Learning Design for Statistics

How do you produce thorough, engaging online modules for a first-year introductory statistics unit? Planning and a shared approach helps, as does a considered approach to technology.


BUSS1020 Quantitative Business Analysis is a core first year unit, offered in the University of Sydney Business School’s, Business Analytics discipline – delivered across 13 weeks. These comprise, two-hour lectures and 90-minute tutorials.

This unit was part of the Connected Learning at Scale (CLaS) project, and as such, part of a phased iterative design process. This post references Phase 3 of this project, delivered in Semester 2, 2020.

Plan for content design

The framework for content design and delivery involved the creation of a weekly structure, defining the content hierarchy and format of the Canvas page. It explained the types of assets and who was accountable for their development.

Module structure

Each of the 13 weeks of lecture content correlated to a Canvas module. The teaching content was originally delivered using PowerPoint and a live or recorded lecture.

The new presentation of content through Canvas utilised short explainer videos, interactive online activities, and was supported with a weekly ‘Readings and tools’ section, which linked to a digital/eText version of the relevant chapter of the prescribed text.  This underpinning content was an important supplement for students to the content supplied in Canvas.

Sub-module structure

Each week of Canvas content was split into sub-modules, and these were numerically signposted to help students navigate through the content. For example, week 2 was divided into subtopics, beginning with ‘What you’ll learn this week’ (2.0/learning objectives) and ending with ‘Next steps’ (2.9/the week’s homework).

Screenshot from Canvas

Cognitive load theory is a well understood concept whereby our working memory is used in different ways (Sweller, 1988). It is understood that learning designs can reduce cognitive load particularly when dealing with multimedia (Paas & Sweller, 2014). To break down the cognitive load for students, each sub-module dealt with one or two key concepts. These key concepts were taught, formatively assessed and reinforced using a repetitive hierarchy of features and technology, wherever possible. This recurrence then allows for an easier transition for students from online lectures and their initiation to Canvas. These sub-module features included:

  • Watch and learn
  • Check your understanding
  • Recap
  • Apply the Excel function (where applicable).
Watch and learn

This feature used a scripted, custom-produced video. The video carried the content-weight and was delivered by the unit coordinator. This enhanced personification and using pencast technology, reinforced key concepts, as did screen captioning and a summary at the end of each video.

Check your understanding

This feature proceeded the pencast video – a formative assessment tool for students to gauge their understanding of key concepts and provide immediate feedback. Using H5P software, these self-marking questions were a mixture of multiple choice, true and false, fill-in-the blanks and drag and drop formats, with the content determining the question types. An example of the drag and drop question type is below.

Drag and drop example using H5P

The recap feature, proceeded the ‘Watch and learn’ videos, to reinforce key concepts from the video. It used several devices, including images, key line boxes (highlighting definitions) and interactives.

Using the Genial.ly software, the interactive activities became a key recap feature. For visually impaired students, a text alternative version of the interactive was provided, as a word document.

Apply the Excel function

Using Excel to resolve business problems is a key component of this unit. This feature used the Genial.ly software to reinforce relevant Excel functionality – often linked to a ‘how to’ video. Student’s Excel questions were then addressed in the weekly tutorial/workshop.


Results from a student survey, conducted in late Semester 2, 2020, showed a predominantly positive response to the online module approach. Key positive take outs included:

  • The ‘Check your understanding’ questions, and reviewing the ‘Watch and learn’ videos, were popular with over 70% of respondents nominating them as helpful or extremely helpful to their learning.
  • Students preferred the modularised format to a traditional lecture and revisited the site to revise key concepts.

Points for improvement garnered from students included adding more interactive questioning and providing detailed explanations as to why they were correct or incorrect.

We would love to hear how you deliver statistical or other quantitative topics to your students. If anything here has resonated with you, do let us know.


Paas, F., & Sweller, J. (2014). Implications of Cognitive Load Theory for Multimedia Learning. In The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning (pp. 27–42). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139547369.004

Sweller, J (1988). Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science, 12(2): 257–285. doi:10.1207/s15516709cog1202

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Andrew Brock is a Senior Learning Designer with the Business Co-Design team, in the Business School at the University of Sydney.

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