Course Design

The key to course design is meeting your course’s learning outcomes within the 14 week semester. Each semester is 7 weeks, a study break, and 7 weeks. Essentially, you have 14 weeks to ensure that the learning outcomes are taught, practiced and assessed. As you plan your course think about what you will “teach,” the opportunities that students will have to “practice” what they learn and the ways that learning will be “assessed” to ensure that the course’s learning outcomes are achieved.

Backward Design

Backward design, also referred to as understanding by design, is a method of designing educational instruction by setting goals before choosing instructional methods and assessments. It’s called backward because it starts with the end (i.e. outcomes) in mind and works backward from there. Most new to teaching start with the instructional materials and content, then plan learning activities, then assessments, and maybe define outcomes. This common approach is not very efficient or fair to students because it does not always aim in any particular direction and students may end up doing “busy work.”


The backward design process occurs in three phases:

  1. Identify the desired results/outcomes.
  2. Determine which assessments will allow students to properly demonstrate that they can meet those outcomes.
  3. Design activities that will help students successfully complete the assessments and thus meet the learning outcomes of the course.
When the backward design model is followed as part of the course design process, you will be able to have a course that is aligned. This means that the activities, content, and assessments will help students meet the learning outcomes. The purpose of backward design is to help create a course with measurable learning outcomes, assessments that accurately reflect those outcomes, and content and learning activities to help students successfully complete the assessments and thus meet the learning outcomes.

A brief video on the backward design process for course design.

Steps in Course Design:

  1. Locate and review course outline (existing course that has been taught by you or another faculty member) OR Locate and review program learning outcomes (new course)
  2. Write or revise SMART(TT) course learning outcomes, be sure to address essential employability skills.
  3. Design assessments that will be used to measure the course learning outcomes and essential employability skills outcomes.
  4. Align/Map assessments to their course learning outcomes to determine their weighted (%) value.
  5. Break outcomes into topics and intended learning activities. Then sequence them by weeks in their natural order in which the topics should be covered and assessments deployed. 
  6. Select course resources and plan individual (weekly) lesson plans.

Detailed information below on each of these course design steps.

The course outline is a contract between the college and the student that provides information on the curriculum and learning students will experience in a particular course. It articulates the specific outcomes students will achieve in the course, identifies how those outcomes will be measured and assessed, and includes information about course-specific resources and policies.

Course Outlines at Loyalist are written in our Banner Student Information System. You can access Banner through your MyLoyalist.

See detailed instructions on each section of the course outline by viewing this user friendly Course Outline Template. Please note, this template is for development purposes only. All course outlines are entered into Banner and submitted to your Dean or Chair for approval.

Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) are central to your course’s curriculum. They articulate to students, faculty, and other stakeholders what students will achieve in each course and how their learning will be measured. A learning outcome is a measurable, observable, and specific statement that clearly indicates what a student should know and be able to do at the end of the course. They answer the question – “What should the student be able to demonstrate by the end of this course?”.

Writing or Revising Course Learning Outcomes

Writing robust learning outcomes can be a challenging task but once accomplished they provide a solid foundation for designing the curriculum for your course.

Principles of Good Course Learning Outcomes

  • Clear 
  • Measurable 
  • Performance based and observable – prepare, calculate, identify, describe, discuss. compare, create, evaluate, etc.
  • Avoid verbs: know, understand, comprehend, appreciate, realize, study, be familiar with etc. (they’re too vague and cannot be measured)
  • Include performance – action verb, context/topic – describes what they will do, and criterion/standard – describes what is an acceptable performance
  • Represent integration of learning 
  • Authentic to what the real application would look like
  • Aim for 5-7 per course (for 42hr course)
  • Align with a course description
  • Align with Program Learning Outcomes or General Education Themes
  • Describe learning that is fully evaluated by the end of the course


Bloom’s Taxonomy 

Using a taxonomy that explains different levels of learning can be helpful for selecting the appropriate action verbs for your course learning outcomes. These will help prevent you from choosing lower-order actions when you really want students to demonstrate higher-order thinking.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is broken into six knowledge dimensions: Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating and range from lower-order thinking skills to higher-order thinking skills.

By their very nature, higher-order thinking skills are more difficult and build on the previous lower-order thinking skills. An oversimplified explanation of this would be the following: A student can not be expected to create a design brief (Creating) if they can’t remember what a design brief is (Remembering).

Traditionally, entry-level courses ask students to demonstrate remembering, understanding and applying thinking skills with a few higher-order thinking skills while years 2, 3 and post-graduate level courses ask students to demonstrate analyzing, evaluating, and creating thinking skills with a few lower-order thinking skills.

