Using e-modules in your education

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Do you want to develop an e-module and use it in your education, but don't know where to start? Anouk den Hamer explains in which ways you can use e-modules in your education and how you can ensure that the e-module is effective in your students' learning process. You will also read about potential pitfalls, and how to evaluate your e-module.

What are e-modules?

An e-module is an online learning environment, where you can do a variety of learning activities. For instance, watching knowledge clips, doing assignments (potentially in groups), discussing course topics with fellow students, taking short quizzes, etc.

An e-module often covers one specific topic. As such, an e-module can be used to broaden or deepen knowledge on a subject needed for in-person education. For example, students of Veterinary Medicine who use an e-module to learn how to make a short documentary for a specific course. Or law students learning how to analyse jurisprudence.

An e-module on developing e-modules

For several years now Utrecht University has been using the ULearning platform. Both students and teachers, but also external professionals, can follow e-modules on a variety of subjects on this platform, for instance as refresher courses. For the ultimate recursive effect, there is also an e-module on developing an e-module (in Dutch).

How can you use e-modules in your education?

Broadly speaking, there are two ways of using e-modules in your education.

1. As a standalone e-module, which students complete in their own time

Usually, an e-module is used in asynchronous education, meaning that the student works through the e-module in their own time. Students may find it convenient to be able to schedule this themselves, but it can also be challenging for students to motivate themselves to do the work.

Fortunately, more and more lecturers are sharing tips on how to keep students engaged an motivated in and e-module. For example, Sociology lecturers Tézli and Redwood (see chapter 8 from Aparicio-Ting et al., 2023) provide the tips below.

    2. Combined with conventional education, so a blended educational format

    You can also use an e-module in blended education. This means that you combine in-person education with online education. You can have students follow an e-module synchronously (at a fixed moment), or asynchronously (at a moment they choose themselves). The latter does have limitations, as the students should not be too out of synch with the physical meetings. 

    If you want to use an e-module in addition to a regular course, you have to be careful that the e-module is not so 'disconnected' that the students find it difficult to link the e-module to the course. Obviously, you want to keep student engagement as high as possible. Heilporn and co. (2021) studied how you can increase student engagement in higher education in blended education. They list a number of best practices, please see below.

    How do I ensure that the e-module is effective in my students' learning process?

    For students' learning process, it is important that information does not stand on its own, but that new knowledge can be embedded into students' existing knowledge. After all, you want the learning gains to be high.

    Prior knowledge and mastery learning

    In 1984, Benjamin Bloom (of Blooms’ taxonomy) stated that it is important to combine educational strategies, such as activating prior knowledge and mastery learning (where a student is not allowed to move to the next section until the first is mastered). You could also apply this to an e-module.

    Activating prior knowledge is one of the twelve cornerstones of effective didactics (Surma et al., 2019). For example, you could do this through a knowledge quiz or by having students create a mind map of what they already know about the topic. Or you could create a knowledge clip about concepts the students should already know. Then offer the new concepts/ideas/skills/attitudes to be learned and have the student connect them to the prior knowledge they have activated. Then, later in the e-module, you could build a quiz where a student has to get X number of questions right to be allowed to move to the next section. That way you satisfy both prior knowledge activation and mastery learning.

    Self-regulated learning

    Additionally, you could use reflection questions to encourage self-regulated learning (Zimmerman, 2013). For example, you could have them answer some reflection questions at the end of a module section, such as: What did I know about this before the lesson? What have I learned? What is the most difficult thing about this topic? or What have I not yet mastered? (questions taken from Kirschner et al, 2018).

    Such questions can help students feel more ownership of their learning and to better assess their competencies. To further motivate students to answer these reflection questions, you could have them answer these questions in groups or revisit the questions in class.

    Laptop met op het beeldscherm een e-module.

    Constructive alignment

    With e-modules, you should also pay close attention to constructive alignment (Biggs, 1996). This means that the learning objectives, the learning activities, and the assessment format(s) must be aligned. So if you ask students to make a video on a topic, ask yourself if this connects to any of the learning objectives. And does this prepare them for the final assessment format? Or is the video the assessment format, and might it be good to include an intermediate assignment that will help them be able to create a good video?

    How do I evaluate my e-module?

    We are sometimes tempted to think about evaluation only after we have finished teaching. However, it is much more powerful to think about this prior to deploying the e-module so that you can approach this systematically and not depend solely on student evaluations.

