What is course design?

Course design ranges from small modifications to complete design or re-design. We use backwards design to focus on the things that students should be able to know or do by the end of a course (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). By keeping the end in mind, we can work backwards and design courses to support student learning. 

Elements of course design

We use the student-centred learning approach of constructive alignment to identify, strengthen and align connections between course content, activities, assessment and learning outcomes (Biggs & Tang, 2007). Student learning is enhanced when these three course design elements are connected and aligned (Blumberg, 2009). Using student-centred practices, we can design meaningful learning experiences that strengthen connections between people, knowledge and skills (Fink, 2013).


How can course design help you?

Using evidence-informed literature and practices to ground student learning experiences, course design can inform:

  • writing course outlines
  • creating appropriate student assessments
  • fostering community and relationships
  • reflecting on your teaching practice and course design
  • selecting and sequencing content
  • student engagement
  • integrating learning technology

Common questions

Course design is an ongoing journey. Here are some common questions to think about:

  • where are students having challenges?
  • how can I foster relationships and community in the classroom?
  • how do I find the balance between content and activities?
  • what strategies can I use to engage students in a large classroom?

Example course design

Course title: Wellness 101

Course learning outcomes

By the end of the course, students should be able to:
- develop a personal wellness plan with well defined goals
- identify appropriate success indicators to measure progress

Student assessments

1. A fully developed individual wellness plan
2. Individual reflection on the process of creating the plan
3. An in-class visual presentation


1. Critical review of different wellness plans
2. Peer discussions of personal wellness plans
3. Instructor models their own wellness plan during class

Course Design Program Badge

The Course Design Program uses evidence-based practical strategies to help inform and direct your course design. The program includes student-centred learning topics to help you through complete course designs or re-designs, developing your course outline, planning assessments, and promoting student engagement.


Biggs, J. B. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university (3rd Ed). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Blumberg, P. (2009). Maximizing learning through course alignment and experience with different types of knowledge. Innovative Higher Education, 34(2), 93-103

Fink, D.L. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: an integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Honeycutt, B. (Ed.) (2016). Flipping the college classroom: practical advice from faculty. Madison, WI: Magna Publications

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandra, VA: ASCD.