When you develop or revise a course, start with a clear understanding of where your new course fits within the broader program. You may wish to look at similar courses offered elsewhere for ideas on content, structure and activities. But setting learning outcomes for your course should be the main factor in determining the activities and assessment tasks that you choose.
John Biggs (1999, 2003) suggests that real learning occurs when students actively construct meaning and knowledge as they engage in appropriate learning activities. He asserts the key elements of course design - learning outcomes, learning activities and assessment tasks - must be aligned with each other.
Learning and teaching by design
Think of a course design or a learning design as a pedagogical model for your course. Textually or visually, it represents course activities and resources, for the purposes of helping course designers and teachers develop particular kinds of learning experiences, and ensuring that they align the intended learning outcomes with the related activities and assessment.
Learning design can relate to large or small-group teaching, face-to-face or online teaching, a particular approach such as problem-based or project-based learning, a course, a specific class or activity, or a whole program of study.
Planning cycle for learning design
- Understanding students
- Defining learning outcomes
- Defining the learning and teaching context
- Selecting learning and teachings strategies
- Understanding and selecting technologies
- Evaluating and improving the design
Questions to ask yourself
When reviewing or designing a course, ask yourself the following questions from a student-centred position:
- How do you want your students to be different by the time they have completed your course?
- What are the aims and learning outcomes of your course, drafted in terms of what students need to do and understand?
- What learning and teaching activities will you use to get students to do the things that your learning outcomes nominate?
- What assessment tasks can you use to test whether the students have learnt what the outcomes nominate?
- How will you convey all this information in a clear and orderly way to your students?
- How will you get feedback on whether your course design has been effective?
You'll greatly enhance student learning when you clearly articulate learning outcomes, aims, assessment activities and other course expectations, and communicate them clearly to students. The UNSW Course Outline Template can help you do this.
- The Guidelines on Learning that inform teaching at UNSW offer resources for designing engaging, contextualised and inclusive curriculum.
- For aligning learning outcomes with teaching and assessment strategies see curriculum design and mapping.
- In evaluating your course it is important you seek feedback on your innovations, as part of a continual improvement cycle.
- The UNSW Library must sign off all new course proposals. This takes 4 days, so to avoid delays and to meet Faculty deadlines, contact your Faculty Outreach Librarian as early as possible.
- Biggs, J. 1999, "What the student does: Teaching for enhanced learning", Higher Education Research and Development, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 57-75.
- Biggs, J. 2003, Teaching for Quality Learning at University, 2nd edn, SRHE and Open University Press, Berkshire, UK.