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Earlier this year, Instructure published a report about course design complexity and depth. The data showed that courses in Canvas are trending toward a simple but deep design strategy.

Simple courses use a minimalist approach to course navigational structure and content organization, so students know where to go and what to do in the course. Depth refers to the manner in which Canvas features tools are utilized, ideally in a consistent manner throughout and for the duration of the course.

Data shows that students are more likely to participate in courses using the simple deep design approach. Data also shows that students are more likely to submit assignments and engage in discussions when the course is designed so they can get from point A to point B without too many distractions.

To put it another way, open online courses shouldn’t be Rube Goldberg machines. If we want learners to do something, we can just show them how. If we want to engage them, we can use a variety of tools. Making courses simple and excluding things students don’t need can help improve the learning experience.

Canvas Network Pre-Course Survey Data, 2014

  • 27% of students reported having never taken an online class before. Designing a course with simple navigation is essential for these learners.

  • 40% reported a preference for working at their own pace without a lot of interaction. Simple navigation and clear instruction help support self-directed learning.  

  • 45% reported a preference for engagement with others enrolled in the same course. These students are looking for a course that delivers content and engages them in a variety of ways.

  • 85% of participants intend to complete their course, yet data from MOOC platforms across the industry suggests fewer than 20% actually do. What influences retention? Adding a little razzle dazzle might seem like the right way to go, but in reality, the biggest distractions competing for learner attention come from outside the course.

  • 30% of Canvas Network enrollees already have a four-year degree and more than 34% have a master’s degree or higher. They don’t need, or want, a complicated learning pathway.

Make open online courses easy to navigate with rich content that is easy to access. Leave the bells, whistles, ramps, pulleys, and bowling balls to Mr. Goldberg.

Keep Learning, 
Carrie Saarinen
Sr. Manager, Instructional Design and Development