Steps to Writing Course Learning Outcomes: 

Step 1: Select an action verb using Bloom’s Taxonomy

The illustration demonstrates, in a staircase style, the teaching strategies related to the action verbs that go into which section in Bloom’s Taxonomy. This is not an exhaustive list, but it does provide examples of specific action verbs that link to different levels of student learning.

Step 2: Select the context or reason that expands on the purpose or adds clarity to the learning.

Step 3: Next, decide if your course learning outcome requires either a criteria or standard. This does not appear in every CLO but when it does, it suggests to what level the performance must be accomplished.

Sample CLOs that apply the three componentsPerformance (Action Verb), Context, Criterion/Standard. The components do not have to appear in that order.

Perform a comprehensive physical assessment of body systems in a systemic, accurate and effective manner.

Apply theoretical concepts of growth and development when working with individuals and families in the community.

Complete a variety of accounting transactions using the double-entry accounting system.

Modify a recreation or fitness activity that adheres to accepted design principles in adaptive recreation settings

Sample CLO without a criterion/standard

Explain terms and processes relevant to waste-site remediation and restoration.

When writing your course learning outcomes, keep in mind… 

Learning outcomes should be SMART(TT)

Speak to the Learner Learning outcomes should address what the learner will know or be able to do at the completion of the course
Measurable Learning outcomes must indicate how learning will be assessed
Applicable Learning outcomes should emphasize ways in which the learner is likely to use the knowledge or skills gained
Realistic All learners who complete the activity or course satisfactorily should be able to demonstrate the knowledge or skills addressed in the outcome
Time-bound The learning outcome should set a deadline by which the knowledge or skills should be acquired
Transparent Should be easily understood by the learner
Transferable Should address knowledge and skills that will be used by the learner in a wide variety of contexts

The SMART(TT) method of goal setting is adapted from Blanchard, K., & Johnson, S. (1981). The one minute manager. New York: Harper Collins.

What are Essential Employability Skills Outcomes?

Essential Employability Skills (EES) are skills that, regardless of a student’s program, are critical for success in the workplace, day-to-day living, and for lifelong learning. These EES are also referred to as soft skills, transferable skills and people skills. The Government of Ontario mandates that all college graduates possess these skills in the following six categories:

  1. Communication
  2. Numeracy
  3. Critical thinking and problem solving
  4. Information management
  5. Interpersonal
  6. Personal

All students graduating from an Ontario College Certificate, Diploma or Advanced Diploma must be able to reliably demonstrate the EES by the end of their program.

How to determine which EES to include a course outline

Selecting relevant EES begins with analyzing how each course contributes to the overall set of EES outcomes across a program. For example, a first-semester business course might prepare students to demonstrate foundational level business writing skills and a final semester business course might prepare students to demonstrate advanced writing, research and analytical skills.

If you’re a course outline writer:​

  • Consult with your program coordinator regarding the skills assigned to your course: which EES is the program expecting you to teach or assess?​
  • Consider those skills in relation to your curriculum:​ Does it make sense that your course addresses this skill? Is it a good fit with the learning outcomes for your course? ​If so, full steam ahead; if not, your coordinator should be advised.​
  • If the EES doesn’t seem to be a good fit, but you’re told that the course needs to cover these particular skills, you might need some help figuring out how to adapt the curriculum. This is a conversation that affects more than just a single course: request assistance.


If you’re a program coordinator:

  • Look at EES mapping across your program annually: check to be sure you are addressing all the skills by requesting an EES map from CATL. Verify that your program offers teaching and/or assessing for each skill.
  • Look for reasonable balance in the number of times each skill is taught and assessed.​
  • Meet with faculty teaching in the program to review where EES have been assigned. If the allocations make sense, the process is relatively straightforward.
  • If you have gaps and need help determining how to fill them, request curriculum help from CATL.


How to select the EES in a course outline

  • Determine which EES you teach and/or assess in your course(s).
  • If you assess the EES, select this on your course outline.
  • Altering the wording of the EES is not permitted, therefore you may only be partially assessing the outcome.


What to do if an EES is listed but I don’t evaluate it?

  • Do not remove in isolation.
  • Better to integrate into existing evaluations, or, create additional evaluation(s) to assess the skill listed.
  • If impossible, consult with the program team/coordinator/dean prior to changing.


