Intentional up-front planning of your course will make it easier to develop an effective and engaging learning experience for students. We have adopted the Quality Matters (QM) standards as our guide for effective course design and development and related training.
The Course Planning Stages frame the alignment of the three essential elements of an effectively designed course-student learning outcomes, assessments, and instructional strategies. Quality Matters espouses these three essential elements, while breaking down the instructional strategies element into three smaller components--Resources and Methods, Learning Activities, and Learning Tools and Media.
We encourage you to work through the Course Planning Stages to (re)design your courses.
Course Planning Stages
Stage 1: Consider the Delivery Method
Determine in consultation with your department head whether your course will be offered as a traditional face-to-face, fully online, or web-enhanced course. Your department will place the course on the schedule with the appropriate course section designation.
Stage 2: Know who your students are
Students' prior knowledge and experiences, learning styles, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, generational connections, cultural backgrounds, and intellectual and social backgrounds contribute to their learning experiences. Therefore, as the instructor and designer of effective learning environments, it is important that you understand the make-up of the students in each of the courses you develop.
- Generational learning styles
- Learning styles
- Motivation to learn
- Intellectual Development
- Cultural background
Stage 3: Identify Important Situational Factors
Answers to these questions will have implications for the decisions you make regarding learning objectives, instructional activities and assessments, and consideration as to the depth and amount of material you can reasonably cover in the course.
- How many students are/will be in the class?
- Is the course lower division, upper division, or graduate level?
- What curricular goals does the institution or department have that affect this course or program?
- How long and frequent are the class meetings?
- How will the course be delivered: live classroom instruction, interactive TV, as an online course, or some combination?
- Why do students need the course? (Prerequisite, elective, required course for major?)
- What is the life situation of the students at the moment: full-time, part-time working student, family responsibilities, work responsibilities, and the like?
- What life or professional goals do they have that relate to this learning experience?
- What are their reasons for enrolling?
- What prior experiences, knowledge, skills, and attitudes do the students have regarding the subject?
- What are the students' learning styles?
- Prior Knowledge - what they already know. Is there a gap between what they know and where they need to go with this instruction? What do I need to teach? Do I need to do a pre-test to see "Where they are" and "where I need to begin?
Stage 4: Formulate student learning outcomes
Prior to deciding on course content and developing the course, it is important to formulate strong, well-written student learning outcomes. These student learning outcomes are the focus of the learning planned for and demonstrated, or assessed, in the course.
Articulating well-written student learning outcomes will assist you, the instructor, in selecting and organizing content and in determining appropriate assessments and instructional strategies. Additionally they will direct the attention and learning of students and assist them in monitoring their own progress.
Alignment among the three main course components provides the supporting structure for an effective course. Alignment occurs when:
- STUDENT LEARNING OUTCOMES articulate the knowledge and skills students are to acquire by the end of the course
- ASSESSMENTS allow the instructor to check the degree to which the students are meeting the student learning outcomes.
- INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES are chosen which foster student learning towards meeting the student learning outcomes.
When these components are not aligned, students might rightfully complain that the test did not have anything to do with what was covered in class, or instructors might feel that even though students are earning a passing grade, they haven't really mastered the material at the desired level.
Text Resource: Bloom's Digital Taxonomy Overview
Picture Resource: Abbreviated/Revised Mind Map
Stage 5: Identify and Align Assessments with Student Learning Outcomes
Assessments provide instructors with evidence of how well students have learned what was intended that they learn. Student learning outcomes should guide the choice and design of the assessments.
Stage 6: Identify Appropriate Instructional Strategies
After selecting the student learning outcomes and assessments for the course, think about the various instructional activities you will use to engage students and enable them to meet the learning outcomes. Quality Matters (QM) breaks instructional strategies into three areas:
- Resources and materials
- Learning engagement
- Tools and media.
In most cases, a combination of instructional strategies will be best. The Instructional materials, learning activities, tools and media support the learning objectives and are chosen to contribute to, promote, and deliver the content of the course.
Stage 7: Plan the Content Layout of the Course
Alignment of the student learning outcomes, assessments, and instructional strategies provides for the sound structure of the course. After this structure has been determined, it is time to plan for the content layout of the course.
Determine the most effective means of laying out the course in manageable instructional pieces. For some courses, the best layout may be chronologically by each week of the term, for other courses, it may be best to use a modular approach by topic or phases of a semester-long project. At each point of planning, keep in mind who your students are and the other Situational Factors you identified in Stage 2.
Stage 8: Write the Syllabus
Syllabi serve several important purposes, the most basic of which is to communicate the instructor's course design (e.g., student learning outcomes, expectations, organization, policies, requirements) to students. The syllabus sets the tone for the course and conveys the role of the teacher and students. It is a type of contract with students regarding the stated policies, requirements, and procedures for the course.
Stage 9: Develop Your Course on the Learning Management System (LMS)
Texas A&M University-Commerce uses Pearson Learning Studio (formerly eCollege) to deliver fully online and web-enhanced courses. Contact an Instructional Design team member for assistance.