Macro-Level Organization

Physically structuring the information of your course.

What is macro-level organization?

The framework, or macro-level of organization of your course is how the material and activities are laid out for students to navigate. What do students see? How easy is it to navigate?  

Why it matters

Because our working memory is limited (Sweller, 1988), students learn best when guided through the learning process (Kirschner et al., 2006). Course designs that reduce unnecessary confusion help students learn more efficiently. When students cannot navigate a course, they may miss important information (Powell, 2003) and be less motivated to continue (Hara and Kling, 1999). A well organized course allows students to focus on what’s most important, learning the material.

Steps to improve macro-level organization

Course organization should be logical, consistent and uncluttered.


  • The structure of the navigation bar should have clear titles for what each section is.
  • When students search for course content, it should be organized either by week, or by the order of subject heading in the order that students will learn the material.
  • Content should follow a simple hierarchical structure with no more than 2 levels of organization (Powell, 2003). For example, the first course structure received high ratings from students, while the second and third caused many to become lost and give up on searching for material.
Linkage structure diagram: Powell, 2003.

Powell, 2003


Similar to the simple hierarchical structure already mentioned, when students enter course sections they should already be familiar with what they will see because of consistent:

  • naming of files and folders
  • location of files and folders
  • organization of files and folders


Information that is not necessary for learning can often lead students to become either distracted or overwhelmed (Mayer and Moreno, 2003). Therefore:

  • Hide or delete unused sections of a course template
  • Limit the amount of places students have to go to access each week’s content
  • Only share necessary files
  • Reduce the number of needed folders and connections between them

Consideration: tabs vs. live-in content

Organization in UB Learns requires several important choices. The first to consider is whether your course will use tabs, or live-in content.

  • Tabs: The groupings or categories that live on the left side of the screen. These organize content by type such as announcements, assignments or discussion boards. These make it clear where types of content are found.
  • Live-in content: Grouping types of content together by points in time (e.g., week 4) or course structure (e.g., chapter 5). Within these areas, types of content such as readings, discussions or assignments exist. These limit the amount of places students have go each week.

Consider how this might look for a discussion. Will you have a “Discussion Forum” tab on your navigation bar? Or will students access the discussion through the weekly content folder or module?

This is also a common distinction for Assignments. Will students see an “Assignments” tab on the left navigation bar of your course? Or will the assignments be embedded within each week’s content folder or module?

While courses will always use tabs, what they say, where students will go to access content or assignments and activities is a choice that needs to be made.

Next steps

When you have finished outlining and making the macro-level organization choices for your course the next step is micro-level organization.