IHP Learning Experience Designers can provide expertise in course design and pedagogy; assisting you in the design and delivery of high quality courses (face-to-face, hybrid, or online). The approach for designing instructionally sound courses followed in this process is called ‘Backwards Design’, and the process model is based on current accepted research, best practices, and principles about pedagogies and how students learn.

By working collaboratively with you as the content experts, and with our Instructional Technologists as the technical experts, Learning Experience Designers can create courses that provide a challenging and engaging learning experience for students.

What is Backwards Design?

A popular approach to course design that starts with the desired results of a course and works “backwards” rather than starting with the design of specific activities and experiences, it is popular for ensuring alignment of course activities with the learning objectives of the course.

  1. Identify the Desired Results. Ideally the desired results are your learning objectives; what will students be able to do upon completion of the course.
  2. Determine Acceptable Evidence. Working from the learning objectives, establish how you will identify or measure whether students have reaching the intended objectives.
  3. Plan learning Experiences and Instruction. Establish the activities, scenarios, and materials students will work with to reach the desired results established in stage 1

Backwards design is an important model for enforcing good practice in course design because it breaks us away from the “coverage model” in which a course is perceived as simply a set of information that must be transmitted to students. The coverage model is problematic because it allows the material or texts to drive the design of the course rather than placing the selection and organization of materials around the learning goals we hope to achieve with the course. 

I. Alignment
A well-designed course is one that fosters student learning and promotes interaction while providing an avenue for students to meet the stated course goals.  Before you begin creating course materials, you need to define learning objectives based on your course goals. This approach is sometimes referred to as “Backwards Design”. This is the first step to creating a solid course structure. The design and development of assessments, as well as the selection of teaching and learning activities follow. Content (what you will teach) and learning activities (practice/feedback opportunities) are designed to provide students with the necessary and relevant information to meet the objectives. Assessments are designed to measure whether student have achieved those objectives. You should always be able to see clear relationships between your learning objectives, activities, and assessment strategies. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are the learning objectives stated using measurable and observable terms?
  • Are all of the activities and assessments based on objectives?
  • Are all objectives supported by the weekly content? Is there content that does not map to an objective?
  • Are all the objectives measured by activities that allow participants to judge whether or not they have met the objectives?

II. Seven Principles for Good Teaching Practice
Originally published by AAHE in 1987, the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Education are a meta-analysis of 50 years of research on the way teachers teach, and how students learn at the college level. Chickering and Ehrmann later published an update to the Seven Principles in 1996 tying the guidelines to online tools and environments, effectively documenting how these principles apply to teaching and learning in any environment. While each principle can stand alone, when all are present their effects multiply. Good teaching practice:

  1. Encourages contacts between students and faculty
  2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
  3. Uses active learning techniques
  4. Gives prompt feedback
  5. Emphasizes time on task
  6. Communicates high expectations
  7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning

III. Online Interactions
Research shows the quantity and quality of interactions with students is linked to student learning. More consideration needs to be made to student interactions, particularly online (student-instructor, student-student, student-content). (Swan, 2004)

While Swan’s research focused specifically on online courses, her principle observations and recommendations can be applied to all environments. Course interactions are most effective through a structured, consistent delivery and greater clarity in course design, goals, and instructor expectations, as well as ongoing assessment of student performance. Instructional designers can help you design (or re-design) your course; establish clear goals, clear guidelines or rubrics for participation and assignments, and create relevant, aligned assessment opportunities. These steps will lead to increased learning and a better overall student experience.

How long does the process take?
The course design process takes approximately twelve weeks, when ideally planned. Development time will be affected by the amount of material currently available in digital form and the types of media included in the course. A new course built without pre-existing materials and some multimedia –from start to finish - can easily take 100-150 plus hours (ideally spread out over twelve weeks). To increase efficiency, you can use affordable/open-source materials for course content when possible. Contact Jessica Bell, Institute Librarian, for more information.  Below is an overview of the process broken into five phases:

  • Phase 1: Orientation (week 1) :During Phase 1 instructional designers provide you with an overview of the course design process. Collaboratively you will explore potential strategies based on course inputs including course goals, syllabus, textbooks, existing materials, etc.
  • Phase 2: Establish a course plan and overall approach (week 2): During this phase you will work to establish weekly learning objectives and define your course topics. Instructional designers will work collaboratively with you to develop an overall instructional approach and create a week prototype, if developing an online course.
  • Since much of the design workload is upfront, it is essential that multiple interchanges between you and the instructional designers occur during the first two phases to provide a solid start for the project.
  • Phase 3: Week/Lesson design (weeks 3-9)
  • Phase 4: Faculty Production/Course Creation (weeks 4-10): Work during this phase runs concurrently with Phase 3. As week/lesson designs are completed, the materials can be created and built into D2L, as required.
  • Phase 5: Faculty Q/A (weeks 10-12)

You will meet with the instructional designers periodically throughout Phases 3-5, prior to the live course launch. The course design/development process should begin during the semester prior to launch:

Design Process Begins No Later Than Course Offered
June 1 Fall Semester (September)
October 1 Spring Semester (January)
March 1 Summer Semester (May)

If these dates cannot be met due to extenuating circumstances, consultation will be needed to determine what level of design services can be offered based on current workload, amount of existing content, resource availability, and numbers of weeks available for design/development prior to course offering. Services and process are determined on a case-by-case basis.

