Self-paced online modules


Level of Difficulty
Unit Size Evaluated
Semester long
Online and hybrid
Resources Needed
LMS, educational media, formative assessment tool
Related Patterns

This pattern is concerned with one of the main problems of teaching at scale, which is the lack of consistency in delivering content. 

Online self-paced modules are an accessible and effective form of learning, often used in situations where other forms of teaching and learning might not be feasible (Dhaliwal et al, 2018).

Content will often need to be chunked into smaller bits for online modules. The term “chunking” was introduced by George Miller (1956) who stated that chunking information is easier to commit to working memory than a longer and uninterrupted string of information. Although the way we have utilised this term is slightly different, the main idea of chunking is to facilitate ease of use and reducing the load on working memory. 

Chunking into progressively complex sub-topics also provides scaffolding for learning (Schutt, 2003) and can help reduce cognitive load as students have breaks to reflect, ask questions or review.


One of the main problems of teaching at scale is the lack of consistency in delivering content. Too many lecture streams create an unproductive diversity of experience. Many large units have long lectures (synchronous or pre-recorded) where students learn about the core concepts by following the lecturer and taking notes or working through problems and questions in the textbook on their own. This problem is exacerbated by large student numbers necessitating multiple repeat lectures. Each lecture may be delivered by a different lecturer, leading to inconsistency in learning experiences across the cohort. Large lectures also make it difficult for students to ask questions and check their understanding while the content is being delivered.


Reimagine lectures with an alternative online delivery method. This can be done by creating self-paced online modules that teach core concepts in a multi-modal format. Present the content in smaller chunks which can include small case studies, short videos, pencasts, interactive diagrams and images, and self-check questions. This format breaks down the main content into smaller chunks which are easier to interact with and enhances usability of the LMS-based content.

This solution is most useful where the main content of the unit is mostly delivered through a Learning Management System (LMS). Providing the main content via an LMS ensures consistency of learning experience across large groups of students. Large numbers of students can engage with the same content on the LMS at the same time.


01 > Structure the main content in a logical format, which could include the following elements: 

  • Module overview
  • Learning outcomes for the module
  • Main concepts/content pages divided into sub-topics
  • Review and recap
  • Link to and pre-work for tutorial workshops
  • Discussion and questions 

02 > Decide on which segments of the content could be represented in a more interactive format, such as mini-case-studies, quick questions to check understanding, short explainer videos or pencasts to illustrate concepts. 

03 > Make sure the content increases in complexity throughout the module. 

04 > Main concepts could be presented in a video, text, tables, interactive diagrams, or mini case studies.  

05 > Core concepts should be followed with self-check opportunities. 

06 > Finally, provide a review page and link to face-to-face workshops.  

Examples of pattern in use

Example 1: First-year accounting unit

This example was implemented in a large core undergraduate accounting unit of study in Semester 1 2021. This is a first-year core accounting unit of study at the Business School. There are approximately 1,500 students each semester.  These students are first year students and the majority take this unit in their first semester. There is an even mix of local and international students with around 60% of students studying remotely. 

This pattern was developed and implemented in BUSS1030. We would like to acknowledge the unit coordinators and lecturers closely involved from the Accounting discipline, including Olga Gouveros and Janine Coupe.  


The initial online format for this unit included two-hour long recorded lectures each week for students to watch on Canvas. Core concepts were taught in the lecture using pre-made diagrams and charts and students were required to work through the questions in the textbook on their own. The redesign of the unit delivered an alternative format of the lectures using online modules on Canvas. Chunking the lecture content helped in breaking down the main concepts and ideas of each topic into a smaller and more digestible length. Rather than having long pages of text, the content was presented in a more engaging format where students interact with information rather than passively receive it. The content was presented in a multimodal format which included a variety of text, diagrams, short videos, pencasts and self-check in-built interactive elements on Canvas to test understanding of the core concepts. By linking the content, review and practice within the module it assisted in scaffolding the students’ learning.

Technology / resources used

Canvas LMS: the modules were built on Canvas Learning Management System. 

H5P: some of the interactive elements on Canvas were built using H5P. These often included the self-check questions and mini-quizzes that followed the main concepts. some text-based content was restructured as diagrams for greater clarity and was used to make these diagrams interactive. This also scaffolded learning and helped lower cognitive load because the students could click on certain parts of the diagram to view more information, which helped with the staged release of information for the students. 

Pencast videos: some of the core concepts and accounting formulas required further explanation. Pancast videos made it possible to visually illustrate to students how to break down a problem and work on solutions. 


The new unit structure with smaller chunks of content presented in a multimodal format was very popular with the students and we have very positive feedback from students to our surveys and focus groups. The students believe that this format is much better than the way the unit was taught previously with one students stating “I did buss1030 last sem (semester 2,2020) and it had nothing to do with this semester. I’m really enjoying it and the modules are so much better. Last sem we had huge 2 hours videos and it was just so boring and hard to keep up. 150 times better the way it had been reconstructed”. Students in the focus groups found the short pencast videos and the accompanying self-check quizzes “much more motivating”, “way more interactive” and “the best you’re going to get” when studying online.  

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