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How Design of Online Learning Materials Can Accommodate the Heterogeneity in Student Abilities, Aptitudes and Aspirations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-25
JournalLearning and teaching in Higher Education
Publication statusPublished - 2008


We describe the challenges facing higher education in terms of the heterogeneity of the cohort of students that arrive at university. The reasons why such diversity exists are many: students differ widely in terms of their preparedness for study at university, their degree choice aspirations and the issue of motivation for study of a particular subject. We illustrate how well-designed e-learning course materials can support many of the particular facets of heterogeneity by offering an inherently non-linear pathway through a collection of materials, so as to offer a degree of personalisation of the learning experience.

Drawing on our own experience of several years’ development
of extensive online materials to support the traditional teaching methods of a large first year physics course at the University of Edinburgh, we highlight three aspects of the design of e-learning materials that facilitate this personalisation. These are: a highly granular source of individual learning objects; online constructions (‘one-downs’ and ‘popups’) that provide additional depth and breadth of material; and the ability to import external resources adapted to the local context.

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