Essential Constructs for Developing Courses

There’s nothing quite worse than creating a course that doesn’t quite fit the bill, and you can’t figure out why not.

Let’s hypothetically forget about all the essential components of course development that if done wrong, make instructional designers twitch. Pretending that there are no important practices (I refuse to say “best” practices), let’s focus on what you need to develop a course that has clear feedback loops when you teach it … so you can teach it again, better.

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There are three major drivers for your course.

Cognitive Learning

Forget the action verbs right now. Two things that will always serve you well:

  • Truly grasp the meaning of Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy levels.
  • Avoid the extremes in the taxonomy. You’re working with adults? Forget Remembering levels. You’re not working with absurdly experienced people already familiar with educational constructs? Forget Create levels.

This leaves Understanding, Applying, Analysing, and Evaluating levels. In reality, these will likely be the levels of focus for cognitive learning. Think of the topics you want to cover in context of these levels.

Proficiency Expectations

Learning a concept does not equate to proficiency. Here’s where reality should set in on what exactly our potential effect is likely  to be in a learning environment. You’re likely to stick in the first two levels, with special experiential projects getting you perhaps up to Conscience Effort (see image).

So how do you align cognitive learning and proficiency?

  1. Graph your topics (see image). Don’t create your perfectly phrased objectives. Just write down your major topics that you want to address, be they hugely complex or very simple. Literally everything you plan to have the course should go on the graph that has cognitive learning on one axis and proficiency on a second axis.
  2. Once you have your topics, you can identify the sweet spot (see image) that you should be focusing the course on so you’re not bouncing around the cognitive learning experience that sends learners into confusion.
  3. The outliers become suddenly rather obvious (see image). Maybe those should be saved for the beginnings of a follow-up course? Maybe they should be options left in your course to scaffold if your learners are insanely on top of it. One way or the other, you’ll find how to best streamline and focus your course.

Affective Learning

Remember those arguments in courses where it boiled down to yelling at each other based on personal opinion? You see those learners in your course with their arms crossed and that “look” on their face. It doesn’t matter if you can provide world peace. They don’t want to hear it. That is the lack of affective learning. The very and absolute level we have to achieve for an affective outcome is Receiving. If they aren’t receptive to learning something and hearing others, you’re done. Referring to Affective taxonomy outlined in the image, scaffolding those affective levels are crucial to facilitating true mindset changing learning experiences.

This isn’t necessarily something you place in your promotional materials. It’s impossible to measure. It’s impossible to promise. It’s imperative that you practice it in the learning experience. Identify those ultimate affective levels for each of your objectives as personal guidance for your facilitation efforts.

Ping me if you would like a proper sized PDF of the image provided in this post.


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About Marian

My passion is centered around ensuring effective learning experiences that improve people's lives. Developing a learning mindset is my ultimate goal whether working with academic programs or corporate training; formal or informal learning practices. It is my belief that our potential for agility is limited only by our capacity for learning.