Tips for Organizing Your Moodle Course

A cluttered and confusing Moodle course can lead to cognitive overload and frustration for students. How can you organize the layout of your Moodle course and make it easy for students to locate information quickly so that they can focus their mental energy on learning?

Register for the workshop Organizing Your Moodle Course

Begin with the Quick Start Course Shell

You may have heard that if you want to organize a closet, it’s a good idea to take everything out and start with a nice clean space. The same can be true for organizing a Moodle course. The Moodle Quick Start Course Shell provides a fully customizable basic framework that includes consistent structure and placeholders for organizing content in each section. It’s a great way to visualize how you can organize your course if you don’t know where to start.

Quick Start Course Shell module 1 structure
The Quick Start Course Shell includes built-in structure with placeholder labels that can be edited.
  • Watch a video walkthrough (duration 9:49) of the Quick Start Course Shell and read the user guide.
  • In WolfWare, use the Moodle Course Copier and select “Quick Start Course Shell” as the source to copy from.
  • You can use the Backup and Restore functions to copy individual or multiple items from an existing course into your empty Shell, where you can rearrange and edit them as needed.

Include a “Start Here” section at the beginning

Consider the fact that your students may be taking 4 or 5 courses, all with different Moodle sites that may be set up differently. Going into a new course for the first time can be a disorienting experience if they don’t know where to go first. 

You can give students some navigation guidance by providing a “Start Here” section at the very beginning of the course that includes important information for getting started successfully in the course. Watch a demonstration of a Start Here section (begining at 2:19). Consider including the following information in your Start Here section:

  • Instructor welcome letter and/or video
  • Course overview page
  • Video walkthrough of the Moodle course
  • Course documents (syllabus, course map, course schedule, etc.)
  • Practice activities such as an Introduce Yourself forum or Syllabus quiz.

Use short, descriptive names for section titles

Short, descriptive titles make it easy for students to navigate to sections on the using the Course Index in Moodle. Including dates in titles help students locate current content.

Group items under consistent Label headings

Labels in Moodle can help to separate long lists of items into “chunks” so that learners are able to quickly scan and locate (or ignore) groups of items without having to read the full name name of each individual item. When editing a label resource that is intended to serve as a heading, be sure to use the proper heading styles found in the Moodle editor toolbar to ensure the heading is accessible to assistive technologies such as screen readers.

The "paragraph styles" button in the Moodle editor contains heading styles.
Heading styles in the Moodle editor can be found under the “paragraph styles” button that looks like a capital “A”.

Use descriptive names for resources and activities.

Descriptive and consistent names provide clarity to students about what that item is and how they are expected to interact with it.

  • Capitalizing the first word in a name can help users quickly scan through and identify what items are.
  • Using an action verb in the name indicates to students what they are expected to do with that item.
  • Be sure to use consistent naming throughout modules so that students don’t have to keep guessing about your intentions
  • Avoid listing out entire URLs for web links, and avoid using coded file names that are not descriptive of the content.

Provide a brief overview of each module so students know what to expect.

Providing context at the start of each module can help learners be more prepared and focused. This information is also helpful for students to reference as they progress through the content. Consider including the following introductory information at the beginning of each module:

  • What: Provide a brief overview to let students know what to expect in this section.
  • Why: List the learning objectives so that students understand the purpose of the resources, activities and assessments.
  • How: Provide a task list so that students understand how they should progress through the content.

Use a consistent structure throughout all modules in the course.

A consistent module structure throughout the course helps to lower cognitive load because learner’s brains are wired to recognize patterns. Students who don’t have to spend mental energy on navigating an unfamiliar structure in each module will be able to focus more on learning. The number of resources and activities does not need to be identical, but the overall structure and grouping of items and how they are labeled should be consistent within modules throughout the course.

Consistent structure can be seen in these two Moodle modules
Two Moodle modules with consistent content structure.

Reduce visual clutter and scrolling

Moodle was recently redesigned with users’ cognitive load in mind, which is why there are lots of ways in Moodle 4 for users to control how they view content on the screen (e.g. the collapsible Course Index and Block Drawer). In the main content area, the same number of items occupies more vertical space than previously. If you have a lot of content in your course, you might want to consider ways to move content off the main page and reduce scrolling to make the course easier to navigate.

Show one section per page

The default course layout is to “show all sections on one page,” with the ability to Collapse all/Expand all sections at once, or individually. This gives the user more control over how much or how little info they see on the screen at one time. However, for courses with lots of activities and resources in each module, you may think that this view may still be overwhelming to some learners.

If you think that navigating through all sections on one page may be difficult for your students, you may want to consider changing the course layout to “show one section per page.” This video (begins at 01:17) demonstrates how to change the course layout setting. Note that when the layout is set to “show one section per page” that the only way to navigate to other sections is through the Course Index.

Remove single line labels

If you previously used a label containing a single horizontal line to show separation between groups, these single lines may be redundant now if you are using labels to group items. You can reduce some vertical space by deleting labels that consist of just a horizontal line, or by including the line in existing labels rather than its own, separate label.

A single line above a label heading may be redundant
Consider deleting horizontal lines if separation is already indicated with labels.

Don’t display long descriptions on the main page

Providing detailed descriptions of activities and assignments is critical for student success. However, consider whether it’s necessary to display long descriptions on the main course page. Large blocks of text can add to visual clutter and increased cognitive load when a student is trying to locate other content in a module. If the description for an activity takes up more than a couple of lines, you may want to leave the “Display description on course page” box unchecked.

The "display description on course page" checkbox is located below the description field.
The “Display description on course page” checkbox is located below the description field.

Put multiple files into a folder

If you want to make multiple files available for students to download, you can use the Folder resource in Moodle to group them together and conserve space on the main course page. Files within a folder may be downloaded all at once by students.

Move multiple links into a page

Multiple web links can take up a lot of space on the main course page when using the URL resource to add them one-by-one. If it makes sense to group these links together, you can move them all to one Page resource in Moodle.

Use “stealth activities”

Stealth activities in Moodle are not shown on the main course page but can still be accessed by students through links in other locations. If you want to provide one or multiple low-stakes learning activities or assessments within the context of a resource such as a Page or NC State Book, you can streamline access to them by making them stealth and linking them in the resource.

Make information readily available

The Block Drawer (video, 1:25) on the right side of the Moodle screen can be expanded to show useful information and course management tools. Use Blocks to help students quickly find information and navigate to course resources and activities.

Block typeFunction
Text (formerly HTML)Instructors can add custom text, links and images
ActivitiesAllows students to easily navigate to all activities in the course by type
Student ServicesContains updated links for academics, technology, and student support services
CalendarDisplays indicators and links to items that have dates associated with them
Upcoming EventsLinks to activities with upcoming due dates
DELTA Testing ServicesLinks to the website where students can schedule their testing appointments
Mass ActionsNote: The Mass Actions block is available only to instructors when Edit mode is on. This block allows instructors to perform actions on multiple items in the course at once (e.g. move, duplicate, hide, show).
Commonly used types of Moodle Blocks