Context & Scale

This pattern is useful in any unit of study with a large amount of online content 

When designing SELF-PACED MODULES in a blended course with a large amount online content, it is important to help students identify the most efficient and effective route through the content. This approach has two main benefits. It reduces cognitive load on the students who are trying to find their way around a complex large unit. It also helps lessen the workload on educators who might receive an excessive number of questions from students about finding their way around the content.  

In blended units there is often a significant amount of material that students engage with online, and they need to efficiently find their way around that content and develop mental maps of its structure.  

Research has shown that students engage more with online content in blended learning units if the content is well explained (Dwivedi, Dwivedi, Bobek, & Sternad Zabukovšek, 2019).   

This is important because increased engagement with online content in a blended learning course leads to better student learning outcomes and a higher grade achievement (Green, Whitburn, Zacharias, Byrne, & Hughes, 2018).  


As we increasingly blend courses (shifting the balance between online and face to face environments), the proportion of online content often increases. Having large amounts of online content can make it difficult for students to effectively navigate their way through the material. 


The most effective way of helping students find their way around a large amount of online content is to help them develop a mental map of the key concepts in a unit. Students can use this map to choose how to best engage with the content. This will help students develop a better understanding of the relationship between the main elements of the unit. Different strategies can be used to achieve this including a narrative or story, a graphic organiser, a concept map, a flow chart, or timeline (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). These strategies can also be used at different levels of granularity in the same unit for a more sophisticated wayfinding. We use wayfinding as a broad term to encompass all of the different ways students orient themselves towards the content in a unit. Wayfinding can be enhanced through content mental maps, navigation diagrams, or decision points. 


  • Map out the broad structure of the unit (for example 13 online modules with content over one semester).

  • Identify core content that students are required to engage with and supplementary enrichment content.

  • Identify dependencies (whether students go through the content using a linear approach starting from module 1, or engage with the content in a non-linear manner). 

  • Identify the core concepts throughout the modules that can be used as signposts in the wayfinding ‘map’.  

  • Devise a graphical representation of the concepts and/or desired level of engagement with them. 

  • If associated with specific content, add links in the graphical representation to relevant content on the LMS. 

Examples of pattern in use

Example 1 – The Golden Thread (Content mental map)

This wayfinding strategy was used in a core postgraduate unit of study in a Master of Commerce (MCom) degree. We would like to acknowledge the team working on the development of this unit including the Unit of Study Coordinators Dr Abdul Razeed and Dr Elly Meredith, the Educational Developer Dr Dewa Wardak, and Learning Designers Dr Thea Werkhoven and Rachael Lowe. The original idea of the Golden Thread was contributed by Associate Professor Jane Gavan and then further developed in a design conversation between Elly, Abdul and Dewa. The diagram was developed by Thea in collaboration with the Business Co-Design Media team.  

This specific example of wayfinding is a content mental map that was implemented in Semester 1 2021 in a core MCom unit of study (BUSS5221, Analytic and Creative Mindsets). Over 2,100 students were enrolled in this unit the first time the unit was offered to students. The unit was designed to teach postgraduate Business students about creativity and analytics and to emphasise that both mindsets are complementary and necessary graduate attributes. Students often think that a creative mindset means you must be born creative. Our aim was to emphasise that creativity is not just in the students’ minds and that their material environment and creative practices are important for developing creative solutions in business.  

One of the challenges for this unit was bringing the creative and analytical aspects together in an integrated way. For this course the team developed the concept of the Golden Thread. The idea was built around warp and weft woven together to make a fabric. Warp represented the data that students were given to work with while the weft represented creative thoughts and ideas. Depending on how the warp and weft came together, the resulting fabric would be different. This illustrated that although students will use the same data, the creative method of its use will determine the results. In this sense, every student will come up with a different solution based on the path they took, hence the golden thread.  

The following visual representation was used to further illustrate the idea of the warp and weft. The diagram was embedded in the online modules strategically in specific weeks to form a stronger connection between the creative and analytic aspects of the unit. The diagram was created using Adobe Illustrator. According to the evaluation findings, the BUSS5221 unit was well-received by students. They found the Canvas site well organised, easy to use, easy to find information.  

Example 2 – Three levels of readings (Decision point)

This example illustrates a strategy for decision point wayfinding. It was developed to help students manage the readings in the unit. This strategy was developed to help students clearly identify the required content and the supplementary content in the unit and decide what content to engage with and when.   

This example was used in a core postgraduate unit of study in a Master of Commerce degree. We would like to acknowledge the team working on the development of this unit including the Unit of Study Coordinators Dr Abdul Razeed and Dr Elly Meredith, the Educational Developer Dr Dewa Wardak, and Learning Designers Dr Thea Werkhoven and Rachael Lowe. More information about the unit is provided in Example 1 above.  

In this example the development team decided on three levels of engagement with the readings: Required readings, Recommended readings, and Optional readings. This was to help students manage the content and their time efficiently. The students were only tested on the Required readings. These were the core readings where the main concepts were discussed and were directly related to the learning outcomes for the unit. The Recommended readings provided further enrichment to help students understand the topic on a deeper level. The Optional readings challenged students to take their knowledge even further if they wished to. This strategy provided more agency to students and aimed to cater to different ability levels.  

The dropdown reading list was created using HTML on Canvas (see image below).  

In a focus group students stated that they found this way of organising readings helpful. It allowed students to decide what content to engage with depending on how much time they had that week. One student stated “with the readings, I’ll look at the required readings”. For the other levels of readings, the student stated “if it’s a scientific article and if it sounds interesting, I’ll go through and read the abstract and the conclusion if I don’t have time”. Another student stated “In terms of the reading at the bottom I don’t always read everything.  Sometimes I have a brief look at the required readings and recommended readings”. 

Example 3 – Weekly structure (Navigation diagram)

This example of a navigation diagram was developed in Semester 2 2022 for a postgraduate unit of study in the Finance Discipline (FINC6010: Derivative Securities). We would like to acknowledge the team working on the development of this unit including the Unit of Study Coordinators Dr Quan Gan, the Educational Developer Dr Dewa Wardak, and Learning Designer Andrew Brock. Almost 700 students were enrolled in this unit.  

This unit included a large cohort of international students. The development team aimed to provide clarity and help students easily navigate through the content. As a solution, we created a navigation diagram that was linked to the specific module in the content. In addition, we aimed to provide students with an overview of the unit that would help them in planning for their assignments. For this reason the assignments were also integrated into the table to show where/when during the semester they will happen.  

The navigation table was created using Genially in colours that matched the colour scheme of the Canvas site. The table was linked from the unit Home page and positioned prominently on the page to make sure students would find it easily.  

A focus group with nine students from the unit was held at the end of the semester to evaluate the development strategies implemented in this unit. Some students suggested making the navigation bigger or use brighter colours to attract attention. In addition, originally the title for the page where the table was located was ‘Week 1 to 13’, however students suggested renaming to something like “navigation panel”. We thus implemented these suggested changes in the next iteration of the unit and also changed the colours of the assessment blocks to make them more prominent and easily noticed.  

The following figure shows what the final navigation table looks like.  

About the Authors

Dewa Wardak

Lecturer in Educational Development at the University of Sydney Business School – Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA) – Learning Scientist.

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