Course Design

Careful course planning and design not only makes teaching easier and more enjoyable, it also enhances student learning.


Course Design: Where do you start?

When you begin designing your course where do you start?  Many instructors begin this process by thinking about the content they are going to cover, but this approach often only results in a list of topics. It doesn’t require us to consider what level of understanding of these topics students should have or what they ultimately should be able to do with this knowledge.

When we shift our course design strategy to an outcomes-based approach, we begin by considering who our learners are and what they need to know, value and be able to do at the end of our course. This allows us to zero in on the purpose and goals of the course and select or develop teaching and learning strategies and assessments that are aligned with those goals. It simplifies the decision-making around the types of assessment and teaching and learning strategies we are going to use and the types of feedback our learners will likely need as they progress toward achieving the outcomes explicitly set out for them.

Steps in Course Design

When designing your course,

  1. consider who your learners are
  2. identify situational factors that may influence course design
  3. specify the learning outcomes
  4. identify potential assessments
  5. select teaching and learning strategies
  6. choose learning materials
  7. organize course content, activities and assessments into a syllabus

If you would like help with your course (re)design and planning, please visit us in the Teaching and Curriculum Development Centre (2nd floor of C Building) or contact one of the TCDC curriculum consultants at

TCDC Resources

This overview of outcomes-based teaching & learning illustrates how this approach differs from content-based planning and how to align outcomes, assessments and teaching and learning activities.

Our Course Planning Table provides a framework to help you begin (re)designing your course using an outcomes-based approach.

After you’ve aligned your CLOs, assessments and learning activities, use our Course Syllabus Map to plan your weekly schedule. Share with students so they see how all elements of the course are helping them achieve their learning goals.

This resource offers guidance on writing/revising course calendar descriptions.


Further Resources on Course Design

Online Educational Module for Faculty

The College Educator Development Program (CEDP), a collaborative initiative of 6 Ontario colleges, has created a number of interactive educational modules for faculty. The Lesson Planning & Active Learning module introduces faculty to many effective course design strategies. Copy and paste the URL in your browser if the direct link does not work:


The Eberly Center at Carnegie Mellon University has an excellent website on course design.

In this short video, Dr. Erica Halverson from the University of Wisconsin explains the Backward Design framework.

Articles & Guides

Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education, 32(3), pp. 347-364.

Fink, L. D. (n.d.). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning.

University of Windsor. Effective practices in course redesign.


The Teaching and Curriculum Development Centre (C201) has a number of useful books related to course design.

If you are interested in knowing more about learning and how it can be supported and enhanced through course design, check out the following free e-book.

Benassi, V. A., Overson, C. E., & Hakala, C. M. (2014). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology website: