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Course Design Resources


Designing a course for online, flipped, or hybrid learning typically begins at least two quarters before the course launch. See What We Do for a break down of the instructional design phases.

Digital Learning supports a backward design approach, which begins with the end or with the student learning outcomes first. Digital Learning also frames course design around Universal Design principles which promote multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement in learning.

Take a look at the resources below for more information on the principles and supporting resources for Course Design.

Learner Centered Syllabus

A learner-centered syllabus focuses on the learner and promotes academic success by anticipating questions and providing necessary information to advance the learner experience in a particular course. The syllabus sets the tone for a course, lets learners know what to expect, establishes a rationale, shares grading strategies, and provides learner support resources.

Resource Description
Guide to Developing a Learner-Centered Syllabus (pdf) An outline of components, guiding questions, examples, and references for developing an effective learner-centered syllabus.
Learner-Centered Syllabus Template (doc) A Word document that can be used and modified to support syllabus development.

Backward Design

The Backward Design approach to curriculum development offers three stages that support alignment of learning outcomes.

  1. Identify desired results. Describe what your learners should know, understand, and be able to do by the end of the course. Learning outcomes often target standards or goals established by the program. 
  2. Determine acceptable evidence that validate and demonstrate achieved learning outcomes. Identify how you plan to assess learners on their knowledge and mastery of information, skills, and attitudes. Determine proficiency levels and the kind of evidence learners need to demonstrate at the different levels.
  3. Plan learning experiences and instruction that give students the opportunity to gain an understanding, construct meaning from their knowledge, and place that knowledge into practice.

Resource Description

McTighe, J. and Wiggins, G. (2012). Understanding by design framework. ASCD.

An introduction to the Understanding by Design framework (backward design). A planning process and structure to guide curriculum, assessment, and instruction.

Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching

An overview of Understanding by Design framework and the benefits of using Backward Design.

Course Map

A course map is a visual overview of all components of a course, aimed to demonstrate how learning outcomes are supported by the overall learning experience. Course maps organize the structure of a course around its learning modules or learning units. Each unit is further broken down into its components: assessments, activities, instruction, and mapped or linked to the appropriate learning outcome to demonstrate alignment.

Resource Description
The Online Course Mapping Guide An online guide that breaks down and visualizes the course mapping process, including explanations and examples of each step.
Course Map Template (doc) A Word document that can be used and modified to support course mapping.

Quality Course Review

Digital Learning is a subscribing member of Quality Matters, which provides research-based rubrics and standards for ensuring quality and continuous improvement of online classes and programs. Review and evaluation is an iterative process that provides opportunity for identifying gaps and opportunities for advancing teaching and learning.

Resource Description
QM Higher Education Rubric 6th ed. (pdf) A rubric of the specific review standards established by Quality Matters, used to assess course quality and foster objective feedback on course design.
Online Learning Consortium Quality Course Teaching and Instructional Practice Scorecard Designed to evaluate the overall classroom experience, this tool can be used to evaluate teaching effectiveness in several areas, including: Course Fundamentals, Learning Foundations, Faculty Engagement and Student Engagement.
How good is your online course? Five steps to assess course quality. Online Learning Insights. An article discussing quality online education and why course evaluation is so important.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based framework that takes a proactive approach to designing courses for students with various backgrounds and learning abilities. UDL centers around three principles for universal course design, aimed to meet the needs of various learners.

  • Multiple means of Engagement: Give students the opportunity to engage and participate in activities that best motivate them.
  • Multiple means of Representation: Provide alternative methods for reading, viewing, and listening to instructional material and course content. Ensure access to learning materials are universal.
  • Multiple means of Expression: Allow choice, options, and flexibility for students to express how they learn and how they have achieved the learning goals.

Resource Description
The UDL Guidelines The new website for UDL principles, guidelines, descriptions, and research behind the checkpoints.
CAST.org A nonprofit education research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through Universal Design for Learning.
DO-IT. University of Washington (UW) DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) promotes awareness and accessibility in both the classroom and the workplace through programs, resources, and a knowledge base.
Universal Design of Instruction Definition, Principles, Guidelines, and examples for applying UD principles to all aspects of instruction.