An update from our CEO John Peebles on his recent talk to the BILD:

Recently, I was delighted to be a part of the British Institute for Learning and Development (BILD) events series where I gave a talk on the Fundamentals of Great Course Design. For those who wanted to attend but couldn’t, I thought I’d provide a brief recap of my talk along with the slides.

quote referring to course design being important, difficult, but ultimately something you can tackle.


Course Design is Important. And Hard.

One of the things that is easy to forget when looking at building a new course is that this is a hard job. Striking the right balance between the material that needs to be covered, directives you might have from clients or your organisation, and making sure the material is fresh and engaging are all challenges you’re going to face. While I’d love to write a blog post or give a presentation titled “5 Easy Ways to Quickly Design a Great Course”, this is unrealistic. We need to face facts - instructional design is a challenge and we need to approach it with the humility and tenacity that it requires.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that while course design is difficult, it’s not impossible, and one of the distinctions I like to make is that there are “two types of hard” - the difference between doing something hard that requires lots of talent vs. something that requires discipline and a methodical approach. Course design is certainly in the “can be learned, doesn’t require massive talent” arena.

Teachers Transcend Course Design

While the focus of this talk was on instructional design, it’s important to keep in mind that teachers transcend the design of your material at all times. Bad teachers will ruin the best course, and good teachers can create an amazing educational experience from nothing. The story I love to tell is that of Valentino Rossi, one of the greatest motorcycle racers of all time who proved the adage that motorcycle racing was 80% rider and 20% machine when he moved from the best bike to the worst, and still won the championship. Lets not lose site of the fact that in our experience, having had the privilege of observing hundreds of training companies and departments, that the number one thing that you can do to increase your educational efficacy is to find and cultivate the best teachers.

Course Design Fundamentals

The main thing to realise and focus on when building your course is that you should be able to quickly articulate what problem this course solves. This is a key touchstone for you as a designer, but also for any teacher or student who will teach or take this course, as it provides them their reason for existing. If you’re not focused on what problem you’re solving, you’re going to deliver a weak, unfocused course that isn’t compelling for anyone involved.

I like to remind people that there are four fundamentals to course design:

  • Context - setting the stage for the learning you’re going to be imparting. Context is often ignored or glossed over, and you could say that context is one of the main differentiators between taking a course and learning from static materials. Context is something your instructor should provide, students should pay attention to, and is a foundation for what you want to achieve during the educational lifecycle.
  • Definition of Goals and Objectives - this is the meat of your course, and when writing a paper, we’d call this “outlining”. You should lay out your goals and objectives in a way that is logical, is supported by context, and is ultimately assessed.
  • Assessment - Every course needs assessment, not only to measure your student’s progress, but also to measure how well it was taught. We really believe that assessment is one of those areas that can be a difference maker for both student and teacher, and I talked about how to troubleshoot assessments and how to incorporate some alternative assessment mechanisms as well.
  • Evaluation - one of the things I really believe in is that you should make it as easy as possible to evaluate how you did. One of the ways we’ve had good success here at Administrate is using one-click evaluation tools that don’t take any effort to respond to, but signal when we’ve done a bad job so we can perform additional detailed followup.

The Future of Course Design and Delivery

The last section of the presentation focused on some of the trends we’re increasingly seeing out there in the educational landscape. Many of them revolve around technology and most of the trends are plain to see. However, rather than see all this change as an anxiety inducing aspect, we encourage our clients and colleagues in the industry to look at it as a great opportunity. Education is going to change more in the next ten years than it has in the previous 10,000 - keep learning!

The Slides