Check out great resources from other Ontario College sites: they operate under the same provincial mandate as Loyalist. Links are provided below for some that are particularly useful:

  • Algonquin College has very useful examples of activities that help with teaching and assessing specific EES skills: here.
  • Durham College has excellent suggestions for active learning methods for each of the EES skills (scroll down for ideas by skill) at their Centre for Academic and Faculty Enrichment site: CAFE
  • George Brown College offers practical suggestions through these links: Modelling EES (short video series) and Grading Students’ Work.

Mapping assessments to their course learning outcomes (CLO) and essential employability skills outcome (EES) validates the outcome and its weighted value. It also ensures an authentic assessment is being given to the student.

How does the assessment map work?

Based on the elements of performances/activities of each assessment, align each assessment to their appropriate CLO and EES by giving it a portion (%) of the 100% (course total). This will determine the weighted value of all CLOs, ESSs and assessments.

When should this be done in the course design process?

It’s recommended this be done concurrently while developing the course outline (not after) in Banner. The CLO and EES totals from the assessment map will dictate the weighted values (%) that are to be added to the course outline.

What to do with the map once assessments have been mapped and the course outline has been approved by Chair/Dean?

It is recommended the map be saved as a PDF and then added to the Syllabus in Canvas with the course outline and sequence of instructions. Review all three documents on the first day of class.

Feel free to use either of the Excel templates below for an assessment map, also known as a Distribution of Marks. Please be aware faculty may need to insert and/or remove columns and/or rows from these templates. If so, adjustments will need to be made to the AutoSum totals on the spreadsheet.

Distribution of Marks Templates (Tab 1: Version 1, Tab 2: Version 2)

Examples of completed assessment maps: Distribution of Marks Version 1, Distribution of Marks Version 2.

A syllabus (also referred to as a sequence of instruction or course schedule/calendar) is the process of organizing several lesson plans that will be taught consecutively in the course. It is developed at the beginning of the course development process in tandem with the course outline and distribution of marks.

The purpose of lesson sequencing is to create smooth transitions between lessons in order to meet the objectives of the unit plans and to achieve optimal learning outcomes. Using a weekly schedule, the sequence of instructions outlines the basic elements of a course which include topics covered (intended learning), resources required (chapter reading, LMS etc.), intended activities, deployment of assessments, and their associated weightings. It articulates and guides students through their learning by connecting content, activity and assessment to the course learning outcomes.  

The syllabus provides students with an overview of the assessment strategies, it serves as a communication piece of both the practical details and the overall alignment of the course. 

We have a syllabus built into the canvas course standard template.

If you choose not to use the syllabus in the template, below are examples being used by Loyalist faculty that can be downloaded to customize to your course:

Sequence of Instruction Template

Course Calendar Template

Sequence-of-Instruction Template

NOTE: We recommend you edit your home page to remove reference to the syllabus. Also disable the syllabus course navigation link if you will not be using the built in syllabus functionality.

Creating a lesson plan is an important aspect of course design. A lesson plan is an instructor’s guide for facilitating a lesson. It typically includes the goal (what students need to learn), how the goal will be achieved (the method of delivery and procedure) and a way to measure how well the goal was reached (usually via assignments or testing). This plan is an instructor’s objectives for what students should accomplish and how they will learn the material.

A lesson plan refers to an instructor’s plan for a particular lesson. Here, an instructor must plan what they want to teach students, why a topic is being covered and decide how to deliver a lecture. Learning objectives, learning activities and assessments are all included in a lesson plan.

While there are a number of different models, a lesson plan usually consists of the following components:

  1. Learning Objectives What learning goals do you want to achieve in the class?
  2. Bridge-In The ‘hook’ in your lesson plan to interest the learner
  3. Teaching Content The curriculum you will deliver and explore throughout the lesson
  4. Learning Activities Integrate strategies to engage learners in active learning
  5. Assessment Either informal or formal assessment- Are the learning objectives achieved in the class?
  6. Relate to Summative Evaluation Feedback from students and peers on the lesson plan

Lesson planning goes beyond selecting appropriate content for a specific lesson; it involves considering learning goals, selecting appropriate learning activities, and assessing whether learning has been successful. 

Instruction guides learners in working with information (i.e. finding it, organizing it, applying it, evaluating it, synthesizing it). Planning instruction often follows the process below, but in reality, it can begin at any point and expand to include the other elements. Information is not instruction (Merrill, 1997).

Lesson Planning Checklist

Source: Lesson Plan Template-Online Module by Georgian College: Centre for Teaching and Learning.

Loyalist College Lesson Planning Template

Lesson Planning SAMPLE

Lesson Planning Blank Template

References: Merrill, M.D. (1997). Instructional strategies that teach.CBT Solutions, Nov./Dec., 1–11.