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Learning design

Teachers, repurpose with purpose

Save time and energy while enhancing consistency of digital learning materials by repurposing them. Teachers, here are a few ways to do this.


As a result of the recent COVID-19 situation, instructors have been generating learning materials using unfamiliar tools.  Instructors that I have been mentoring through this hectic time have reported that their learning materials were hurriedly prepared to meet the challenges of the next online session.  This left little time for consideration of reusing them in the future.  Instructional design and development support departments were unavailable to most as they were dealing with their own challenges such as implementing new online technologies, supporting new online assessment strategies and meeting with administrators to guide decision making from the technologist’s perspective.

With the respite of a term break, it may be time to reflect on how we, as educators, can transform our development routines to become more efficient.  In a previous post, I suggested that teachers consider Good Materials Creation Practices to promote teacher development of digital learning materials .  In addition to the suggestions in that post, I am presently encouraging my peers and mentees to duplicate their efforts as much as possible to rapidly build up their arsenal of learning objects, to save time and to possibly enhance the consistency of their learning objects. Repurposing of existing learning objects is an obvious concept that many of us already practice it in different ways.  However, I have been observing that many teachers are still in survival mode.  They just do not have enough time to develop with a vision for the long term.  

Hopefully, some of the following suggestions for repurposing content while developing digital learning objects will make life less stressful during the next term by reducing teachers’ time on task.   

Repurposing suggestions

Alternate sources: Starting from tabula rasa normally how instructors start their learning object development. A potential time saver is to repurpose open content. Possible sources of educational content such as OERs, Open educational Resources, generous professional peers, legal online sources and learning object repositories can save time and effort. Copyright friendly texts, audio, video, animations or interactive activities can provide a focal point for a learning object. For the purposes of this post, let’s consider that we are duplicating your work only. 

Copy & Paste: This is the most common way to duplicate your work.Copying and pasting is most effective when the original document is in plain text or if the text is pasted in plain text mode.  This prevents the source document’s formatting from interfering with your layout on the destination document.

Save as: This useful if a full document (worksheet, spreadsheet, database, HTML file) is similarly formatted to the original.  What about using templates?  I agree that templates are a better way to move forward, but the majority of that I have worked with teachers do not feel comfortable using templates.  They feel restricted by templates.  Using the Save as alternative is fast and easy to explain to instructors. The general idea is that teachers can quickly save a document using another name and type over the existing content, keeping the title, paragraph, image positioning, table , header and footer formatting intact.

Authoring Apps Duplicate: Similar to Save as, authoring app duplication of learning objects endeavor to keep consistency of a learning object through several variables. These differ from app to app. It is a feature that authoring tools offer such as reuse in H5P, customizing in Quizlet, duplicate in Kahoot, copy in Socrative and duplicate in Ted Ed Lessons.

Duplication within authoring tools: When teachers are learning authoring apps, they generally want to understand and know how to make learning objects. It is quite a challenge, especially when deadlines are tight. I usually raise awareness of these duplication features in development tools during training, hopefully instructors eventually adopt these. H5P’s cloning slides feature, Copy & Paste questions on a Question Set and the Copy & Paste attributes menu in the Course Presentation feature are a few examples of internal repurposing of learning objects.

Templates: These are a great way to promote consistency of learning objects.  As mentioned above, teachers generally do not work well with templates if it is associated with a word processor or in an LMS Page. If a template is displayed within a rigid app such as Quizlet, the instructors have no choice and they use the template as expected. with word processors, my observations have been that template files are renamed during day-to-day development. Teachers do not appreciate being restricted to specific areas of a document or screen. As well, teachers have their own style preferences that they feel will enhance the learning object for their specific learners.   Sometimes this brings up the Comic Sans discussion.    🙂

Randomization: This is a great way to generate fresh content without additional work.  Tools such as LMS quizzes, H5P and Kahoot  have randomizing features that can be turned on to make activities appear differently to students.  If they retry a learning event, it will appear in a different question sequence and the distractors will appear randomized as well.  

Question pools: These are another way to create the illusion that a learning object is unique.  The idea of a question pool is creating more questions or prompts than the students will experience. For example, if 15 questions are positioned in a pool, but the learners only see ten questions during a session there is a good possibility that they will not see the same quiz twice.  Question pools are often combined with randomization of questions.  LMS quizzes, H5P, Captivate are a few apps that offer this functionality.

Replicating a full course: This is usually done within an LMS and it saves a great deal of time.  Some institutions generate master courses that can be replicated each term.  These cloned courses can then be customized by teachers each term for their specific cohort of learners.

Repurposing text: As a teacher-developer, being efficient means producing requisite activities and more time for core tasks. One way to be a more efficient teacher-developer is to get into the habit of stripping text of all formatting before inserting it into learning objects. Starting with plain text make sense because developers can insert it into digital development tools such as H5P, Quizlet, Moodle and Captivate to name a few. This results in one activity transforming into multiple learning objects across a unit of study. Hopefully, this variety of task will provide multi-modal input and multiple exposures and manipulations of content to enhance student retention of the concepts and skills.

Final thoughts

Repurposing content through duplication, copying & pasting, cloning and replication saves teachers time which leaves them more energy and focus to prepare and facilitate their lessons online.

John Allan

John Allan

John is a Canadian who writes about learning object development and online facilitation from a teacher's perspective.

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