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A thoughtful planning and design process positively impacts courses, Specializations, and degrees. It ensures:
- Courses, Specializations, and degrees are well organized and cohesive
- Courses, Specializations, and degrees address the goals of diverse learners
- A smoother, faster course production timeline, which can reduce costs for your company
Start with your target audience
Before you develop your learning materials, try asking these questions:
- Who is your audience? Who is your audience? Your content might be useful for many people. But, your primary target audience should be learners who need your course.
- What is their “job to be done”? Most learners on Coursera are busy professionals. They need to know your course will address a specific problem they need to solve.
- How can your course(s) support learners’ personal and professional goals?
Design for diversity
Learners on Coursera are voluntary learners
- They need a clear understanding of the skills they’ll gain in your course(s). Many of them already completed some level of post-secondary education. They find time to learn within a very busy schedule of work, life and family1.
Learners on Coursera are diverse
- They come from a broad range of geographic, cultural, linguistic, and educational backgrounds. Clear, effective communication will ensure a good course experience for these diverse learners.
- TIP: Celebrate diversity by encouraging learners to share their experiences. You should also address issues that matter to them through the course materials.
Consider these best practices to plan and design the course:
Scaffold materials in multiple formats
- Present important topics in multiple formats for diverse learning styles and abilities:
- Provide text notes and readings to supplement video lessons
- Include alternative explanations in lesson outlines and video storyboards
- Design projects and assessments with clear, focused milestones:
- Ensure concrete steps are clearly articulated to learners
Use simple language
- Create a course glossary for learners: Identify technical terms or advanced vocabulary essential to explaining core course concepts.
- Use clear and concise communication: Avoid jargon and cultural references that might not be understood by all learners
If the course requires background knowledge or specific skills, highlight them in the course description and other promotional materials. Make a list of resources (including other courses on Coursera) for learners who need to brush up on prerequisites.
Use backwards design
Mastery learning is an education philosophy developed by Benjamin Bloom. It promotes the mastery of one topic before moving on to more advanced materials2. Backwards design supports mastery learning. After you define your target audience, the recommended process for backwards design is:
- Define your learning objectives
- Design assessments that reflect and test for those objectives
- Create video lessons and other resources to set learners up for success on assessments
This order may be counter-intuitive. Many instructors tend to start with instructional videos and design assessments last. But, backwards design is the preferred method to address learner needs.
Define effective learning objectives
Begin planning and designing your online curriculum by defining course-level learning objectives. These high-level goals should summarize the value of the course for learners. They should also highlight the concrete knowledge and skills learners will gain. Next, define learning objectives for modules and items. Make these objectives measurable and specific. Use action-oriented verbs (“identify,” “explain,” “write”) rather than general verbs (“learn,” “understand”)3.
Create an assessment plan
An assessment plan should identify:
- The number of practice (formative) and graded (summative) assessments in the course
- The type of practice (formative) and graded (summative) assessments in the course
- The placement of practice (formative) and graded (summative) assessments in the course
When planning assessments, consider the following:
Ground assessments in learning objectives
Map assessments to learning objectives at each level. For example, a final project might be mapped to course-level objectives. A practice quiz might be mapped to lesson-specific objectives. Each assessment should offer an opportunity to demonstrate achievement of at least one learning objective.
Promote mastery learning with assessments
Learners on Coursera have the flexibility to pursue mastery. They can re-engage with learning resources until they're fully confident. Frequent practice opportunities let learners benchmark their progress and confirm their mastery before they move on. Research suggests frequent testing reinforces long term memory (“the testing effect”)4.
Choose the right assessment type
Coursera's platform offers high quality learning experiences through a range of assessment types. Carefully choose the assessment type that best fits your learning objectives:
- In-video questions: lightweight, ungraded questions presented within a video item
- Quizzes: machine-graded assessment supporting a range of question types
- Peer-review assessments: open-ended assessment where learners grade one another
- Programming assignments: machine-graded assessment that requires learners to submit code
- Plugins and LTI: third party integrations that can be embedded on Coursera
- Discussion prompts: graded/ungraded reflective questions where learners post answers in the forums for discussion
Create a course outline
Use Coursera’s authoring tools to create a course shell (outlining the module and lesson structure). Our Pedagogy Principles provide important guidelines for course structure development. They also outline how to create a high-quality course on Coursera. As you create your course, you’ll see an embedded pedagogy checker. This checker tracks your progress and suggests next steps for enhanced course quality:
TIP: Learners on Coursera often fit coursework into small windows of free time. Thus, they benefit from shorter, more focused lessons. Each lesson should take a learner around 20-30 minutes to complete. When you design modules, divide the content and objectives into smaller chunks (lessons).
Design learning materials
Backwards design suggests that video lessons and course materials be designed last. Before producing videos, you should have a clear production plan in place. This plan should include a mapping of the resources available at your institution. It should also include key milestones and timelines. Research in multimedia learning, including studies conducted on Coursera’s platform, offer guidance on creating effective and engaging video lessons.
Create a space for community interaction
Community interaction plays an important role in online learning. Research shows, community interaction reduces learner isolation5 and is positively correlated with assessment performance6. Thoughtful planning, guidelines, and incentives help position the community to quickly become self-sustaining. During the course planning phase, set aside time to:
- Consider the forum structure, including potential sub forums and discussion prompts.
- Consider potential mentors or TAs that can take part in facilitation.
- Plan the level of staff engagement with learners throughout the course lifecycle.
Summary and next steps
Curriculum Design Checklist
- Clearly define your target audience
- Design for diversity
- Use clear, simple language and define terms
- Provide multiple examples and formats to clarify concepts and expectations
- Use backwards design to develop your curriculum and support mastery learning
- Create effective learning objectives, emphasizing real-world skills and applicable knowledge that learners will gain
- Develop an assessment plan rooted in the learning objectives and use various assessment types to provide frequent practice opportunities
- Create a course outline following our Pedagogy Principles to ensure high quality
- Produce video lessons and course materials based on your production plan
- Create an effective infrastructure for community interaction
- Create well-structured discussion forums and clear community guidelines