General Guidance for Course Writers

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Indira Gandhi National Open University

School of Agriculture

General Guidelines for Writing the Units of the Self Learning Material (SLM)

Writing the Units

We must appreciate that writing SLM is not the same as writing a major treatise or research paper. Our objective is to help students learn certain things away from direct intervention of a teacher. Therefore, an easy to read, informative and interactive tone is best for SLM writing. The buzzword here is reader friendliness. In writing SLM, we must be conversational/ interactive, welcoming and plain speaking.

(a) Conversational/ Interactive

  • Develop participatory approach by referring " We"
  • Refer yourself as "I" and the learner as "you"
  • Include interactive questions in writings
  • Give illustrations from day to day life
  • Use contractions wherever it sounds natural.

(b) Welcoming

  • Introduce yourself
  • Be motivating by expressing the benefit of the unit
  • Avoid offensive statements
  • Write gender and race in neutral language

(c) Speaking plainly

  • Use short words
  • Prefer active rather than passive voice
  • Keep your sentences short
  • Avoid writing sentence with too many clauses and sub-clauses
  • Make short paragraphs
  • Use headings and sub-headings

Target Group: The projected target group shall consist of all entrepreneurs/ rural youth involved in production, processing, marketing of Bamboo and Rattan. The contents and language of the text should be at a 10+ 2 level student ( Senior Secondary pass-outs).

Format: A generic format is given here:

Unit X (X stand for the serial number of the unit concerned)

X.0   Objectives
X.1   Introduction
X.2   Section 1 (Main Theme)
X.2.1 Sub-section 1 of Section 1
X.2.2 Sub-section 2 of section 1

Self-Check exercises/Check your Progress/Self Assessment Questions for section 1

X.3   Section 2 (Main Theme)
X.3.1. Sub-Section 1 of Section 2
X.3.2. Sub-Section 2 of Section 2

Self-Check exercises/Check your Progress/Self Assessment Questions for section 2

X.n   Let Us Sum Up
X.n+1 Glossary/ Key Words
X.n+2 Further Suggested Reading/references
X.n+3 Answers/ Outlines to check your progress/ SAQs/         Assignment
X.n+4 Assignments at the end as the self test for the complete Unit     (Optional)

Characteristics of Good SLM: A piece of good SLM has the following characteristics:

  • It is : Self –explanatory, Self-contained, Self- Directed, Self- motivating, Self- evaluating
  • It helps the learner see the benefits of package as well as those of each section. It makes the learner interested;
  • It reminds them of necessary prior learning’s;
  • It informs the learners what they will be learning next;
  • It helps learners clarify and grasp new idea;
  • It enables learners to use new ideas in their own situation;
  • It builds activities to help learners to think and act;
  • It provides constructive feedback to learners on what they do;
  • It enables learners to reflect on their progress; and
  • It helps them to build the knowledge base.

An exemplar unit is provided for reference please( Exemplar Unit).

Additional Information on features of SLMs

SLMs materials display following features:

  • Self-Explanatory: The materials are explained with the help of examples, cases and illustrations, so that the learner can understand content without much external support.
  • Self-Contained: The materials are self-sufficient to have full comprehension of the subject matter. However, learners maybe advised to read additional reference materials to enrich their understanding.
  • Self-Directed: The materials are directed towards learners, and help them fit into their own style of learning. They are given necessary guidance, hints, suggestions, and are facilitated through access devices at each stage of learning.
  • Self-Motivating: These materials are designed in ways to arouse curiosity, to keep the learner’s motivation intact and/or increase the motivation while learning by relating knowledge to familiar situations providing feedback at each stage of learning, giving interesting examples while presenting the content and so on.
  • Self-Evaluating : In-text questions/tests, self-assessment questions, activities, unit-end questions, etc., are given for helping learning conduct self-test of their own understanding and progress and for providing feedback to their progress.

