KonMari your online course

Man organizing his work from home space

Have you heard of the KonMari method? If not, here’s a quick summary: it’s named after a Japanese author who encourages tidying by category — starting with clothes, then books, papers, komonos (miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items. If you are “cleaning out,” you should keep only things that are useful and speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer “spark joy.” As the faculty advisors in this pandemic era, we figured out you can use the KonMari method in your classroom. 🙂

How exactly do you KonMari a course? Why would we even think of that? Well, for starters, there are many different features in learning management systems and in our Pearson products. Frankly, we often find faculty are so overwhelmed that they don’t know where to start.

Roughly 70% of faculty had never taught online prior to the pandemic. Even if they did, many aren’t sure what really is best for their course and students. At the heart of the KonMari program is organization, but it’s also a means to simplifying and making things less cluttered.

Where do we start?

Always begin with the end in mind

The first step in developing great content is to know what and why students are learning and how you are going to assess them. Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many faculty who start building content without thinking about this. Ensuring that your content is aligned with your objectives and assessment is much easier if you create a plan from the beginning.

Julie Dirksen, author of Design for How People Learn, talks about “design patterns” which document best thinking around solving different types of problems. This means there are lots of ways to tackle the design of the course, and it’s great to have a conceptual idea with best practices to help you make decisions. This is one of the places where faculty advisors play a key role!

Clean house & declutter regularly

By getting rid of old material, you will create space for new, better-serving material and ideas. Many of us make a standalone copy of our course, so as we find things we want to change, we do it immediately. At the end of the semester, we have a new course ready to go. It helps to constantly refine and choose what works better and eliminate what doesn’t.

Organize your course tools

Ask yourself, “Does a resource serve a clear need?” If not, delete it. I know my students have enough to keep track of without loading more things to my course that they may not need. If I do add new materials, I try to maintain a simplistic structure so they know where things are.

Be an (unofficial) instructional designer

Instructional design (ID) tips dovetail nicely here. You might argue that you were never taught or trained in these principles, and yet somehow we are all expected to “know” these things. Here are a few tips that are pretty standard across the ID field.

Keep it simple

First, and foremost, keep your menu easy to navigate and concise. Use 6-8 key menu items or so. A best practice in course design is to abide by this in each “module” in your course. Try to limit yourself such that you fall somewhere in this range.

Use meaningful images

Vision trumps all other senses. Remember that some users may have visual impairments, so make sure to include rich descriptive text as applicable. We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%. Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us.

Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. That takes time. So, reduce text and add images that support the text. This is why using consistent icons across instructional programs is so important. Students can process the meaning of the icon in a second. Use color wisely, and again, remember that those with visual impairments find things like tiny white or yellow font on a dark blue background virtually unreadable. So do many of the rest of us!

Design a distraction-free template

Again, tied to the idea of 6-8 tabs or similar, keep it simple. Sure, there are lots of cutesy graphics available, but it tends to distract and overwhelm many students. Ensure that there is enough “white space” both on course pages as well as in course work time. In other words, try to allow time for reflection.

Break up the content in small chunks

Don’t display all the assignments at once. Have them released by unit / dates. Instead of one weekly assignment with 90 questions, offer three smaller ones. And maintain consistency in the design. We see a lot of courses where we’d be easily confused.

Ensure that your learners stay focused and engaged

Check out John Medina’s website and book Brain Rules or Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (Brown, Roediger III, McDaniel). Use tools like low-stakes quizzing, interleaving, and retrieval practice. Think about tools like Learning Catalytics or Live Response. Use the wikis and discussion boards to provide forums for students to interact, share, and reflect.

Reduce cognitive load

Cognitive load refers to the amount of working memory the brain can process. Working memory can typically only hold a few bits of information at a time and lasts around ten seconds. Therefore, your job as a “content developer” is to reduce and/or remove any information that a student doesn’t need to process.

Just how do we do this? Implement simple, clear navigation, that is intuitive and requires no thinking. Use a consistent icon bank across courses — means one less thing a student has to process. Minimize scrolling and create smaller chunks of content. Share Powerpoints or PDFs with the most important points highlighted.

Students can KonMari, too

Here are some KonMari tips for students. Because the KonMari method is all about being organized, I usually share things like the following.

Have a dedicated space

As simple as it sounds, I always tell my students to identify a study space. While online education is flexible, it’s still important to designate a specific place to complete your work. Find one that’s free of distractions, where you can focus and with little to no background noise.

For some, it’s a home office; for others it’s a desk in their bedroom, the kitchen table or a break room at work. Make sure your wireless internet connection is strong or you are hardwired. Find what works best for you and stick to it.

Commit to a structured schedule, as much as possible

Online courses are a significant commitment, and managing time is important. I tell my students to designate specific time frames to complete schoolwork each day or week, and block off their calendar accordingly. If they work a job during the week, consider using a day during the weekend to finish.

Keep an eye on deadlines

It could also help to have a calendar in the study space so course obligations are all in one place and top of mind. Keep an eye on assignment due dates. Even though online courses are often considered self-paced, set assignment deadlines still exist. Because many online students also have jobs, it may be helpful to sync work and school calendars so students can prepare for each day accordingly.

Find and nurture a support system

Earning a degree — especially online — is not easy. Surrounding yourself with family, friends and peers who motivate and encourage you can make a difference. Make sure those close to you understand the time you have committed to earning your degree so they remain respectful and understand when you’re unavailable. Consider providing them with an overview of your school schedule at the beginning of the term to remain transparent and help ensure you receive the support you need.

Connect with your professors early

Establishing a relationship with your professor early on will help you build trust and understanding throughout the term, especially since you may not be able to meet in person. It’s important to connect before the course begins or shortly after to clear up any questions you have about the syllabus or requirements. This will show you have a vested interest in the course and are committed to successfully completing it regardless of your other obligations.

Remember, one of the basic principles of the KonMari method is that you envision the “ideal” before you start.

I envision successful students. 🙂

About the author

Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister

Diane taught in the K12 system and then higher ed since 1992. In June 2015, she resigned her full-time position as a professor and joined the Pearson Customer Success Team, where she develops training curriculum, does training, and helps instructors choose features for their courses. Diane still teaches as an adjunct for University of Maine, and enjoys learning about instructional design as well as neurobiological research and its implications in teaching and learning. You can read some of her articles on the Teaching and Learning Higher Ed blog posts. Currently, Diane manages the Faculty Advisor team; Diane and her team collaborate with their peers across North America.