To create a solid course structure, think about your course as a whole and identify the most important concepts, issues, topics. The course should be logical, consistent, easy to navigate, assignments/activities should be easy to understand, relevant and authentic.

A detailed course plan is required. The course plan should include, but not be limited to analyzing both students' and instructor's needs and course goals; selecting course materials for students' knowledge construction; designing activities, discussion topics, projects, and tests; envisioning any potential technical or academic problems; and testing the accessibility of course content.

A detailed course plan should address (a) Navigation/Flow (b) Chunking/Segmenting Content (c) Course Assignments/Learning Activities (d) Authentic Learning Opportunities (e) Course Outline.

a. Navigation/Flow
The course concepts, issues, topics need to be organized in some kind of logical order. They could be arranged chronologically, simple to complex, or some other sequence. The goal is to have topics that build on one another that allow students to integrate previous topics into each new topic or concept. For online courses, how it is organized is particularly impactful to student learning because students must contend with navigating in a new environment and must stay motivated to digest large amounts of information in a self-paced environment. Flow of topics and logical navigation throughout the course is particularly important because getting lost is one of the most common causes of frustration in online learning.  

b. Chunking/Segmenting Content
Course materials need to be ‘chunked or segmented’ into small digestible pieces. Breaking down information into bite-sized pieces allows students’ brains to more easily digest new information. The reason the brain needs this assistance is because working memory, which is where students manipulate information, holds a limited amount of information at one time. (Mayer, 2009; Miller, 1955).

c. Course Assignments/Learning Activities
Content should be organized weekly to correspond with the semester/term, and assignments. Weeks in the online course should align with the course syllabus. Where possible, categorize the course assignments into groups such as discussions, exams, projects, readings, or videos. These activities (readings, discussions, projects, etc.) should then be presented in the order in which students should complete them. For example, a student would read the assigned chapter, complete a practice exercise related to that reading (summative assessment), post to the discussion board to reflect on the topic/assignment s/he just completed, and then take a quiz as a formative assessment.

A variety of content organizational methods can be used; however, the week-by-week method is most helpful for students. The week-by-week presentation of content has built-in time management components; it helps students visually see the amount of work they will need to manage and, specifically, the timeframe in which the work will need to be complete. With this organization, students are able to approach their course preparation using a clearly delineated, step-by-step framework.

To further enhance this organization, weekly work/assignments should be broken into ‘categories’ where students can easily see what tasks will need to be completed. Categories labeled with short, succinct words of what a student will DO such as ‘Read’, ‘View’, ‘Listen’, ‘Practice’, ‘Discuss’, ‘Submit’ ‘Exam’, and ‘Project’ should be used to organize material and help students quickly identify assignments and large impact activities such as an exam or project deadline. 

Weekly work should start with content delivery (readings, narrated lectures, screencasts, etc.) followed by opportunities for students to practice (low stakes activities reinforcing the content with immediate corrective feedback), and then an assessment mechanism. (Gagne’, 1985; Merrill, 2002). This sequence could repeat multiple times during one week.

d. Authentic Learning Opportunities
Provide students with authentic tasks. Variety is very relevant to student motivation. Variety should be included but not in relation to the framework. This can be achieved by varying the types of assignments and activities provided to students. These may include case scenarios, reading assignments, web field trips, group work, diagraming exercises, etc.  Assignments should be challenging and have the balance necessary to increase curiosity and creativity. Activities should be developed that have personal meaning to the students and can draw on prior learning and real-world experiences. (Chickering and Ehrmann, 1996; Gagne’, 1985).

e. Course Outline
To help visually frame the structure of the course provide students with a detailed description of the course structure for each week. A ‘Weekly Overview’ table documenting all the above information provides students with the structure and detailed information required for each week at a quick glance.

Learning Experience Designers can 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, et.al. 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.

The D2L Course Framework is a collection of instructional design resources and structured templates intended to assist instructors who are in the process of designing a new course or restructuring an existing course. The Course Framework provides a standardized look and feel for the presentation of Institute courses in D2L, as well as assisting instructors with the rapid development and organizations of course materials. The Course Framework is intended to be a flexible course design resource for instructors and can be used whole cloth or piecemeal as needed by individual courses.

There are three main section within the Framework:

1. Instructional Design Support Materials - Instructor Resources
This area of the Framework contains a wealth of information in preparation for designing a course and planning for the delivery of materials online. Resources include course design guidelines booklet, tutorials, online design checklist, etc. This material is hidden from students by default.

2. Course level materials
This section  includes the standardized information helpful in structuring any online course. The IHP Course Syllabus Template and accompanying User Guide are provided as well as a welcome message, instructor bio page, system recommendations and academic resources for students. This section of the framework is visible to students and can be edited as needed.

3. Pre-Built Weekly Modules
The remaining sections of the Framework include a weekly structure for content and the Weekly Organizer Page. The 14 Weeks, each with an organizer page provide a consistent structure for the course content. Any of the elements can be copied, modified, or removed as desired.

Video: Copy The Course Framework Into Your Course from the Learning Object Repository (LOR)

Organizer Pages

The Weekly Organizer Page is a pre-formatted document available for D2L courses to assist in outlining weekly content. A PDF document for viewing the organizer page format and a Word document for drafting weekly organizer pages outside of D2L is included in the Weekly Organizer Documents Module. The content from completed Word documents for each week can be copied and pasted into the D2L "Weekly Organizer' HTML Document in the D2L Course Framework. The Weekly Organizer Documents are hidden from students by default.