Course Design

This article will summarise what you as an admin or author need to think about when starting a new course for your learning programme.

Create a design brief


It is helpful to write a design brief for your course before you begin authoring/creating. A design brief outlines what you want to achieve through the design and implementation of your course.

Questions you can use to help you write your brief include:

Context of learning:

  • Who are my learners? (Demographic, roles, experience, language levels, motivations, interests)
  • What do my learners already know about this topic? (What prior knowledge do they have?)
  • What use or benefit does this course have to my learners? 
  • What use or benefit does this course have to my organisation?
  • What is the tone of the course? (Including language style, imagery, branding. How does this course fit in with my organisation’s existing brand?)

Content for learning:

  • How will I address existing gaps in knowledge? Will my course fill these gaps?
  • How will I measure my learners success? (Assessment)
  • How will I measure my learners engagement and motivation within the course? (Feedback)

Once you have written your design brief, you can use it to help you write your course objectives and course description.


Write your course objectives and description


When writing objectives, a good idea is to be as specific as possible about what your learners will achieve by the end of the course. Your objectives should identify the skills, knowledge and attitudes which will fulfil the purpose of your learning. 

You should consider the current performance of your learners and your desired performance. Thereby, you can identify the gap in performance, and assess whether your training programme would actually address the gap. There may be other aspects of your learning environment or context which you will need to take into consideration, such as learner’s access to resources and equipment, existing attitudes and experience, levels of motivation and emotional investment, and the culture and processes of your organisation.

Break down your content into grouped topics/lessons


Do your best to break down your content into key sections and topics, and align them with your course objectives. Try to get an estimate of the amount lessons and the content each lesson will include. At this stage, you could attempt to create a title for each lesson. To assist in outlining the course into specific lessons, it may be helpful to create a table or mind map, which specifies the lessons in the course, and the content within each.

HINT: If you are drawing your content from a text document, look for subheadings and title breaks. They can give you a rough estimate of how to split up long pieces of information. Highlighting phrases and annotating areas with links to your objectives could also be useful.

If you are using a slide presentation as a source, you could rearrange slides and add titled section breaks to break up the presentation into smaller sections or specific lessons.

Write your lesson objectives


Your lesson objectives should be increasingly aligned with the real world as the course progresses. That is, your objectives at the beginning of the course may focus on lower level thinking skills such as recall and repetition. By the end of the course, your objectives should reflect how an adult can apply what they have learnt in a real life context. 

Your lessons and their objectives may advance as follows:

Recall > Explain > Basic application > More complex application > Application in reality

You should make sure that the objectives and the learning content assists your learner to apply the learning in a more complicated and real life experience or environment.

Objectives should be measurable and observable (i.e. what action would indicate good understanding or skill development). They should incorporate:

  • Performance (What do the learners do?)
  • Standards (How well do they do it? E.g. duration, quality, quantity)
  • Conditions (Where and with what do they do it?)

For example, a good objective for a bartending lesson may be:

“Learners will be able to make an espresso martini (Performance) in 3 minutes (Standards), during peak service time and using equipment and ingredients acquired in the bar (Conditions).”

HINT: You may wish to include your lesson objectives at the start of the lesson, and link them to a feedback survey at the end of the lesson! 

Objectives at the start of a course or lesson provide the learner with an overview of the structure of the content and give clear intentions for their learning. As an admin or author, you can also use the objectives as a guide when making the courses or lessons. Note that the objectives may change slightly as you begin developing your content, and that is okay as long as there is consistency between objectives and content.

Collect your media and branding assets


The styling of your course is very important! It demonstrates to your learner that time and consideration has been put into their training. It also should reflect the aesthetic or branding of your organization. 

At this stage, just before you get to creating your course in our creator tool, it is a good idea to determine what resources and media assets you have access to. These may be within the source material such as an existing slide presentation, or you may have to source these within your organization. Collect what you can, so that the assets can be inserted into your lesson when you are ready.

HINT: Copyright free image libraries such as Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay can provide you with great imagery to include in your lessons. There are also many open source icon and illustration websites available online.


Keep Adult Learning principles in mind (Andragogy)


1. Understanding - let learners know the reason for learning the content (what meaning or relevance does it have to them?)

By incorporating lessons objectives into your lesson, whether they be formal dot points or informal narration, you can make the purpose of the lesson clear to your learners. Make sure that your content consistently reflects real life application.


2. Self- concept - let learners direct their own learning performance and evaluation.

You can do this by providing opportunities for reflection on the content and success of the lessons. Use open questions to encourage higher level thinking processes and allow learners to assess their performance in the lesson through surveys and textual links to the lesson objectives.


3. Prior experience- learners have their own experiences, knowledge, interests and motivation which will affect their learning experience and be invoked when they undertake your course.

Do your research into who your learners are before undertaking your course development in order to tailor it to your learners most effectively. Remember to vary the way you represent content, the types of interactions and styles of questions. Information in your lessons should be accessible through a variety of different modes (and media types).


4. Readiness to learn - adults are most interested in content which has immediate relevance to their work or personal life.

Link your content to real world scenarios and problems your learner may face. You can do this by creating case studies and relevant stories, and incorporating potential scenarios or conversations whereby the information of skills could be applied.


5. Orientation to learning - Make your learning problem-centred where possible.

You could use storytelling and scenario- based learning to help you achieve this. Similarly to the previous point, present your learners with an opportunity to apply what they have learned against a proposed problem.


6. Motivation to learn - Build your learners intrinsic motivation (internal motivations such as interest, opportunity for personal development or growth).

This again comes back to knowing your learners! If you have a good understanding of your learner profiles you can build on areas of interest and target areas for potential growth,


(Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 1968)

(Adult Institute of Training and Development, 2016)

Create your lessons


Jump into our creator tool and start creating! See the link below for exactly how to do this.