Course Design Resources

Postgraduate Course: Designing Courses (EDUA11180)

This unit focuses on the design and development of courses, particularly but not exclusively at undergraduate level. It includes consideration of the vertical and horizontal relationships of courses with the rest of the curriculum and students’ programmes of study. Emphasis is also be placed on the challenges for students in engaging fully with course content and processes, and how design decisions can enable the structuring and scaffolding of effective student learning.

The course gives participants the opportunity to critically examine key issues which arise and need to be resolved when designing new courses or redesigning existing ones. They develop a keen awareness of the underpinning theoretical considerations and their implications for practice. At the same time the requirement to apply their knowledge and understanding by working with the development of a particular course sharpens participants’ appreciation of the affordances and constraints of contextual features, and encourages them to develop creative responses to real-life challenges.

Participants are encouraged to expand their repertoire of strategies and practical approaches by moving outside their familiar frameworks and engaging in investigation and discussion across disciplinary boundaries. The course also helps advance participants’ ability to communicate in appropriate ways to peers, senior colleagues and students the underlying rationales for choices made between competing possibilities.

Learning Outcomes

Successful completion of the course will enable participants to demonstrate:

  • analytical engagement with key issues and writings on course design and development
  • alertness to students’ perspectives, their orientations and the challenges they face
  • critical reflection on course purposes and their articulation, with course activities and assessment – both conceptually and within specific contexts
  • awareness of ways of monitoring, reviewing and taking forward course development
  • appropriate attention to the place of a course in an overall programme of study and
  • issues of progression

Course Design


Aims of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice.

  • To introduce course participants to significant issues in relation to teaching, learning and assessment at a research-intensive institution.
  • To combine reference to theory and educational literature with practical application and make use of a wide variety of teaching and assessment strategies to demonstrate good practice.
  • To provide participants with the conceptual and theoretical frameworks needed to engage reflectively and critically with the question of how to promote high quality student learning within research-intensive settings.
  • To provide a pathway to professional accreditation by the Higher Education Academy.


Block 1

Block 2

Block 3


The theory, theorist, approach, or tools used depends on the type of learning the instructor wants to activate (or facilitate, depending on what terminology one is using).

Theory and Theorists

  • Constructivism-Lev Vygotsky-Vygotsky, L. S. (1980). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press. Liu & Matthews, International Education Journal, 2005, 6(3), 386-399. “experiential learning through authentic experience. Problem-solving that leads to creative or innovative responses. Instructional role is that of mentoring.
  • “Social Learning Theory”. Bandura, A. (1971). General Learning Corperation. Retrieved 25 December 2013.
  • Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, Vol. 2 No. 1, Jan 2005
  • Community of Practice (Lave & Wenger): this theory of learning suggests that learning is a community activity where students are peripheral members looking to become full-fledged members of a community. The community is defined with a shared approach to the domain (for example, an academic discipline or a particular trade), a shared set of processes to engage that domain, and a shared identity as a member of the group. This approach works well with academic disciplines (assuming the student is committed to that discipline) and apprenticeship/mentor relationships (faculty/student or trade/crafts).
  • Experentialism: a theory that posits experience as the source of knowledge. Learning in this theory involves direct, authentic application in the lived world with consistent cycles of reflection to make sense of this learning.


  • Infed (a non-profit organization with an associated online website with excellent introductory articles to learning theory, particularly ones relevant to course design):
  • JISC: Institutional Approaches to Course Design– these resources are not all entirely elearning course design, but they do include some excellent elearning parts as well. These resources assume, as I think is the case with what you are designing, that the course is following an institutional curriculum.
  • In particular, I might draw your attention to the Open University Learning Design Initiative (JISC-OULDI) project as that has some particularly good research on developing dialogue and communication in the online course experience.
  • Educause publishes some decent material on the issue, but tends to be a little enamored recently of MOOCs at the expense of everything else. Still, much of their material is worthy of including in a background report. Please note that this is US based  data.

Tools (either supplemental or primary instruction)

Tools and Technologies

Learning Management System (LMS)

These are the tools that the course designer must consider when presenting their class (particularly online). These tools are often defined at the organizational level and therefore course designers must be aware of the guidelines their universities are generating to govern their use.

Personal Learning Environment (PLE)

PLEs are commonly used by teachers and those in higher education to keep up to date on current developments in their fields, to network, and to reflect. All of these are active elements of professional practice and these tools below are useful in establishing an optimal flow of research, discussion, and reflection.

Course Design Tools

The tools you use to build your courses should follow or be aligned with university policy towards educational technology use. If your university uses a particular tool to design and host their courses, your best option is to use that tool. Large tools like Blackboard or Moodle can be supplemented with other social tools, like Twitter or Flickr quite effortlessly.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Need to create

  1. Guides for getting started with specific tools
  2. Guidelines for expected contribution/participation
  3. Resources to link to RSS Reader
  4. Bibliography
  5. Visuals for how this course fits into certificate programme
  6. Visuals for how activity links to learning outcomes/assessment


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  1. Hi Michael,

    I’ve been doing some reading and here are some I think might be useful as introductory texts. I’ve been trying to find reasonably straightforward starting points as some participants won’t have read much educational literature yet. We will also need more challenging readings as some participants will have a lot of relevant background.