    Think about evaluating prior to deploying your e-module

    Evaluate before the e-module comes online

    Before you distribute the e-module to students, you can ask colleagues for feedback. You can do this, for example, with the Blended Course Peer Review Form. This form provides insight into the constructive alignment in the module and the quality of the learning materials.

    If you want to measure the learning effects of the e-module, you must measure what students know about certain concepts in advance and measure this again at the end. Only then will you know what the learning effect of the e-module is. Suppose you are using the e-module in a blended setting (i.e., in addition to a course), then it is important to be able to rule out that the knowledge gained may have come from physical education. In that case, make sure you only measure concepts that are covered in the e-module.

    Evaluate during teaching

    For evaluation during teaching, you could check whether students are learning what you want them to learn. You can do this, for example, through a test or with formative action (which gives students insight into where they stand). You could also ask students to fill out an exit ticket at certain points during the e-module. In an exit ticket, you ask the student a few short questions. These could be substantive ("Name 3 things you learned in this e-module") or more process-oriented ("What do you need?") (Last, 2022). Examples of questions can be found on the Vernieuwenderwijs website (in Dutch), among others.

    Evaluate when students have gone through the entire e-module

    Of course, you can also evaluate after teaching. For example, you could distribute questions from the Perceived eLearning Satisfaction questionnaire by Sun et al. (2008) to your students. Or you could organise a focus group discussion, in which you can inquire about students' experiences.

    Note; student evaluations often primarily measure student satisfaction. While this is important, it does not guarantee teaching quality and learning efficiency. For example, it appears that students rate their learning experience more negatively when they must work harder and learn more (Deslaurier et al., 2019). This is not surprising considering that active learning often takes effort. Therefore, include not only student satisfaction with the e-module in the evaluation, but also motivation, course load and engagement.


    These are the steps you could take when evaluating the e-module:

    1. What is the focus of the evaluation and what question would you like to see answered?
    2. From whom/what can you gather information (data resources) to answer your question?
    3. How will you collect the information (interviews, questionnaire, focus group, exam questions, etc)?
    4. How will you analyse the information so you can answer your question?
    5. Once you have answered the question, include what could be improved.

    In need of advice?

    If you are thinking about developing your own e-module, or would like advice on an e-module you have already developed, please contact Educational Development & Training (ED&T). We can also help with (advice on) evaluating the e-module. Please contact us via

    Author and expert on e-modules


    Aparicio-Ting, F., Arcellana-Panlilio, M., Bensler, H., Brown, B., Clancy, T. L., Dyjur, P., Radford, S., Redwood, C., Roberts, V., Sabbaghan, S., Schroeder, M., Summers, M. M., Tézli, A., Wilks, L., & Wright, A. C. (2023). Fostering student success in online courses (M. Arcellana-Panlilio, P. Dyjur and A. C. Wright, Eds.). Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning Guide Series, University of Calgary.

    Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher education, 32(3), 347-364.

    Bloom, B. S. (1984). The 2 sigma problem: The search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one tutoring. Educational Researcher, 13, 4-16.

    Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78.

    Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(39), 19251-19257.

    Heilporn, G., Lakhal, S., & Bélisle, M. (2021). An examination of teachers’ strategies to foster student engagement in blended learning in higher education. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 18(1), 1-25.

    Kirschner, P. A., Claessens, L. C. A., & Raaijmakers, S. F. (2018). Op de schouders van reuzen: Inspirerende inzichten uit de cognitieve psychologie voor leerkrachten. Ten Brink Uitgevers.

    Last, B. (2022). Blended learning in de praktijk. Modellen, strategieën, voorbeelden en andere handvatten. Boom Uitgevers.

    Sun, P. C., Tsai, R. J., Finger, G., Chen, Y. Y., & Yeh, D. (2008). What drives a successful e-Learning? An empirical investigation of the critical factors influencing learner satisfaction. Computers & education, 50(4), 1183-1202.

    Surma, T., Vanhoyweghen, K., Sluijsmans, D., Camp, G., Muijs, D., & Kirschner, P. A. (2019). Wijze lessen: Twaalf bouwstenen voor effectieve didactiek. Ten Brink Uitgevers.

    Zimmerman, B. J. (2013). From cognitive modeling to self-regulation: A social cognitive career path. Educational Psychologist, 48, 135-147.