Digital learning materials work best when they are constructed on a modular basis. This has a number of significant advantages:
- The learner can more easily access the content that they want and ignore material that is less relevant for them. Some more advanced learning management systems may even be able to selectively filter out those modules which are not appropriate to a learner’s role or current level of competency.
- Assuming the modules are kept small, the learner is less likely to be overloaded by an excess of material. Remember that if the learner wants more, they can always open another module. There is no golden rule for how long a module should be, but a reasonable guideline would be just long enough to achieve a single task but no longer. With some performance support materials, that might mean 1-2 minutes; if the user is being asked to engage in a complex case study or simulation, an hour or longer may be required.
- It will be easier for the learner to access the materials in a number of short sessions. When large volumes of material are hard-wired together in one large piece, then it becomes much harder for the user to find their place if they have to return to the materials at some future date.
- The material is easier to maintain and to re-use. Let’s say you wanted to develop a second version of a course, but with a customised case study that is specific to a particular audience. It’s much easier to replace the module containing the case than to get inside a much larger chunk of material and replace a particular section (assuming you have the right to do this and the appropriate tool!).
- You can use the right medium for each module. Rather than trying to force fit all aspects of a solution into a particular format that suits a single authoring tool, why not use the most appropriate tool for each job – a video, a quiz, a game, a screencast, a PDF? It is usually much easier to develop these components than to integrate them within a single module.
- You can re-order the modules according to the job in hand. One sequence may not suit all audiences: for example, novices may benefit from a gentle step-by-step introduction building up to practice exercises; a more experienced learner may want to throw themselves into the practice exercises and then fill in any gaps in their knowledge depending on how they get on.
Clive Shepherd is a consultant with an interest in all aspects of technology-assisted learning and communication. He is the chair of the E-Learning Network and a regular speaker and contributor to conferences and publications throughout the E-Learning world.