Including pre-reading (or pre-watching or pre-listening) tasks can help orientate and focus learners on the important parts of a resource and allow you to jump into the higher-level discussions in the valuable face-to-face times.
One common strategy is the three Ps - predict, prior knowledge, purpose.
Or, you might ask learners to look out for something in particular.
Including pre-reading/watching/listening tasks into your online course allows...
You to see easily who has done the preparatory work for the resource (and remind learners to complete if necessary).
Learners to focus just on the salient parts of a resource and read/watch/listen with a purpose.
Learners to stay active and their brain engaged when learning (rather than just passively absorbing content).
A springboard for discussion as a class from a higher starting point as learners have already done the intial work in reading/watching/listening, and most importantly, thinking!
Include some metacognition tasks that support learners to reflect on how pre-reading tasks might help their learning.
Prompt learners to look for connections to other: texts, ideas, people (or characters), day-to-day scenarios.
Include pre- and post- tasks. This is especially useful if you hope the resource will significantly change the way learners see or approach something. For instance you might have a series of tasks which ask learners to complete these thought starters: (1) Before this resource I thought [concept] was... (2) Now I think [concept] is... (3) Three ways in which my thinking about [concept] has changed throughout this section are...
Other articles you might be interested in
Ideas for blended learning - Different strategies for how you might choose to integrate your online and offline learning.
Ideas for blended learning - 2 - Metacognition or next steps tasks - Different ideas for adding a metacognition and next steps tasks for a flipped or blended learning model.