When designing a new course, it sometimes helps to utilize an existing educational design approach or framework. This can help you structure your thinking and planning so that you progress faster and feel more confident with what you design. Design approaches can be used as a blueprint that guides the design process from start to finish, or they can serve as an occasional guidepost when you get stuck. Most design approaches are not mutually exclusive, so an instructor can draw from multiple sources of inspiration.

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There are many design approaches, but these are some are based on student-centered design and can help you center the student experience as you plan.

  • Backward Design: This is a type of student-centered design that, instead of focusing on what the instructor will teach, asks what students will learn. First, the instructor decides what they want students to be able to do by setting course goals and student learning objectives. The next step is to identify what assessments will be used to measure whether students are meeting those objectives. Finally, course materials and lecture topics are chosen that help students successfully complete the assessments. This strategy ensures cohesion among all elements of the course and focuses on how students will develop their knowledge and skills [1].
  • 5E: Originally developed for STEM classes, this design approach can be applied to a broad range of topics and is rooted in the constructivist educational theory. It outlines an instructional cycle that can structure one class session, one topic, or one stage of a topic. The first four Es happen sequentially: Engagement (the learner does activities to peak their interest in the topic and connect it to existing knowledge), Exploration (the learner does activities and reviews material to gather information about the topic and may make predictions or do experiments), Explanation (the learner and instructor work together to make sense of the topic and analyze what they learned in the previous stage), and Extension (the learner applies what they learned to other situations). The fifth E is Evaluation, in which the learner receives feedback on their understanding. This should happen throughout the lesson [2].
  • Universal Design for Learning: UDL is a way of thinking about education in terms of how accessible and applicable it is to a broad range of students. It has three principles which are expanded into a detailed set of guidelines [3]. First, UDL encourages the instructor to “provide multiple means of Engagement” by making the relevance of learning activities clear, fostering a sense of community, and encouraging self-evaluation and reflection. Next, “provide multiple means of Representation” by connecting information with background knowledge, patterns, and relationships and providing information in as many modalities as possible. Finally, “provide multiple means of Action & Expression” by building from easy to difficult tasks and allowing multiple ways for students to demonstrate knowledge.

References and Additional Resources


[1] Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning (2019). “Teaching and Learning Frameworks”

[2] Gungor Seyhan, Hatice & Morgil Inci (2007). Journal of Science Education, “The effect of 5E learning model on teaching of acid-base topic in chemistry education”

[3] CAST Universal Design for Learning Guidelines

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