Designing Course Content

Instructional designers will initially guide you through a big picture design process to document the ‘course plan’ for course content and determine a sequence of weeks/topics based on course objectives, teaching methods, course topics, communication techniques and assessment strategies. Next, you will collaborate on the design of detailed weekly content and individual lessons using a consistent format designed to support student learning.

The approach used to create content is based on the work of David Merrill’s “First Principles of Instruction” model (Merrill, 2002). Using this model, course content should include:

  1. Activation of prior knowledge: Connect previously learned concepts/procedures to new information for the students. Use analogies to help students make connections to new content. When students connect what they are learning to relevant prior knowledge, they learn and retain more.
  2. Provide ‘authentic’ problems or tasks. Assigning real-world problems or tasks allow students to realize relevance and value, and provides them with a context for understanding what they are learning.
  3. Demonstration: Connect any required concepts and definitions to the task/skill being reviewed. Complex tasks should be broken down and demonstrated step-by-step. The relationships between concepts and theories related to tasks should be clearly and explicitly articulated. Discussing the conditions and contexts of applicability can help students transfer what they know more successfully (Ambrose, 2010).
  4. Application: Provide students with opportunities for low-stakes practice with feedback. Learning accumulates gradually. Research shows that creating multiple opportunities for goal-directed practice, coupled with targeted feedback for refinement, will increase learning.
  5. Integration: Transfer does not happen easily or automatically so you must help students make appropriate connections between what they know and what they are learning. Use instructional strategies to help students with integration. For example, provide students with the context (a case, problem, etc.) and have them explain the rules, process, theories that are related.

Implementing this approach means designing a course around objectives that students should be able to perform or meet when the course is over, sequencing instruction to support acquisition of the skills and knowledge by providing and/or demonstrating real-world problems or tasks, and providing students with frequent opportunities for practice feedback, refinement, and integration.


Works Cited

Ambrose, Susan A., et. al. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, California: Jossey Bass Publishers

Merrill, M. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43–59. doi:10.1007/BF02505024

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