Designing a Course: The Analysis Phase

Instructors are not only responsible for teaching a course, they may also need to develop new course or re-develop an existing course. The course may be part of a larger program, or it could be a “mini” course or seminar. This resource will describe the first steps in designing a new course or updating an existing one:

  • Step 1: Analyze your learners/audience, course/subject area, and the learning environment
  • Step 2: Identify and describe assessments, activities, and resources

Step 1

The first step in the design process involves completing an analysis of your learners/audience, course/subject area, and the learning environment. After this analysis you should:

  • be familiar with the general characteristics of the students who will take your course,
  • know the course goals for this group of students, and
  • know how the learning environment can impact teaching and learning.

Gaining a deep understanding of your audience, course goals and the learning environment will impact the choices you make when you design your course and its resources. By leveraging learners’ unique characteristics in relation to the course goals and the learning environment you will be able to design a course that engages learners and helps them in their learning journey.


Start by thinking about the learners who will take the course and their their needs, interests, experiences and achievements. Ask yourself:

  1. Who are my learners and why are they taking this course?
  2. What is their background and what experiences do they bring
  3. What is their “view of the world.”
  4. What prerequisite knowledge do they bring?
  5. What misunderstandings do they bring?
  6. What challenges will they likely face?
  7. What types of content—text, visuals, audio and video—would be most appropriate for these learners?

Course Goals

With your understanding of the learners in mind, think about what you want them to know, value and be able to do as a result of completing the course.

You can draw on the following to determine the course goals, as discussed by Carriveau (2016):
  • Personal expertise in the discipline
  • Expertise from colleagues and practitioners in the discipline, including publications
  • Existing outcomes, objectives or goals related to the course theme
  • Student and teacher textbooks
  • Department and institutional goals
  • Professional accreditation standards
  • Course descriptions and topics

Ask yourself the following questions to uncover the course goals:

  1. What topics, concepts and events should be included in the course? What are the big ideas, the things that really matter and will have a lasting impact on students?
  2. What are the skills and types of thinking that students need to be able to apply?
  3. What are the challenges or challenging areas?
  4. What are the global competencies, such as effective communication, problem solving, critical thinking, and digital citizenship, that students should acquire?

Learning Environment

The learning environment may also impact learners’ ability to learn and meet the learning outcomes. The answers to the following questions will inform the design of learning activities and the course structure.

  1. Is the course face-to-face, online, on-campus, or a blend of online and on-campus? Is there a choice? If so, which format would best suit the learners and the course goals?
  2. What will the learning environment look like and feel like? How will it be organized? How will students navigate in it?
  3. How will the learning environment contribute to or hinder the learning? How will it affect learning activities, assessment and feedback?
  4. What are the administrative considerations related to the course, such as evaluation requirements, timelines, and how the course fits into the larger curriculum, that may impact teaching and learning for this group of learners?

Step 2

The second step in the design process involves identifying and describing assessments, activities, and resources that will provide the specific group of learners with the best opportunities to meet the course goals.

GoalWays to Assess the GoalLearning ActivitiesResources

With your course goals and students in mind, ask yourself key questions to help you discover the critical components of the course and how they can work best together.

Assessment and Feedback

  1. How can I assess learning and performance and provide timely feedback?
  2. What should students be able to demonstrate in order to show that they met the course goals?
  3. What should I include that will allow instructors and students to identify when students are understanding or misunderstanding a topic?
  4. What types of feedback (video, audio, written etc.) would work best for this audience and the assessment?
  5. What types of assessments would work best in this learning environment?

Learning Activities

  1. What learning activities will enable students to get the information and ideas that they need related to the subject matter and course goals?
  2. What types of activities or experiences will help students engage with the materials?
  3. What will students need in order to reflect, practice, and improve?
  4. How can reflection questions and summative feedback be used with the learning activities to encourage deep learning?
  5. What types of activities would work best in this learning environment?

Learning Resources

  1. What types of resources would work best for these goals and this audience?
  2. Will learners need demonstrations, practice opportunities, supplemental resources, etc.?
  3. What specific resources will students need in order to learn about the topics related to the learning outcomes?
  4. What types of resources would work best in this learning environment?
  5. Are the resources needed for this course readily available or will they need to be created or edited?

Capturing Information

It is important to capture information and ideas during this phase of the planning process so you can use it when you are designing and developing your course. You can capture the information in a table similar to the one above or in any way that works for you. A few things to keep in mind:

  • The information that you capture will inform your course design; keep it simple but with enough detail to ensure that you can use it, and will use it, later
  • If you add specific resources to the plan, such as images found on a website, keep track of the source of each resource for use during the design and development phases

Note: If you use a table similar to the one above to capture information, it is important to review the table to ensure that the goals, assessments, activities, and resources are integrated and will support one another. See Learning Outcomes and Course Alignment for more information.


Resource created by Denise C.