| Overview of Course Design and Planning Process
Once you have determined what it is your learners need, or are interested in, it is time to consider designing and planning the course. Following are some suggested steps in this process.
Deciding on a Topic
Begin with the end in mind - Steven Covey
When planning a course, the best place to start is at the end. Determine what students might reasonably be expected to achieve from a course and then plan how material can be organised and delivered to reach this end.
Overarching goals describe the most important understandings that students should develop during an entire course. Ask yourself:
When my students leave my class at the end of this course, what are the essential understandings that I want them to take away?
Where possible, students should have a role in determining the goals of a programme. However, in instances where goals are determined by an outside body, e.g. stage agency or funding body, it is important to ensure consultation and collaboration between all the stakeholders.
Once the overarching goal is determined, the next step is to break this into identifiable and manageable units of achievement, i.e. learning outcomes.
Learning Outcomes: Statements of what a learner is expected to know, understand and/or be able to demonstrate after completion of a process of learning.
Students may ask, What will I learn from this course? What will I be able to do when the course is over? Sometimes the course description alone does not provide sufficient detail. Generalised learning outcomes do not supply much additional information to prospective students. More focused outcomes can identify key tasks in the learning process, or observe stages in cognitive development.
Levels of Abstraction
In the 1950's Benjamin Bloom created a taxonomy for categorising levels of thinking. The taxonomy provides a useful structure in which to categorise learning outcomes and, subsequently, assessment questions. Introductory courses, and some interest courses, may expect to have outcomes at the initial levels of abstraction, whereas accredited and certified courses would be expected to have more complex outcomes at higher levels of abstraction. The system has been used widely across a variety of educational spheres since its inception.
In the 1990's, Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) revised the taxonomy with a view to making it more relevant to the twenty-first century. The following table is listed in the order of the revised taxonomy with the original categories printed in black.
Can the student RECALL information?
| Observation and recall of information
Knowledge of dates, events, places
Knowledge of major ideas
Mastery of subject matter
||List, define, tell, describe, identify, show, label, collect, examine, tabulate, quote, name, who, when, where, etc.
Can the student EXPLAIN ideas or concepts?
| Understanding information
Translate knowledge into new context
Interpret facts, compare, contrast
Order, group, infer causes
||Summarise, describe, interpret, contrast, predict, associate, distinguish, estimate, differentiate, discuss, extend
Can the student USE the new knowledge in another familiar situation?
| Use methods, concepts, theories in new situations
Solve problems using required skills or knowledge
||Apply, demonstrate, calculate, complete, illustrate, show, solve, examine, modify, relate, change, classify, experiment, discover
Can the student DIFFERENTIATE between constituent parts?
| Organisation of parts
Recognition of hidden meanings
Identification of components
||Analyse, separate, order, explain, connect, classify, arrange, divide, compare, select, explain, infer
Can the student JUSTIFY a decision or course of action?
| Compare and discriminate between ideas
Assess value of theories, presentations
Make choices based on reasoned argument
Verify value of evidence
||Assess, decide, rank, grade, test, measure, recommend, convince, select, judge, explain, discriminate, support, conclude, compare, summarise
Can the student GENERATE new products, ideas or ways of viewing things?
| Use old ideas to create new ones
Generalise from given facts
Relate knowledge from several areas
Predict, draw conclusions
||Combine, integrate, modify, rearrange, substitute, plan, create, design, invent, what if?, compose, formulate, prepare, generalise, rewrite
Writing up Outcomes
Outcomes can be written up in the following format:
At the end of this course students should be able to:
Discussion of Outcomes
At the beginning of a course, learning outcomes should be discussed with students. This ensures that you are both working towards the same goals and gives students an idea of what they can reasonably expect to achieve over the course of a module. This also provides an opportunity to amend learning outcomes in line with the wishes of particular student groups. In this way students feel more involved with the programme and feel their input influences the shape of the course. Learning outcomes should be fluid as not all learning can be prescribed or predicted. Learning opportunities can arise during courses, which were never envisaged at the planning stage, and it is important to accommodate such diversions.
Evidence of Understanding
Questions that might now be asked include:
Ongoing and systematic consultation with students goes some way to ensuring outcomes are being met. Student feedback should be sought to ascertain whether content is being understood and to ensure the material is being covered at an appropriate pace for the group. Individual/group exercises and problem based learning exercises can also be used throughout the course to ensure that students are progressing through the material.
Formal evidence of understanding can be verified through a variety of assessment methods.
Assessment should be decided upon at the outset as an integral part of design and not merely attached on at the end. For those people setting assessment exercises, assessment should be linked to the projected learning outcomes. Assessment criteria should be understandable so that students can see that the assignment is related to the overall aims of the course. Questions you might address include:
Assessment is reviewed in greater detail in the During the Course section.
Once outcomes have been established, and assessment methods (either formal or informal) decided upon, the following questions need to be considered:
When planning and organising your course content, it is important to take into consideration the individual nature of adult learners who come to your course. Learners will have varied abilities and require varied levels of support. Prior experiences of learning may differ radically with some students being enthusiastic lifelong learners and others making a tentative move back into education. Motivations for attending may also range from those needing a particular course for work/personal reasons to those who just wish to take a course to get out and meet people. In between will be all degrees of commitment, interest and enthusiasm. All of these learners may have to be accommodated in the one group.
Matters for consideration
Evaluation is the collection of feedback on a course to determine how the course content and presentation has been received. Evaluation is essential in ensuring quality control. Feedback received in this way provides information on the:
Tutor self-evaluation and learner evaluation are both necessary to provide effective quality control. Self-evaluation requires you to reflect on your practice throughout a course, to critique your presentation style, to analyse your group and time management skills, and to consider how you might alter your practice in future.
Learner evaluation allows the learner an opportunity to evaluate both the facilitator and course content. The evaluation can provide information on whether the course met participants' needs and supply recommendations as to how a course might be modified in future. Time for course evaluation and review should be allocated at the design and planning stage.
Evaluation is covered in greater detail in the After the Course section.
Using overarching goal(s) and learning outcomes as a basis, the next step is to write up a course description. Course descriptions may be used by the learning provider for information and/or marketing purposes. Dynamic creative descriptions engage prospective students and encourage further inquiries. It is important to make as much information as possible available to students. The language used in course brochures should be clear and concise and free of jargon or terminology which might confuse or intimidate the learner.
Suggestions for Reflection
| Determine outcomes for the course you are planning, ensuring that you have at least one outcome at each level of abstraction
| Consider how these learning outcomes might be demonstrated in an assessment exercise
| What factors do you consider when planning your programme content?