Course design: What are we missing?

Over the course of my studies and professional career in higher education, I’ve run across several models of instructional design, including (but not limited to) the following:

I think such models provide good information about the kinds of things that are important to think about when designing and developing courses, for those new to teaching in particular. Even for those with extensive teaching experience, I think these models can provide good guidance and can remind us to stay focused on what students should learn and how we will know if they have learned it.

On the other hand, I’ve found some of the design models to be fairly narrow and prescriptive. And I’ve felt that focusing on the specifics such as learning objectives or even outcomes is not in fact the best place to start course design. I mean, I know I’ve got to identify my learning objectives and outcomes, and I know it’s great if I can use the Bloom verbs when I’m writing them up. But there’s been something nagging at me that there’s something more to course design than all these steps and objectives and outcomes and such. What is it?

Something this week has triggered for me a few thoughts about course design. I think the first steps we really take at course design, even if we don’t articulate them, are much more philosophically driven than task-oriented. I think, for example, that we actually start by thinking about what our main problem/question for a specific course is. I think we think about the students we will meet in the course (as Ko and Rossen suggest). And I think we think about teaching and learning spaces (as Todd Conaway suggested in the video for the week).

One thing I think we may be even less intentional about, which is still a philosophical matter, is thinking about what a given course is. How do we conceive of it, really? What is it at a fundamental level? Is the course to be a monolog? A conversation? A text? An event?  A seminar? A game? A bricolage?  These are just a few possibilities, and I imagine that there are many conceptualizations of specific courses (and would love to hear your ideas about what those might be!). I imagine that the answer to the question may well be linked to philosophical structures of specific disciplines and fields as well as to an instructor’s own philosophical perspectives.

TLDR: I think it is important to consider philosophical questions, including “what is the course,” prior to parsing out the learning objectives. Our answers could very well inform our objectives and our ideas about how to accomplish our learning objectives.


10 thoughts on “Course design: What are we missing?

  1. I’ve often thought that the most valuable part of any of the ID models is the questions you have to ask. I have even wondered if you couldn’t have a model that was almost questionnaire-like — “If a course is well designed, you know the answers to these X questions, ” etc.

    To paraphrase Rand, Everyone has a learning theory, whether they can articulate it or not. That suggests that maybe the first question of ID is not course objectives or goals, but instead ” How do I believe my students learn?”

    • hmmmm. many of ID models I’ve seen have felt a bit like: “do this,” “do this,” then “do this.” Such an approach seems to me to take a way from the idea of development of a course as a creative act, which I think it is (at least in part). May just be me, or what I’ve been reading anyway. But yes walking folks through the issues has value.

      I think I like the idea of the questionnaire model for course design. Bet it’d be a good challenge to figure out the questions!

  2. Interesting collection of course models! I’ve been looking for something like that. Thank you! I think variation is good for the students. Have you tried the different teaching models? Which one is your favorit?

  3. Thank you so much for this interesting post. I am not used to this and I was caught. My question would be if any model would be, lets say, valid, for any matter. This is what I am thinking with the progress of the course and with all of your different experiences.
    See you online.

    • Thanks for your comment! I think all of the models have something useful to offer. Jason Green in a different comment had a good point that they are most useful for the questions that they help you think through. So I absolutely think that working through your objectives and so forth is a good plan. I’m just wondering if there is a bigger question (or bigger set of questions) somewhere that maybe we need to think about first. So maybe starting with questions such as what is my view of learning, what is my view of myself as a teacher, how do I conceive of my learning space, what is this course, and so forth…maybe we should attend to them a bit more…

  4. Great ruminations here, Claire. I agree with you that most ID models feel quite stiff and prescriptive to faculty, and definitely agree with Jason on the important thing being the questions. You got even a bit more philosophical here with the key starting questions than I did over at . I agree that if an instructor is not firmly grounded in his/her identity as educator, and an awareness of the context (course, goals, learning space, student), then formal ID processes are going to feel especially weird.

    I’ve found that introducing a few planning/reflecting tools such as brief sets of teaching/learning principles, course design rubrics, the revised Bloom’s taxonomy, and maybe a couple of key notions from UBD, in the context of examples and advice from faculty who get those things, leads faculty to generate their own questions. This is far more helpful for most faculty just starting out on course design than to try to impose a comprehensive ID model to be followed, or even perhaps than just giving them the questions directly.

    • Thanks Jim, you know I think that faculty on the whole are a creative/thoughtful lot (let’s hope), and we like to think about things. Of course, we can carried away pondering the philosophical questions when we need to get going on doing something, which is where the tools, like you mentioned (principles, rubrics, and so forth) can help us!

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