A Few Attributes of Effective Print-Based Distance Modules

Clayton R. Wright
crwr77[at]gmail.com, July 2010

• The module cover is attractive and provides basic information such as the module

title, the course or program it is part of, the logo of the institution, and the date of publication.

• The acknowledgement provides joint recognition of the contribution of all those involved in the design, development, and review of the module and their qualifications and affiliations. Thus, the creditability of the module is firmly established. • An overview or introduction describes the following module components: learning objectives (which are achievable and do not use vague words, such as “understand”), key words, abbreviations/acronyms, instructional text, summaries, and unit exercises. • The overview indicates why learners should complete the module and how the content is related to their present or future lives. An effective overview motivates or inspires the learners. Modules that cover an important social topic (e.g., HIV and AIDS or domestic violence) explain in a forceful but encouraging manner why people should know about the disease or situation. • Instructors’ expectations of the learners are clearly identified, including the activities or assignments they must complete, when they are due, and how they will be evaluated. Assessments of learners are valid, relevant, reliable, and feasible. • Required resources are specified and, if necessary, students are told how to obtain them. • An interactive conversational tone is used, as if the writer were speaking directly to the learner. This is a key feature of effective distance study modules. • Module content is written in the active voice. • The language is adjusted to the educational level of the intended audience. The subject matter covered should be challenging, but the language used should not interfere with the learning process. The language used should be aimed at a level that is slightly lower than the educational level of the intended audience. • Numbers are used to list steps in a procedure; bullets are used for items that are not prioritized. • Sentences are no longer than two lines, thus aiding comprehension. • A glossary explains key words that are highlighted in the body of the module. • Modules contain drawings, photographs, and other illustrations that help students learn concepts and procedures. Often, simple line drawings are most helpful.

• The page layout is effective and appealing. Pages include white space where students can make notes. Boxes, bolding, indentation, and different typefaces are used consistently to highlight dissimilar features of the module. This makes it easier for learners to find information. • The content is relevant, accurate, current, and congruent with the learning objectives and learner needs. Where feasible, the content is supported by interactive multimedia material. • Lengthy topics are divided under headings and sub-headings that are clearly visible. • Ethical, communal, and environmental aspects of the subject matter are discussed. • The module displays no explicit or implicit bias relative to age, culture or ethnicity, race, gender, or sexual preference (unless these are the topics under discussion and different viewpoints are noted). • Intellectual property issues, including copyright, have been addressed. • Reflective questions are used to engage the learners and encourage them to relate the module content to their lives. Creativity is fostered. • Numerous learning activities or exercises are dispersed throughout the module. The activities display a combination of different approaches to learning including behaviourism, constructivism, and connectivism. Diverse activities, such as case studies, facilitate practice, promote the transfer of knowledge and skill, and meet learners’ varied needs. Effective learning activities help people to develop skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity. All the activities are feasible and compulsory activities require only resources that are readily available to learners. • Feedback in the form of constructive guidance and/or detailed answers to questions and activities is provided at the end of the module. Learners always know what is expected of them. • Unit summaries and exercises enable learners to consolidate their learning and practise or apply their recently acquired skills. • A list of key resources is provided for those seeking additional information. The list includes Web links to enable learners with computer access to find up-to-date material and learn about applications in other communities. One should never assume that all learners do not have access to the internet – they may not have easy access to desktop computers, but many may have access to mobile phones which they may use to access the internet. Note that all modules should be reviewed by one or more content experts and a professional editor who are not part of the original writing team. Where possible, the modules should be piloted tested and revised before the modules are distributed. Modules that contain technical information should be reviewed at least every two years; other modules should be revised every five years or less.
A Few Attributes of Effective Print-Based Distance Modules, C. R. Wright, crwr77[at]gmail.com, July 2010 Page

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