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Educational Design and Engagement

Educational Design and Engagement

Enriching the student learning experience & supporting development of on campus and online courses.

Writing for short online courses

The written word is a powerful communication tool. For short online courses, it is how we share learning materials, build community, and create instructor presence.

Online courses use a mixture of reading and listening coupled with more interactive learning like discussion forums, multiple choice quizzes, and reflective exercises. This means the learner’s overall experience is influenced by how clearly we write.

Please note that some learners with accessibility needs utilise text-to-speech software to access the information, so they will listen to the material, instead of read it. In both cases, the material presented needs to be clear, engaging, and informative.

Some virtual learning environments (VLEs), such as FutureLearn, include in-house tools to check the readability of content. No matter where your course is hosted, you can make use of numerous free and paid-for programmes during the content writing phase, such as:

• The Plain English Campaign’s Drivel Defence Tool.
• Freemium tools such as Readable.
• Or the widely available Spelling & Grammar check in Microsoft Word.

Plain English
The University has been delivering free short online courses since 2012, with more than 80 courses produced during that time. Over 3.7 million learners across the globe have taken one of these courses. Our global makeup of learners should always inform the writing style of the University’s short online courses. Not all learners are native English speakers, and even those who are may struggle with jargon heavy content. This why we recommend writing in Plain English.

There are many advantages for writing in plain English:

• It is faster to write.
• It is faster to read.
• You can communicate key ideas more easily, more clearly, and in a friendlier way.

Further information can be found on the Plain English campaign’s website.

Word count
Most experts would agree that clear writing should have an average sentence length of 15 to 20 words. It is good to mix it up. A combination of short and long sentences will read much better. If you can say it in fewer words, then do so!

We have provided some word counts for online material which require the learners to read, watch or listen:

• Readings should be no more than 800 words.
• Videos should be no more than five-minutes long.
• Audio/podcasts should be no more than ten-minutes long.

No matter the medium, short online courses need to be inviting, engaging and motivating for learners no matter where in the world they are joining.

If you’d like to learn more, then sign-up to How to Create an Online Course: Readability Test workshop as part of the Digital Skills Festival on Thursday, May 27th.


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