By Richard Mee |

In these crazy times where the world has shifted to becoming dependent on remote learning, I have been thinking about the way that we approach developing online learning; start by imagining a clear picture of what our learning outcomes are. We can quickly throw a course together, like stuffing clothes in a closet to make a room look neat before a guest arrives. Alternatively, we can spend huge amounts of time carefully planning out every item, crafting exceptional learning experiences and pathways like a skilled architect or artisan.

I have seen some courses that are merely a dropbox for information and assessment, leaving students to sift through content unguided and hoping to find the needles of inspiration in the haystack. I have also seen faculty members spend excessive amounts of time trying to tweak each minute detail of their course to be a perfect representation of what they do in the classroom. Many teachers and faculty don’t have the time for the second option, but still want to give their students something better than the first option. Is there another way to approach creating an online class?

I have been pondering the work of Marie Kondo concerning how we put together more than just our houses. For her, “tidying is a powerful tool, but it’s not the destination. The true goal of tidying is to clear away the clutter so [we] can live the life [we] want.” For us as online educators, the purpose of having a “tidy,” organized, intentional course is so that students can achieve the learning that we want and so that we can deliver this in a way that is consistent and efficient. Being uncluttered is not just suitable for students; it is perfect for educators too.

Below are five adapted principles from the Marie Kondo philosophy that are, not surprisingly, similar to sound principles for designing online learning.

Principle 1: Imagine Your Ideal Lifestyle

Similar to backward design methodology, we start by imagining a clear picture of what our outcomes are, what we want students to achieve, and what the journey is that they should go through to create that.

Principle 2: Tidy by Category

We then start analyzing big ideas and outcomes, breaking them down into  composite parts. We move on to think about what students should be able to do to display those outcomes, then think through what lessons they will need to learn to achieve these things, and finally how we can achieve these goals on the platform that we are using.

Principle 3: Focus on What to Keep

Marie Kondo teaches us to intentionally set aside the things that we want to keep in our lives. In our courses, this translates to making the critical decision about what content is essential for students achieving the outcomes. We are subject matter experts, often with years of curated content at our fingertips. To save ourselves time and our students’ effort, we should select only those things that will support student achievement.

Principle 4: Discard With Gratitude

Recognize that we  don’t need to include every piece of information in a course if it is not necessary. We also need to acknowledge that each additional activity or piece of information that we don’t include in the condensed version of a course is not lost. We can still appreciate these pieces as valuable elements that helped us to achieve our expertise.

Principle 5: Create a Home for Everything

Marie wants us to have a specific place for each item that we keep. In our courses, and within each unit or module, we need to have a designated place and order for what we do. This ordering and structuring help us ensure that (1) everything is well ordered, (2) we can efficiently build what we envision, (3) we can quickly see if we have missed something, and (4) it is easy for others to use.

At this time, it is important that we can develop our courses quickly. However, we also need to make sure that each course supports students in actually achieving their goals. We can start by following this system where we first decide what we hope to achieve. Then we  can plan out the necessary steps to be successful. Finally, we should not be afraid to let go of anything that is not necessary or potentially even distracting.

Ultimately, our goal should be to construct only that which is valuable and necessary.


Richard Mee

,Richard MeeHead of Learning, Construct (Cape Town)