7 Basics of Course Design


Align course objectives to open education materials.


Instructional design (ID) is an entire profession, and often it can seem like the responsibility of online educators, but every person who teaches is responsible for ID, because we must all think about how students will best connect to and integrate the topics we are teaching. Instructional design is the process that instructors use to organize content, activities, and interactions so that they will best meet the students needs as learners. It is particularly important to apply some principles of ID in building courses using open education, because there isn’t a textbook providing a background structure that leads the students through the process. This section won’t cover everything about instructional design, but it will set up a process for practicing ID principles with open education to create successful courses.

For more information about Instructional Design, you might want to visit any of the following professional development materials:

CUNY Academic Commons: There are a lot of tools available at CUNY’s faculty development site, including some helpful definitions of basic terms in instructional design.

Instructional Use of Learning Objects: This is an edited collection of essays on using learning objects effectively in teaching.

Intro to Instructional Design: This is a full course on ID from the OCW project at Utah State University. It’s very straight-forward, contains videos as well as templates, and it is a solid demonstration of how strong design supports individuals.

The ADDIE Method

Most instructional designers use a collection of interdisciplinary models to define their practice as designers. Many people start with the ideas described in the ADDIE Method. The following excerpt is from Billy Meinke’s Blog:


If you can understand what each step of the ADDIE process describes, many more concepts and theories of instruction will fall into place.  And in its most general form, ADDIE can be applied to just about any “making” or creative process.  Keep in mind that many IDs choose to use a more flexible ADDIE model (Dick and Carey comes to mind), allowing for iteration at the various steps as opposed to requiring a full-cycle with each improvement to whatever it is you’re making.  Here it goes.  ADDIE basics.


(Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate)

1. Analyze

As with most things, you must first figure out what it is you’re setting out to do.  This step usually involves a needs analysis, an examination of the need that you’re aiming to meet through instruction.  What resources are available to you (time, financial constraints, human resources, etc)?  What is the current situation and where does it need to be taken?  In the case of designing instruction, skills (or a lack of them) is the focus.  The main point of the Analyze step is to discover the current situation and identify the desired goal.

2. Design

This step involved breaking down (or “chunking”) the goal into a set of major objectives or milestones, each usually containing a set of smaller objectives within.  Each of the small objectives will lead to major objectives, the sum of these then leading to the goal identified by the Subject Matter Expert (SME) in the Analyze step.  Think of a tree with many roots, all with smaller sections connecting at larger nodes, each of those eventually intersecting and meeting at the base of the tree.  This also lends to modularity/granularity in instruction, allowing for the elimination or substitution of certain parts without the entire system falling to pieces.  The assessments or milestones are also drawn out here, defining how the effectiveness of the instruction will be checked.

3. Develop

Here the IDs lay out the learning materials, content and activities.  Prototypes and wireframes of the learning materials, which are really just vehicles to transmit the content, are outlined and tested with small target groups.  Many revisions occur within this step based on feedback from the prototype testing.  The teacher-training materials are also developed here, which is sadly one of the more overlooked parts of instruction development.  The teachers on the ground (for which I have the upmost respect) benefit greatly from thorough yet concise “this is how you can reach your learners” aids and guides.

4. Implement

This is the delivery and support step.  The instruction has been developed, worked over, aligned and realigned to meet the needs of the target population.  The materials are handed over to the instructors and/or made accessible (learning management system, platform, etc).  Cross your fingers and hope all the work you put into the instruction design is going to translate into effective and efficient delivery of the content.  Well, there really shouldn’t be a whole lot of finger crossing if the Development step was thorough, but it never hurts 😉

5. Evaluate

So, how did it go?  You won’t really know until this step.  Using formative evaluation (what did the learners think?) and summative evaluation (how did the learners actually perform based on the instruction?), IDs develop a plan for revisions to the instruction.  As new content is collected, expanding the breadth and depth of the subject that can be covered in, IDs lay out a maintenance plan that will grow the course and adapt it to the new resources and factors.

Applying the Basics to Your Practice

ADDIE is only one method for course design, but it provides the basic principles that most instructional designers use to continuously improve courses. At the heart of most design principle there is always room to improve instruction based on feedback from students. Based on what we learn from teaching one instance of a topic, we can improve the next time we teach, and so on. Instructional design is definitely a practice in which the designer is constantly trying to improve. As the librarian, in the OE design process, you are acting both as the provider of resources, and as a designer yourself. You must include principles of ID in your work to help engage the instructor in processes such as course mapping, which will make adoption of open materials more effective in the teaching environment. The next page will discuss alignment and course mapping in more detail. Remember, good course mapping makes searching for open materials easier, so that you can be more effective at your work.



This page was written by Quill West for Library as Open Education Leader, it is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license and contains content from a variety of sources published under a variety of open licenses, including:



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Librarians as Open Education Advocates by Library As Open Education Leader Grant is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


1 Response to Basics of Course Design

  1. Heath Davis on July 24, 2015 at 10:47 pm says:

    ADDIE seems just like the Bloom’s Taxonomy I’ve been reviewing in conjunction with QM training. How funny!

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