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Course Design

Course design is the methodology of creating learning experiences using structured instructional materials, activities, and interaction. The focus of course design is to use evidence-based theory and practice to achieve an optimal learning experience for students.

Good instructional design is critical to developing a high-quality course. When designing a course, there are several foundational components to consider, including the course framework, the pedagogical models employed, the alignment of the objectives to assessments, and methods to engage students. Though not exhaustive, the following discusses some of the major instructional design theories:

Instructional designers at the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) can assist faculty in designing high-quality courses for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health. Make an appointment to discuss the best approach for your course.

Below are the key considerations for designing a course. 

Determine the Course Goals

Consider the following questions to help you determine why the course is valuable and to identify course goals:


  • What is the place of this course in the curriculum? Is it filling a gap or complementing an existing course?

  • Does this course support a specific degree, specialty, certificate, etc.? Does the course address competencies, public health practice, or professional development?

  • Is the course a prerequisite for higher-level courses? If so, what do incoming students in these higher courses need to know?

  • Is the course peripheral to the departmental curriculum? If so, what purpose will it serve?

  • Where does the course fit in the overall education of the students?

Identify Learner Needs

Determine your target audience for the course and the anticipated prior knowledge or gaps to be filled. Designing a course that fits the needs of the learners requires an understanding of who the learners are. Consider the following:

  • What do the learners need to know as an outcome of the course?

  • What contributes to the reason for learning about the topic?

  • What about the topic motivates the learners?

  • What barriers might there be?

Integrate Learning Theories

Learning theories provide the foundation for designing a course’s instructional strategies. They provide information about the relationship between instructional strategies and learner engagement. Most importantly, the purposeful integration of learning theories leads to the effectiveness of the selected instructional strategies.

Though there are many approaches to learning, there are three primary types of learning theory: behaviorist, cognitive constructivist, and social constructivist (University of California, Berkeley, n.d.).

Other learning theories to consider are:

Align Objectives, Learning Activities, and Assessments

One aspect of course design is ensuring that your objectives, learning activities, and assessments are aligned. Consider the following: 


  • Are you assessing students against the stated objectives of the course?  

  • Are you teaching the objectives of the course?  

  • Are you assessing what you are teaching?

Course design alignment triangle of objectives, assessments, and learning activities.

All critical course components—learning objectives, assessments, resources and materials, learner engagement, and course technology—should be designed to enable students to achieve the desired learning outcomes. When aligned, each of these course components is directly tied to and supports the learning objectives.

Evaluate and Revise

A critical element of good course design is a strategy for continuous improvement. You might notice that some components of a course did not go as planned. For example, perhaps the learning activity fell short in providing higher-order thinking opportunities (e.g., problem-solving, decision-making, discussion, reflection), or students provided feedback that they wanted more opportunities for collaboration. 

Your decisions to revise elements of a course should be based on well-established theories, your teaching experience, and student feedback. The CTL instructional design team is available to provide expertise and insight to inform changes to your course.


University of California, Berkeley. (n.d.). Overview of learning theories. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from

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