    Which of the readings you have do you think would make nice introductory ones?



    Cousin, G. and Deepwell, F. (2005). Design for network learning: a communities of practice perspective. Studies in Higher Education 30(1), 57-66.

    Larkin, H. and Richardson, B. (2013). Creating high challenge/high support academic environments through constructive alignment: student outcomes. Teaching in Higher Education 18(2), 192-204.

    Loyens, S. and Gibjels, D. (2008). Understanding the effects of constructivist learning environments: introducing a multi-directional approach.Instructional Science 36, 351-357.

    Meyers, N. and Nulty, D. (2009). How to use (five) curriculum design principles to align authentic learning environments, assessment, students’ approaches to thinking and learning outcomes. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 34(5), 565-577.

    1. Hello there, Velda,

      I think we could support/contextualize these readings with a brief page defining some of the learning theories involved (community of practice, constructivist, etc.). Sort of like a wiki quick reference guide that they could use to support their navigation through these readings. That will make for a softer landing when they hit these texts. We could also include a brief reference on what is course design. A working definition that would include definitions of learning outcomes, alignment, formative/summative assessment, etc. I think a quick reference page like that would prime them for engaging these readings.

        As for the texts, kudos to you for choosing excellent examples. I am fond of the Cousin & Deepwell (2005) one and think it makes for a nice introduction to networked learning/community of practice thinking.
        The Meyers & Nulty (2009) one is one of my favorites and perhaps that could be the lead in as it tackles the pragmatic details like learning environments, assessment, learning outcomes, etc.
        The Larking and Richardson one (2013) I had just read a few months back and was impressed, but I think we could put that one after Meyers and Nulty as it goes after outcomes.

      How important or realistic do you think it would be to have an additional Reading List (for those wanting to learn more)? If you think it is worthwhile for these participants, I am happy to put something like that together. We could divvy it up functionally according to Course Design (readings for Learning Outcomes, for Learning Environments, for Assessments, etc.) or according to Learning Theory engaged (Constructivism, Community of Practice, etc.). Just some representative examples that the students could add to over the semester.

      Thanks, Velda!

  2. I wonder about using this quote up front somewhere in the course:

    Teachers in higher education retain a very significant advantage over teachers in other branches of education: their control of the curriculum. In much of primary, secondary, technical and vocational education, course design has been handed over to ‘experts’, to the impoverishment of the role of classroom teachers. Yet course design is an advantage of which many teachers in universities seem quite unaware. Much of the creativity and power in teaching lies in the design of the curriculum: the choice of texts and ideas which become the focus of study, the planning of experiences for students and the means by which achievement is assessed. These define the boundaries of the experience for students. Of course the way in which the curriculum is brought to life is equally important, but the power of good teacher-student interactions is multiplied many times by good course design.

    Toohey, S. (2002). Designing Courses for Higher Education. Buckingham: SRHE and OUP. p1

    1. I love this quote, Velda, and I love putting something assertive and challenging up front at the beginning of the course (and Toohey is always good for that kind of work). I think diving into a discussion on course design through a challenging passage like this is an excellent way to kick off a reflection activity or discussion from the onset. I might follow this quote with a few more from our own experiences. Assertions like these (just for brainstorming):

        All curricula and course designs are political. They involve power and affordance and mobility.

        All curricula and course designs privilege certain behaviors and activities; some behaviors and activities are inherently diminished.

        Course design is the beginning, the foundation, of all good instruction and learning.

      Things like that. And then there could be a follow up reflection on their last course taught. What was emphasized and what wasn’t, etc. Just a thought. This could be a good lead in to the reading that we would want them to do.

  3. Hi Michael,

    I’m glad you like the quote and the readings. I think the other quotes you’ve suggested are excellent ones, do you have reference for them? I think the idea of doing some online discussion based on these quote would work well.

    A wiki introduction to the readings would be good if we had time to do that. I also hope that the short recorded presentations I mentioned in the course outline would help the participants get a handle on the readings.

    Yes a list of additional readings would be good to have. We usually have these in all PGCAP courses as this helps participants prepare their assessments. If we could divide that up by the blocks of the course that would work well.



    1. Hello again, Velda,

      Great ideas here all around. A wiki introduction to the readings would be great along with the recorded presentations. I actually hadn’t thought of that, providing recorded presentations to contextualize the readings and the activities. Good idea. I always wanted that from my online course programmes. They always gave us readings but I would have appreciated a brief introduction to why this reading is so important, what questions is it answering, how does it relate to course design, that sort of thing. So a wiki and/or a series of introductions would be an excellent resource.

      As for the quotes, I am sure I am drawing inspiration from somewhere, but I just made them up. I am thinking some assertive, challenging statements such as these could kickstart an excellent discussion. Perhaps they could be best used at the beginning of each of the three blocks, some statement to challenge an assumption to kick off a block. Just a thought. We can discuss further. Thanks!

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