Course Planning – Organization & Navigation

After instructors have determined the essential questions and gone through the backward design process, the organization and navigation of the online course need to be planned.

Good course organization and navigation require a thoughtful layout and logical framework. While there is no one “right” way to organize a course, it is important for instructors to be deliberate in their choices and to carry them through the entire course structure. This is critical for student learning. Clear organization helps guide students through the course and allows them to focus on the instructional content, rather than making them try to figure out where they should go and what they should do.

Effective ways to organize a course:

  • Break up long segments of content and establish a module-, unit-, or week-based framework for the various instructional topics and components. This is what’s known as “chunking.”
  • Have each new topic build on the one that came before it. This way, the material becomes increasingly complex and challenging as the course goes on.
  • Integrate each new idea, topic, or theme with the preceding ones.
  • Incorporate repetitive elements and activities, such as discussions, as you would in a face-to-face course.
  • Include summary statements after each chunk of content, transition statements connecting adjacent chunks, and introductory statements for each subsequent chunk.
  • Provide a structure for learning so that students know what is expected of them and where they should go to complete assigned activities. A clearly-defined weekly or regular rhythm (like the example provided on this page) can help online learners manage their time, understand expectations, and successfully complete tasks.

Additional Resources:


Consider how you can structure learning activities and interactions within the rhythm of your course. The figure above is one of four rhythm chart examples that you can download as an excel file. These charts show you how an online course can be organized to provide a weekly rhythm and clear expectations for your students. Thank you to Professor Dietram Scheufele and Instructional Designer Kevin Thompson for the above example.