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"Design, v.: To have purposes and intentions; to plan and execute." – Oxford English Dictionary 

"Form follows function." – Louis Sullivan 

Course Structure

When designing a course, having a strong structure is critical. To aid in structural development, we often encourage faculty members to lean on a course development matrix. Doing so often helps faculty members cut through some of the overwhelming fog that can surround the development of a course, whether in a face-to-face, online, interactive video or hybrid modality. Of course, each of those modalities merits different considerations. Take a look at this brief video, which talks you through some broad elements of course design to bear in mind as you approach the task of designing your course.

Module Structure and Backward Design

Now that you’ve considered a 10,000-foot view of your course, let’s zoom in on how you might approach designing each individual module/lesson/topic. One helpful approach to doing so is backward design. Backward design is not a philosophy of teaching or an approach to teaching but is instead a planning framework for curriculum planning, assessment design and class facilitation with the goal of teaching for understanding and transfer. Not for a goal of covering content, marching through a textbook, or doing fun activities. Done properly, backward design helps educators think short-term and long-term about what they are trying to accomplish so that they are more goal focused and effective. In doing so, educators begin to focus not on backward design from the content itself but on backward design from the effective use of content.

Backward design focuses on three key steps:

  1. Identify desired results.
  2. Determine acceptable evidence.
  3. Plan learning experiences and instruction.

Understanding the nuances of these steps is important. Watch this brief video for further explanation:

Backward Design Template

Wiggins and McTighe offer a template for thinking through the backward design of a module. What the template does is encourage educators to be more intentional in course design by asking us to state our objectives and then the purpose of each activity and how it reinforces the objectives. This brief video offers an explanation of the portion of the most critical portion of the template:

Adapted from Bowen, R. (2017). Understanding by Design. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License 


Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design (expanded 2nd edition). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.