For instructors and developers a modular approach to content development affords tremendous new freedom and opportunities to share and market high quality learning content. An academic course is increasingly defined as a series of learning modules, each addresssing logically related subsets of course learning objectives. Each module contains its own collection of learning objects (outcomes, instructional materials, learning activities, assessments) that combine to meet the objectives of the module. This model is very similar to that employed in modern software design. The approach has many advantages:

  • Reusability: the same module may be used in multiple courses, short courses, and workshops.
  • Maintenance: each module can be maintained and updated as needed.
  • Best of breed: individual modules, and constituent learning objects, can be selected for quality and best fit with regard to the course requirements. This “mix and match” approach is in contrast to the “all or nothing” option of selecting a course textbook.
  • Credit-sharing: one of the problems of course transfers and “credit for experience” is the difficulty of completely matching other courses or skills with an entire course. Individually assessed modules allow much greater flexibility, for example allowing students to test out of modules, or facilitating matches between academic courses and certification, Continuing Education, or other short courses.
  • Design decomposition: reducing a course to subsets of major topics simplifies course design and makes it easier to focus on key learning objectives. .
  • Team teaching and parallel development: different modules may be developed and/or taught by different individuals, with different skill sets, working together as a team.

Moodle provides an excellent learning management system to support modular course design.  On the other hand, the monolithic nature of traditional textbooks makes it difficult to construct a course in a modular fashion. Course outcomes, activities, assessments and additional learning materials must all be associated with the textbook structure and organization, and both instructor and students lose the flexibility to pick and choose the best and most suitable components for each module. Worse still is the increasing practice to textbook companies to deliver complete solutions that require remotely managed student accounts and logins to proprietary systems, and that deliver low quality and pedagogically suspect assessments. I believe educators and educational institutions should be very wary of such practices.

I believe that, for many courses, the standard textbook will be replaced by learning objects that meet standardized learning outcomes and that can be assembled from multiple sources to meet commonly defined outcomes at the module level. Learning objects may be marketed by providers, or developed and shared by institutions and instructors. Just as we are currently concerned with developing clear outcomes at the program and course level, I believe that we will soon be concerned with defining outcomes at the module level. Clearly defined (and published) modular outcomes will motivate developers to meet the needs of instructors and institutions. That makes a lot more sense than the current model, which tends to work the other way round.