.


  • The main drawback to this design only works when you are sharing limited information (say up to 10 items per module).
  • If you have more than that (or if some or all items have long descriptions, thus forcing students to have to do a lot of scrolling), chances are some things may get missed if students do not scroll far enough.
  • The best solution to this issue is to change design and adopt the category/checklist method.

2. Categories & Checklists Module Organization

As mentioned earlier, this organization method is recommended for courses with massive amounts of files, links, and assignments and/or long descriptions. If you tried fitting everything in topic-based modules, students would have to scroll through large amounts of information in each module, increasing the risk of frustration, confusion, and error.

To keep things simple without compromising on everything you need to provide in the course, you can house the details in category-based modules and use checklists to link to relevant materials. The checklists are designed in such a way as to visually indicate what was completed and what is still left to be done in the respective week or module.

For instance, you could have:

  • a module containing all content for the course (can be further broken down by lectures, videos, links, etc.)
  • a module containing all activities for the course (can further broken down into types of activities such as surveys, discussions, etc.)
  • a module containing all checklists that call up or link to items contained in the previously-mentioned areas.

Here is how my FDEV-1 Online Course Design Fundamentals course is actually organized:

Checklist Design annotated


  • This approach works great with courses that contain quite a bit of information.
  • You can have descriptions for each category/subcategory module (e.g., “Course Assignments” category and “Surveys” subcategory), to give context to what the module contains.
  • What unifies all the various areas of the course is a “Course Modules” containing a checklist per modules.
  • As the name suggests, the checklist (which is a D2L native tool), spells out everything students need to do to successfully complete a module of instruction.
  • As your course content/assignments evolve, you only have one place to update (the contents of the “Course Content” and/or “Course Assignments” module). Provided that you are not changing the name of files, the checklist will still point to the correct file, which, when accessed by students,  will have the latest version.
  • Students can access the  “Course Content” and “Course Assignments” modules if they wish to see the how the course is built, how many of these, how many of those, but they are sure not to miss anything by completing each module according to the checklist.


  • This takes a bit of detail work and a great deal of planning (send it my way if that is something that you’d rather not do).


Still have questions? Feel free to contact me or book an appointment for us to set up your course(s) in D2L.

Related Article

See also Organizing Course Modules, Part 1: Standard Modules.

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