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Guide to Course Design

The course design process involves intentional and deliberate planning in order to create a course that best supports students. This process works equally well for on-campus courses, fully online courses and hybrid courses that have elements of both. All of the practices described in these guides are supported by significant research in the field of online learning.

course design process


How To Use this Guide

This Guide to Course Design will help you create a course that is based in best practices in pedagogy. We invite you to either visit them in order or skip to the topics that seem most relevant to you.

Each topic includes resources you can use and next steps describing where you can find templates, suggested activities and further resources. Read below for some general advice on course design, or skip straight to the topic you need:


Courses should be guided by well-articulated goals. Identify what your students should be able to produce or tackle by the end of your course and let those goals lead your choices for daily activities, assignments and grading. If the course goals are clear, it makes it easier to identify ways to adjust activities and assessments to fit different teaching scenarios.

The best course activities incorporate active learning. Students will be more engaged in learning when they collaborate with others, answer real-world questions and make their own choices. Face-to-face sessions should take advantage of technologies to include all students in conversations about the materials.

Good courses cultivate a learning community. You can make your course conducive to learning by defining respectful conversations. Thoughtful interactions with students and the support of peer-to-peer learning increases students’ satisfaction with the course, its instructor and the materials. Courses that lack a physical space need to prioritize this in their design.

Clear communication is crucial. Students should be able to navigate the course materials, find assignment instructions and understand the path of the course from the first day. A syllabus that details the course schedule and has defined expectations of students allows you to concentrate on the teaching and not organization during the semester.


Creative Commons License

Flexible Teaching guides were developed by Duke Learning Innovation and adapted for NIU by the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. They are shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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