Content Curation In Online Learning: How To Do It Right

Content Curation In Online Learning: How To Do It Right
Summary: Building a module of online learning is like developing a lesson plan that you will deliver in a vacuum. You will not see or hear the reaction to what you deliver and you will have no clues to tell you if your audience is engaged, bored, or still there. In this article I will share some insight on content curation in order to help you engage and entertain your online learners.

Content Curation In Online Learning

Not every Subject Matter Expert is good at building online learning and not every online learning unit builder is an expert in every topic. Good online learning, however, is a combination of good content well presented to engage and entertain the learner.

I am an Instructional Designer and online learning unit builder (e-delivery team) and the following reflects some of the conversations I have with Subject Matter Experts to help them provide me with the best possible content for developing online learning units.

Much of the work I am doing at the moment is based on self-paced and self-assessing learning. This requires a very specific approach as there are no assignments to mark to help clarify if the learning is delivering as expected.


The process of content curation in online learning is one where we peel away a lot of the external “noise” that we might use in a classroom situation and expose the kernels of knowledge that we then present as engagingly and clearly as possible.

Subject experts have this knowledge and the e-delivery team has the skill to challenge that knowledge in order to reveal the core information.

Together online learning magic is created!

Some key things that will turn online learners off:

  • Long academic texts to read online.
  • Insufficient visual stimulation.
  • Images not relevant to the topic.
  • A huge resource library that needs wading through.
  • Being preached at.
  • Being asked questions before they have been given the knowledge.
  • Being sent offsite to read or download large documents from other sources.
  • Reflective questions that may be answered with “I don’t know” or “So what”.

Online learners will spend approximately 60 seconds on a page before making a decision about staying or leaving. Our aim is to engage them in the first third of that time.

Some key things that engage online learners:

  • Quick hits of facts and information.
  • Short paragraphs of detail rich knowledge.
  • Clear and pertinent infographics and charts.
  • Games that use the new knowledge immediately.
  • Material that can be dipped in and out of easily and quickly and revisited often.
  • Ideas and suggestions that they can put into practice immediately.
  • Links to materials supported by usage suggestions.
  • Reflective questions that do enable genuine reflection.
  • A whole experience that may be completed in 15-20 minutes.

In this context, a quick explanation of the definitions I use: 

  • A module is a topic offered to learners.
  • A module unit is an individual online learning experience that may take the learner 15-20 minutes to consume.
  • Outcomes are the key messages within a module unit that will be covered.

Defining Module Units

As an expert in your module topic, you will have a clear idea in mind about what learners might need to know in order to feel that they have expertise or new skills that you want them to have.

All modules will vary, but it is suggested that you aim to have between 1 and 4 module units of learning.

Module units may have titles like:

  1. Understanding Puddle Jumping.
  2. Improving Puddle Jumping in the classroom.
  3. Puddle Jumping across the curriculum.

These titles may be, initially, working titles, and something more interesting may be applied at a later stage when the content is developed.

Defining Outcomes

Once you have defined the titles, you can consider what the outcomes are to be for learners who undertake that module unit.

All outcomes will vary, but it is recommended that you aim to have between 1 and 3 outcomes for each module unit. This offers a reasonable length of module unit and keeps the learner engaged for a reasonable time.

Be careful about too many outcomes, as each one requires a body of work that you will have to supply!

Outcomes may be like:

  1. Understanding Puddle Jumping.
    At the conclusion of this unit you will:

    • Have an understanding of Puddle Jumping.
    • Know where Puddle Jumping sits in the hierarchy of education.
    • Be able to plan to include Puddle Jumping in your activities.


Defining The Content

Your first statement is your chance to make your first impression. What is the most important single thing that you want them to take away from having done this piece of learning? State it strongly and clearly.

It was only in 1914 that Puddle Jumping changed its then 200 year traditional technique from using one foot to using two… When Peter Leg first introduced Puddle Jumping to his small village in Yorkshire in 1714, he was solving a local ground maintenance problem without realizing the impact he would have on the whole country.

As each module unit is going to be unique, it is impossible to pre-define what the content might be or what to include or not include. The following questions might help you make some of those decisions for yourself:

  • Will they already know this?
    They will disengage if they think you telling them what they already know.
  • Will they think this speaks to the outcome?
    Look at it from their view, not yours.
  • Is it the critical information they need?
    If they can implement easily, they will engage further.
  • Is it up to date and current?
    Anyone can google old news; give them what is relevant today.
  • Is it just “nice to know”?
    Refer to it, but put it in the knowledge bank with a link.
  • If you had to cut the content by 50%, would you keep this in?
    Look at it from their view again.
  • Is it fun?
    Humor is a powerful tool; it is OK to have a bit of fun.
  1. Infographics.
    Many learners prefer pictures to words and in an online environment this is even more important. If you have a grouping of static information, don’t bury it in narrative, but show it as a group and let e-delivery come up with some ideas about how to present it for you.
  2. Getting interactive.
    Interactivities, if done well, is the most engaging means of delivering learning online. E-delivery has the experience and expertise to help devise appropriate interactivities for your module units based on the content you have. Talk to them when you have the skeleton of your content so you don’t waste time putting content together in the wrong formats.
    Interactivities can deliver presentations, practice (ones that you cannot get wrong) and more rigorous testing. The following, by no means exhaustive, list are some forms of content that lend themselves to interactivities:

    • Videos. 
      Videos are always good to embed into learning material but they are better at 45 seconds than 4.5 minutes.  They should be strong on message or the learner will drift away.
    • Something to do. 
      We always try to include an activity that the learner can do after they leave the online unit. This might be something personally practical, something they may do with their pupils, or something they may do with their colleagues.
  3. Reflection. 
    Reflection is good to help learners before they leave the page with something to think about, but in an online environment the reflection questions or direction must resonate with an individual on their own in front a screen.
  4. Knowledge, tools, and links. 
    Module units are supported by resources that can be gathered in a library of knowledge, tools, and links. Don’t fall into the trap of loading this library up with material that the learner has to work through without guidance. Do make links in the body of unit, but not so much that is breaks the flow of the learning or distracts the learner.

About The Designer/Module Unit Creator

The person building your module unit is learning about your topic as they build it. If the content you provide is well organized, clear, and interesting, then the module unit that is produced will reflect the enthusiasm you have generated in the designer!

Online learning is fun and you should have fun sharing your knowledge and experience. Together we can then create the best possible outcomes for the learner.