Besides the above characteristics, Prof. Derek Rowntree of UK Open University has provided a few related features of open learning materials (materials which can be tailored to learner needs, abilities, pacing and styles). The features common to all kinds of open learning materials include:

  • These materials have clearly stated objectives.
  • There are study guides and advices as to how to study and use these materials.
  • The content is presented in conversational style, and therefore is user-friendly.
  • Content are presented in short and manageable chunks for easy understanding.
  • Course contents are full of examples and explanations. Illustrations like tables, graphs and charts are given which better explain the content.
  • Linkages within text with other media and maintained for easy reference and progress.
  • Space is provided for learners to work out activities and other questions and write down their own ideas. Feedback is provided from time to time to check their own progress.
  • These materials contain suggestions on related reference materials to go through, people to discuss with, places to be visited, and so on.
  • These are access devices like headings, introduction, and summary, and the like which facilitate learners in accessing the materials.

The characteristics described above are built into the self-learning materials at the design and development stages, while the access devices are built around these materials, which facilitate learner access to these materials. Before looking into varieties of access devices, let us examine some of the common types of self-learning materials.

Access Devices

The structure of teaching through SLMs can be made clear to the learners through a variety of means, called ’access devices’, which help them access the materials as to how to get into materials, what to study, the purpose of various features of SLMs, and so on. Generally, in print based SLMs, these devices can be divided into three types: those which appear before the presentation of the main body of the content. These are briefly described as follows:

Beginning of a Unit

Title: the title of the unit should be precise, clear and communicative. The font size of the title should be the largest of all headings in the unit.

List of Contents/Structure: The contents list containing headings and sub-headings of main themes, introduction, objectives, summary, additional readings, glossary, model answers to self-assessment questions, etc., is given at the beginning of the unit for learners to come to know what is contained in the unit. Also, these may be followed by a flow diagram (or content map) showing linkages among the themes of all the units contained in the module.

Objectives: A list of learning objectives may be given at the introductory section of the unit which notes clearly what the learners will be able to learn or do after going through the unit. The objectives should be written in non-technical language, and clearly state what is expected. Sometimes, objectives are given at the end of the unit (in question form) for the learners to check whether they have learnt what was intended.

Main Body

Introduction: The main body of the unit starts with an introduction which givens an overview of the content and also links up with the preceding unit(s) of the module. It also encourages learners to learn further, and provides study guides on the unit.

Headings and Sub-Headings: The contents are presented under headings and sub-headings (if any) under each heading. Numbering system like 1.0, 1.1, 1.2 etc., may be used for each heading (of the pre-main body, main body and post-main body). Sub-headings like 1.1.1, 1.1.2 may be formed. If there are further branches under each sub-heading, those may be printed bold or italicized (and can be numbered as I), ii) etc.). Sub-headings may be given on the margin so that the point of discussion follows.

Check Your Progress: CYP questions can be given separate headings (and numbered like CYP1, CYP2 etc.) and may be put in a box form, with space for learners to work on them immediately.

Signposts: Each task, like doing an activity, responding to CYP questions, practical work, extra reading, related audio programme, related video programme, assignments, etc., can be indicated by a fixed symbol. For example, the figure of a pen can be used to symbolize working out a test/activity, open book can be used to suggest extra reading, audio cassette for listening to an audio program, video cassette for watching a video program, and so on.

Summary / Let Us Sum Up: At the end of the unit, the summary of the unit is given, which reviews and highlights the main points of the topic precisely and comprehensively. The summary may be given in the form of a table, and inverted tree diagram, running paragraph, main points in bullet form, and the like.

End of Body

The end part of the body of the unit includes a "glossary" of terms used in the text, "further suggested readings", "answer to CYP questions"; "end-of-unit tests or assignments". Sometimes, an "index" which contains key words like terms, names, concept is provided. At the end of the unit, "sources", on the basis of which the unit was written, may also be given.


SLMs are a combination of interactive instructional steps and access devices, which help a learner to easily access and assimilate the contents. Access Devices like Title, Structure, Objectives, Introduction, Summary, Glossary, etc.; help the course writer to bring the student as close to the content as he/she can. These devices help the learners find their way into the text. The Interactive Instructional Steps (IIS) perform the task of tutoring by providing subject matter in sections and sub-sections, followed by in-text questions, activities and so on.