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Basic Principles for Course Design


Whether working with students in face-to-face situations, online or at a distance, we strive to design a curriculum that provides effective learning experiences and opportunities for all to succeed.

There is evidence in the educational literature to suggest that following basic curriculum planning guidelines will help to achieve this goal.

Gordon Cawelt (1990) of The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) suggests these principles to guide course planning.

  1. Offer a core of learning in each course that balances information/skill acquisition, processing and sense-making, application and practice.
  2. Adopt a belief that in-depth study of a limited number of important topics will have a more lasting effect than a course that tries to cover many disconnected bits and pieces.
  3. Design course outcomes to focus on results, with multiple assessments of performance.
  4. Design authentic assessments (assessments that resemble performances expected in the "real world") that will encourage originality, thoughtfulness and problem solving along with mastery of important information.
  5. Design courses to ensure active involvement.
  6. Get students "doing" early in the course rather than studying all the principles and "basics" prior to performing.

The Centre for Teaching and Learning at St. Lawrence College as developed a checklist to help faculty who are developing or revising their courses.  This document illustrates how faculty can apply course design principles as they plan their courses.

Janet Honsberger and Maureen Wideman developed a manual for teachers to use when designing online modules for the Faculty Cyber Connections (FCC). This is a program developed collaboratively by five colleges in Eastern Ontario. More information about FCC can be found here. While written to guide the development of online modules, the Online Module Design Workbook, provides useful guidelines that can be applied to the development of courses as well.

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