Designing Your Course

Whether you teach face-to-face (F2F), online, blended or hybrid, every course follows a design process. Below are some of the instructional design methodologies we commonly use when designing a course – All have their strengths. Contact us if you would like help to implement these strategies when designing and planning your course.

Learning Theories

An important part of course design is understanding the theories about how students learn. Understanding learning theories can help you adopt different techniques when designing your course which you can use to cater to the different needs of your students. There are 3 main learning theories:


Focuses on observable, measurable behaviours. Learning based on stimuili and response.


Focused on cognitive process learning. How the brain takes in new information, relates it to known information and learns.


Focused on the learning role in constructing their own learning. Consider prior knowledge, individual experiences, and social influences.

Design Theories

Considering that your course instruction is influenced on how your students learn and designed with learning theories in mind, there are several design models you can use to guide the overall process of building your course instruction. Here are 3 instructional design models you could use: 


ADDIE is an acronym for the 5 step design process which is used for design in many fields from engineering to instruction.

Addie Design Model

Analyze – Consider this phase as a full audit of the course. Analyze what you know and what you need to know. Who are your learners? What prior knowledge do they have?

Design – Take all that you learned in the analysis phase and use it to make practical decisions such as delivery methods, structure or sequencing, duration, assessments, and feedback.

Develop – In this phase, you can begin to create the course – putting all the necessary elements together to meet your learning objectives for the course.

Implement – This is where students are taking the course. Your course may need to run a pilot to ensure there are no problems before the next offering of the course.

Evaluate – The final step is evaluating whether the course design is meeting the learning objectives. Use feedback to begin the process again by analyzing what you learned after implementation.

Backwards Design

Backward design starts with the end goals or learning outcomes of the course first, then you would create your assessments and finally develop your lesson plans and content.

backwards design model

Set Objectives
– What do students need to be able to do?

Create Assessments – How will you know they can do it?

Develop Content – What do you need to teach them so they can do it?

Iterative Design / SAM

SAM (Successive Approximation Model) is similar to ADDIE, but course development happens more rapidly and allows you to analyze and make changes as you work through the course.

iterative design model

Setting your Learning Objectives/Outcomes

Learning objectives set the framework for what students need to be able to do by the end of the course. Well-written objectives are clear statements that define the expected outcome that can be measured by demonstrating a particular skill or knowledge that the student acquired in the course. There are a few models you can use to ensure your objectives are clear and measurable.

Types of Objectives

To begin developing learning objectives for your course, you should identify which types of learning best suits the overall goal of your course.

Cognitive – creating new knowledge and mental skills

Psychomotor – enhancing physical motor skills

Affective – developing feelings and attitudes

Interpersonal/Social – engaging interactions with others and social skills

Bloom's Taxonomy Levels of Learning

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchy system representing the levels of learning, meaning that learning at the higher levels of the pyramid is dependent on having gained the knowledge and skills at lower levels. These levels can help you develop learning objectives because it outlines the process of learning and ways to measure each level using verbs.

Bloom's Taxonomy Pyramid

Remember – Recall facts and basic concepts (define, duplicate, list, memorize, repeat, state)

Understand – Explain ideas and concepts (classify, describe, discuss, explain, identify, locate, recognize, report, select, translate)

Apply – Use information in new situations (execute, implement, solve, use, demonstrate, interpret, operate, schedule, sketch)

Analyze – Draw connections among ideas (differentiate, organize, relate, compare, contrast, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, test)

Evaluate – Justify a stand or decision (appraise, argue, defend, judge, select, support, value, critique, weigh)

Create – Produce new or original work (design, assemble, construct, conjecture, develop, formulate, author, investigate)


SMART Objectives

SMART Objectives use the following acronym to help set clear and measurable objectives for your course. When writing your objectives, make sure they are:

Specific – outline in a clear statement precisely what is required.

Measurable – include a measure that enables you to know when the objective has been achieved.

Achievable (or agreed) – design objectives to be challenging, but ensure that failure is not built into objectives.

Relevant (or realistic) – set objectives that are appropriate and align with the overall purpose of the course.

Time-bound – agree the date by which the outcome must be achieved.

Make a Plan

Using one of the instructional design models, formulate how you will present your course content aligning the material to your learning objectives. You may find the Course Plan Worksheet useful in organizing your course material.

Common Questions

How many learning objectives should I have for my course?

The number of learning objectives for your course may vary. However, they need to be clear and precise, so consider limiting the objectives to 3 – 5 main goals per section or unit of learning.

What are some useful tips for designing my course?

Look at the big picture first and work into the finer details.

  1. Use a Course Plan Worksheet to keep organized.
  2. Start with objectives and plan assessments to match.
  3. Keep it manageable and sustainable.
  4. Make notes as you design and teach.
  5. Remember iterative design and adapt as you go!

Further Resources

Contact Info

Rene Hemenway

Instructional Designer

(403) 502-8438